Bobby Valentine Says He Thinks PEDs Will Eventually Become Mainstream in Sports

Former Major League Baseball manager Bobby Valentine has a different take on performance-enhancing drug use in sports, stating he thinks they could be a good thing.

During an appearance on SI Now with Maggie Gray, Valentine said that PEDs are good for sports "if you want to see the best out of your athlete."

Expanding on that comment, Valentine stated that there are already things athletes use to make them feel and perform better:

This idea that because it’s a drug, and you’re taking it from the outside, that’s bad. But there’s a lot of really good drugs out there that we do take that make us feel better and perform better, and I think these PEDs that people talk about, that are performance-enhancers, will eventually get into the mainstream.

It's an interesting theory, though Valentine didn't explicitly state what kind of PEDs he is talking about. There are certain types of steroids that can be used to treat medical conditions, though athletes would need a doctor's prescription to obtain them legally.

MLB adopted a drug prevention and treatment program in 2005. Sporting News provided a list of 39 major league players who had been suspended under the policy entering this season.

The sport was rocked by a scandal involving PEDs in January 2013, when Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times broke a story suggesting several players, including former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, received illegal drugs from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. 

The Olympics has one of the most stringent drug-testing programs in all of sports, with Olympic.org noting the International Olympic Committee tested more than 5,000 athletes during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. 

No one has ever accused Valentine of being shy about offering a different perspective on things. But he doesn't seem to be factoring in the various health risks and other problems associated with PEDs. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Bobby Valentine Says He Thinks PEDs Will Eventually Become Mainstream in Sports

Former Major League Baseball manager Bobby Valentine has a different take on performance-enhancing drug use in sports, stating he thinks they could be a good thing.

During an appearance on SI Now with Maggie Gray, Valentine said that PEDs are good for sports "if you want to see the best out of your athlete."

Expanding on that comment, Valentine stated that there are already things athletes use to make them feel and perform better:

This idea that because it’s a drug, and you’re taking it from the outside, that’s bad. But there’s a lot of really good drugs out there that we do take that make us feel better and perform better, and I think these PEDs that people talk about, that are performance-enhancers, will eventually get into the mainstream.

It's an interesting theory, though Valentine didn't explicitly state what kind of PEDs he is talking about. There are certain types of steroids that can be used to treat medical conditions, though athletes would need a doctor's prescription to obtain them legally.

MLB adopted a drug prevention and treatment program in 2005. Sporting News provided a list of 39 major league players who had been suspended under the policy entering this season.

The sport was rocked by a scandal involving PEDs in January 2013, when Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times broke a story suggesting several players, including former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, received illegal drugs from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. 

The Olympics has one of the most stringent drug-testing programs in all of sports, with Olympic.org noting the International Olympic Committee tested more than 5,000 athletes during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. 

No one has ever accused Valentine of being shy about offering a different perspective on things. But he doesn't seem to be factoring in the various health risks and other problems associated with PEDs. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Frank Wren Hired as Red Sox Senior VP of Baseball Operations: Details, Reaction

The Boston Red Sox continue to fill out their front office, with Frank Wren joining the team as senior vice president of baseball operations. 

Wren's hiring was officially announced by the Red Sox on Twitter. He was considered the favorite to be named general manager after Dave Dombrowski was hired last month, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

This marks the third major addition to Boston's front office since August. Dombrowski, who served as general manager of the Detroit Tigers since 2002 before resigning earlier this summer, was hired as president of baseball operations.

At the same time Dombrowski was brought in, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington announced that he was stepping down. 

On Thursday, per Ian Browne of MLB.com, the Red Sox promoted Mike Hazen from assistant general manager to general manager. 

With all of the new voices leading Boston, ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes noted the order of power which this new trio has in the organization:

Per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox are following the direction of the Los Angeles Dodgers by adding multiple executives and voices. This will give the franchise a way of parsing out decisions involving player personnel, including potential free-agent signings and trades. 

Wren served as general manager with the Atlanta Braves from 2007-14, making the playoffs three times but never making it past the Division Series. The 57-year-old will likely play a pivotal role in many decisions made by the Red Sox moving forward. 

The Red Sox are on their way to a second consecutive last-place finish after winning the 2013 World Series. They have brought up many of their best young prospects this season, including catcher Blake Swihart and pitchers Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez, so things should turnaround. 

With a new front office in place, led by strong voices like Dombrowski and Wren, along with the player evaluation background of Hazen, it shouldn't take long to make Boston a perennial championship contender again. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Danny Espinosa Injury: Updates on Nationals 2B’s Hamstring and Return

A frustrating season for Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa will end early, as the 28-year-old is battling a hamstring injury.   

Continue for updates.


Espinosa Done for Season

Thursday, Sept. 24

According to William Ladson of MLB.com, Espinosa is dealing with a hamstring issue that will likely take at least one month to recover from:

Espinosa last appeared in a game on Sept. 17, appearing in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss against the Miami Marlins. Washington manager Matt Williams said, per James Wagner of the Washington Post, on Tuesday that an exam on Espinosa's hamstring revealed a small tear that doesn't require surgery. 

This marks the third consecutive season Espinosa will play in less than 120 games, reaching the 118 mark in 2015. He was once one of the best power-hitting second basemen in the league, racking up 108 extra-base hits from 2011-12. 

Injuries and poor performances since 2013 have led to Espinosa likely facing a career crossroads this offseason. He is eligible for arbitration, so the Nationals will have to decide if they want to bring him back in 2016 or move in a different direction. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Danny Espinosa Injury: Updates on Nationals 2B’s Hamstring and Return

A frustrating season for Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa will end early, as the 28-year-old is battling a hamstring injury.   

Continue for updates.


Espinosa Done for Season

Thursday, Sept. 24

According to William Ladson of MLB.com, Espinosa is dealing with a hamstring issue that will likely take at least one month to recover from:

Espinosa last appeared in a game on Sept. 17, appearing in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss against the Miami Marlins. Washington manager Matt Williams said, per James Wagner of the Washington Post, on Tuesday that an exam on Espinosa's hamstring revealed a small tear that doesn't require surgery. 

This marks the third consecutive season Espinosa will play in less than 120 games, reaching the 118 mark in 2015. He was once one of the best power-hitting second basemen in the league, racking up 108 extra-base hits from 2011-12. 

Injuries and poor performances since 2013 have led to Espinosa likely facing a career crossroads this offseason. He is eligible for arbitration, so the Nationals will have to decide if they want to bring him back in 2016 or move in a different direction. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2015 MLB Free Agents: Full Predictions for Best Players Available

All eyes are still focused on the pennant races and postseason in Major League Baseball, but all 30 clubs are already making plans for the offseason involving free agents and whom they can afford to sign. 

This year's market looks to be heavy on pitching and light on bats, giving the hitters even more leverage in negotiations to make a huge splash. Baseball is thriving financially with massive television deals leading to an explosive market, so there will be plenty of dollars to go around. 

Looking ahead to free agency and predictions, there is one caveat to mention. Players who have options—most notably Zack Greinke, who can opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers—are not considered for these predictions because they aren't officially free agents when the season ends. 

Now, as far as the top stars who will hit the market this winter, here are predictions for where they will end up and how much they can expect to get.

Note: Ages listed are for start of 2016 season.

 

Yoenis Cespedes, OF (Age: 30) 

In a market without hitting depth, Yoenis Cespedes is a clear standout. The former All-Star and Home Run Derby champion ranks ninth in MLB with a .550 slugging percentage and is tied for 11th with 35 home runs this season. 

It's an opportune time for Cespedes, who has said he wants a deal of at least six years, to be hitting the market. However, for teams looking at Cespedes, there's the inherent danger of paying a player for a career year that he's unlikely to duplicate.

Cespedes is posting his lowest walk rate and second-highest strikeout rate, yet he is obliterating all of his previous offensive numbers thanks to a .322 batting average on balls in play, 18 points above his career mark. 

That's a good indicator that Cespedes will never be this player again, especially as he hits the age of 30. But teams have shown a willingness to pay for career years in the past. 

ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported there's a belief among teams that the San Francisco Giants will pursue Cespedes, though he did acknowledge the Mets star's second-half surge may have put him out of their price range. 

That's bad news for Cespedes, because the Giants aren't shy about throwing money around. They once gave Barry Zito $126 million over seven years and now pay Hunter Pence $18 million per season, for instance. 

The Mets would be an obvious choice because of Cespedes' built-in relationship with the franchise over the last two months, though it's always a mystery exactly how much payroll ownership can add because of the Wilpon family's financial problems. 

A team like Washington could use Cespedes' power and elite defense in left field, but Jayson Werth's albatross deal leaves the Nationals no place to put him and with seemingly limited financial resources.

The two teams to watch are in the American League West: Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. The latter has been a surprise playoff contender this season despite getting a .683 OPS from left fielders, so imagine the lineup with Cespedes in the middle of it and a healthy Yu Darvish back atop the rotation. 

Bad long-term deals have burned the Angels—Albert Pujols hits a lot of home runs but adds little value in any other category at this point—but owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about spending money if he believes it will help the team win now. 

Investing in pitching feels like a higher priority for the Angels, but they need more hitters beyond Mike Trout in the lineup. 

Prediction: Cespedes signs six-year, $130 million deal with Angels.

 

David Price, LHP (Age: 30)

Like Cespedes, David Price is heading into free agency following the best season of his career. The difference is the left-hander has a long track record of elite performance to support him continuing it for at least three or four more seasons after turning 30. 

There's also something to be said for the way Price has taken his game to another level after being inserted in a playoff race with Toronto, though he was still among the AL's best starters with Detroit earlier this season. 

Greinke will certainly be an attractive commodity if he opts out, but Price should have no problems securing a bigger deal because of his brilliance on the mound and being two years younger. 

So where does the line start for Price?

Clayton Kershaw's contract is the gold standard for pitchers. He signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Dodgers in 2014.

Price can certainly ask for a deal like that, though he's at a disadvantage because Kershaw was 25 years old when he signed that deal and had been established as the best pitcher in baseball the previous season. 

Instead, Price just has to look at Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington last year. That was a unique deal because the Nationals are deferring half of that money for 14 years, meaning Scherzer will be collecting paychecks until 2028. 

If Price is willing to do a deal like that, he could easily crack the $30 million average annual salary barrier. If he wants a traditional deal, his market would seem to be even more limited than it will be. 

Given the success they have had this year, the New York Yankees seem like a team that would make a push for Price. Their starting pitching woes have been well-documented, to say nothing of Masahiro Tanaka's inability to make 30 starts in either of his first two seasons. 

Taking a long-term look at things, the Yankees will have CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran coming off the books after 2016. That's $63 million in payroll opening up, not including Sabathia's $5 million buyout for 2017.

Plus, Alex Rodriguez will finally come off the books after the 2017 season.

Starting pitching isn't one of New York's strengths in the minors right now. There's young position player talent coming, like the already-arrived Greg Bird and soon-to-follow Aaron Judge, so being able to add a legitimate ace who can stay healthy will bring the franchise from solid playoff contender to World Series threat. 

Prediction: Price signs seven-year, $205 million deal with Yankees.

 

Jason Heyward, OF (Age: 26)

Even though Cespedes is generating all the headlines late in the season, Jason Heyward is the position player who should end up getting the biggest deal. He's four years younger, has a strong track record of getting on base at a high clip and is an elite defensive right fielder. 

More importantly for Heyward and his future team, the 26-year-old has been healthy for each of the last two years after missing at least 34 games in two of the previous three seasons. 

The only negative facing Heyward is his power has never developed as expected. Kevin Goldstein of BaseballProspectus.com wrote in 2010 that Heyward owned plus raw power, but he hasn't hit more than 14 homers in a season since 2010. 

Yet even with the modest power output, Heyward has increased his on-base percentage each of the last four years from .319 in 2011 to .352 this season. A team can plug him into the leadoff spot, and he can get on base and provide Gold Glove defense in a corner outfield position. 

Considering Heyward's youth, he could realistically flirt with a deal in the $25 million per-season range. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com got multiple executives to offer a comparison point for Heyward this offseason back in March:

One GM went so far as to call it "crazy" to suggest Heyward could get $200 million, and some others were fairly skeptical, as well. The executives in that camp suggested he hasn't shown enough power or hit enough, especially against left-handers, to warrant that type of contract. Several pointed to the Choo deal as fair, though even those execs acknowledged he'd shoot much higher than that. One said he could see $20 million a year (though not for 10 years), and one thought only $15 million to $17 million.

After another strong season by Heyward in 2015, it seems likely that he will breeze by those conservative $15-17 million per-year estimates. 

Heyward does have a wide platoon split, boasting a .655 career OPS against lefties, but he's at least gotten on base at a .341 clip against southpaws in 2015 to alleviate some concerns. 

The Cardinals are the obvious candidate for Heyward given their built-in relationship, though Heyman did point out that Matt Holliday's $120 million deal has so far seemed to be around their maximum comfort level on a long-term extension. 

That could easily change this winter, especially since Heyward has more years left in his prime than a typical free agent. 

Outside of St. Louis, there's no obvious landing spot because a lot of the big-spending teams are set in right field.

Boston seems to be lurking in the shadows to make a big move, especially with Dave Dombrowski running the show, but many long-term free-agent deals have burned ownership recently that it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red Sox go all-in with the youth movement and add a few average pieces when necessary.

Seattle could once again try to make a big free-agent splash, allowing Nelson Cruz to DH full time. The Angels could emerge if they decide to upgrade over Kole Calhoun in right field and, assuming they make a play for him, miss out on Cespedes

Just based on fit and potentially available money, Heyward remaining in St. Louis seems like the best option at this point. 

Prediction: Heyward signs seven-year, $150 million deal with Cardinals.

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com; contract info via Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2015 MLB Free Agents: Full Predictions for Best Players Available

All eyes are still focused on the pennant races and postseason in Major League Baseball, but all 30 clubs are already making plans for the offseason involving free agents and whom they can afford to sign. 

This year's market looks to be heavy on pitching and light on bats, giving the hitters even more leverage in negotiations to make a huge splash. Baseball is thriving financially with massive television deals leading to an explosive market, so there will be plenty of dollars to go around. 

Looking ahead to free agency and predictions, there is one caveat to mention. Players who have options—most notably Zack Greinke, who can opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers—are not considered for these predictions because they aren't officially free agents when the season ends. 

Now, as far as the top stars who will hit the market this winter, here are predictions for where they will end up and how much they can expect to get.

Note: Ages listed are for start of 2016 season.

 

Yoenis Cespedes, OF (Age: 30) 

In a market without hitting depth, Yoenis Cespedes is a clear standout. The former All-Star and Home Run Derby champion ranks ninth in MLB with a .550 slugging percentage and is tied for 11th with 35 home runs this season. 

It's an opportune time for Cespedes, who has said he wants a deal of at least six years, to be hitting the market. However, for teams looking at Cespedes, there's the inherent danger of paying a player for a career year that he's unlikely to duplicate.

Cespedes is posting his lowest walk rate and second-highest strikeout rate, yet he is obliterating all of his previous offensive numbers thanks to a .322 batting average on balls in play, 18 points above his career mark. 

That's a good indicator that Cespedes will never be this player again, especially as he hits the age of 30. But teams have shown a willingness to pay for career years in the past. 

ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported there's a belief among teams that the San Francisco Giants will pursue Cespedes, though he did acknowledge the Mets star's second-half surge may have put him out of their price range. 

That's bad news for Cespedes, because the Giants aren't shy about throwing money around. They once gave Barry Zito $126 million over seven years and now pay Hunter Pence $18 million per season, for instance. 

The Mets would be an obvious choice because of Cespedes' built-in relationship with the franchise over the last two months, though it's always a mystery exactly how much payroll ownership can add because of the Wilpon family's financial problems. 

A team like Washington could use Cespedes' power and elite defense in left field, but Jayson Werth's albatross deal leaves the Nationals no place to put him and with seemingly limited financial resources.

The two teams to watch are in the American League West: Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. The latter has been a surprise playoff contender this season despite getting a .683 OPS from left fielders, so imagine the lineup with Cespedes in the middle of it and a healthy Yu Darvish back atop the rotation. 

Bad long-term deals have burned the Angels—Albert Pujols hits a lot of home runs but adds little value in any other category at this point—but owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about spending money if he believes it will help the team win now. 

Investing in pitching feels like a higher priority for the Angels, but they need more hitters beyond Mike Trout in the lineup. 

Prediction: Cespedes signs six-year, $130 million deal with Angels.

 

David Price, LHP (Age: 30)

Like Cespedes, David Price is heading into free agency following the best season of his career. The difference is the left-hander has a long track record of elite performance to support him continuing it for at least three or four more seasons after turning 30. 

There's also something to be said for the way Price has taken his game to another level after being inserted in a playoff race with Toronto, though he was still among the AL's best starters with Detroit earlier this season. 

Greinke will certainly be an attractive commodity if he opts out, but Price should have no problems securing a bigger deal because of his brilliance on the mound and being two years younger. 

So where does the line start for Price?

Clayton Kershaw's contract is the gold standard for pitchers. He signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Dodgers in 2014.

Price can certainly ask for a deal like that, though he's at a disadvantage because Kershaw was 25 years old when he signed that deal and had been established as the best pitcher in baseball the previous season. 

Instead, Price just has to look at Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington last year. That was a unique deal because the Nationals are deferring half of that money for 14 years, meaning Scherzer will be collecting paychecks until 2028. 

If Price is willing to do a deal like that, he could easily crack the $30 million average annual salary barrier. If he wants a traditional deal, his market would seem to be even more limited than it will be. 

Given the success they have had this year, the New York Yankees seem like a team that would make a push for Price. Their starting pitching woes have been well-documented, to say nothing of Masahiro Tanaka's inability to make 30 starts in either of his first two seasons. 

Taking a long-term look at things, the Yankees will have CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran coming off the books after 2016. That's $63 million in payroll opening up, not including Sabathia's $5 million buyout for 2017.

Plus, Alex Rodriguez will finally come off the books after the 2017 season.

Starting pitching isn't one of New York's strengths in the minors right now. There's young position player talent coming, like the already-arrived Greg Bird and soon-to-follow Aaron Judge, so being able to add a legitimate ace who can stay healthy will bring the franchise from solid playoff contender to World Series threat. 

Prediction: Price signs seven-year, $205 million deal with Yankees.

 

Jason Heyward, OF (Age: 26)

Even though Cespedes is generating all the headlines late in the season, Jason Heyward is the position player who should end up getting the biggest deal. He's four years younger, has a strong track record of getting on base at a high clip and is an elite defensive right fielder. 

More importantly for Heyward and his future team, the 26-year-old has been healthy for each of the last two years after missing at least 34 games in two of the previous three seasons. 

The only negative facing Heyward is his power has never developed as expected. Kevin Goldstein of BaseballProspectus.com wrote in 2010 that Heyward owned plus raw power, but he hasn't hit more than 14 homers in a season since 2010. 

Yet even with the modest power output, Heyward has increased his on-base percentage each of the last four years from .319 in 2011 to .352 this season. A team can plug him into the leadoff spot, and he can get on base and provide Gold Glove defense in a corner outfield position. 

Considering Heyward's youth, he could realistically flirt with a deal in the $25 million per-season range. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com got multiple executives to offer a comparison point for Heyward this offseason back in March:

One GM went so far as to call it "crazy" to suggest Heyward could get $200 million, and some others were fairly skeptical, as well. The executives in that camp suggested he hasn't shown enough power or hit enough, especially against left-handers, to warrant that type of contract. Several pointed to the Choo deal as fair, though even those execs acknowledged he'd shoot much higher than that. One said he could see $20 million a year (though not for 10 years), and one thought only $15 million to $17 million.

After another strong season by Heyward in 2015, it seems likely that he will breeze by those conservative $15-17 million per-year estimates. 

Heyward does have a wide platoon split, boasting a .655 career OPS against lefties, but he's at least gotten on base at a .341 clip against southpaws in 2015 to alleviate some concerns. 

The Cardinals are the obvious candidate for Heyward given their built-in relationship, though Heyman did point out that Matt Holliday's $120 million deal has so far seemed to be around their maximum comfort level on a long-term extension. 

That could easily change this winter, especially since Heyward has more years left in his prime than a typical free agent. 

Outside of St. Louis, there's no obvious landing spot because a lot of the big-spending teams are set in right field.

Boston seems to be lurking in the shadows to make a big move, especially with Dave Dombrowski running the show, but many long-term free-agent deals have burned ownership recently that it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red Sox go all-in with the youth movement and add a few average pieces when necessary.

Seattle could once again try to make a big free-agent splash, allowing Nelson Cruz to DH full time. The Angels could emerge if they decide to upgrade over Kole Calhoun in right field and, assuming they make a play for him, miss out on Cespedes

Just based on fit and potentially available money, Heyward remaining in St. Louis seems like the best option at this point. 

Prediction: Heyward signs seven-year, $150 million deal with Cardinals.

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com; contract info via Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Zack Greinke Injury: Updates on Dodgers Star’s Calf and Return

Zack Greinke is in the midst of his best season, but the Los Angeles Dodgers star finds himself on the mend with an injured calf. 

Continue for updates. 


Greinke to Miss One Start

Wednesday, Sept. 23

Per MLB Network Radio on Twitter, the Dodgers will skip Greinke's start on Wednesday due to soreness in his calf, but he's expected to make his next start that will presumably be on Monday against San Francisco. 

Greinke has been marvelous this season, owning an MLB-best 1.65 ERA, 0.848 WHIP and 227 ERA+. He's been banged up at times in the past, starting just 28 games in his first season with the team, but the good news is this particular issue sounds like a short-term problem. 

The Dodgers rotation has already been tested in 2015 with Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy out for the season. Clayton Kershaw got off to a slow start, but he has found another gear and looks like the best pitcher on the planet. 

Losing Greinke for a short period of time does hurt the Dodgers, though they can survive. The advantage for Los Angeles is it's opened a six-game lead over the Giants with 12 games to play, so having the right-hander miss one start won't hurt its playoff chances.   

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Williams Rumors: Latest Buzz, Speculation on Nationals Manager’s Future

With the Washington Nationals' disappointing season winding down, the future of manager Matt Williams will be one of the hot topics for the franchise.

Continue for updates.


Nationals GM Vague on Williams' Future

Wednesday, Sept. 23

Speaking to 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C., Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo did not give Williams a vote of confidence:

Williams, who won National League Manager of the Year last season, has certainly drawn the ire of fans in Washington. He was booed by fans during a postgame press conference following a contest against the New York Mets.

There have been articles writtenincluding this one by Dave Cameron of FoxSports.comabout Williams' bad tactical decisions down the stretch as the Nationals fell behind the Mets in the National League East race.

Washington has had one of MLB's best rosters on paper for the past two years, including likely 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, but it lost in the division series last year and will be home when the postseason starts this October.

All of the problems with the Nationals in 2015 aren't Williams' fault, but his questionable tactics combined with injuries and poor performances by key players could provide the impetus needed for management to make a change when the season ends.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

World Series 2015: Full Schedule and Bold Predictions for Fall Classic

There's a sadness that comes at the end of September because Major League Baseball's regular season is coming to an end, but it quickly gives way to excitement knowing the World Series will be decided in October. 

This year's postseason is especially enticing than ever because there's not one dominant team clearly playing better than everyone else. The National League Central has arguably the three best teams in baseball, but one of those teams will be sent home after the Wild Card Game. 

Toronto is the trendy pick in the American League, but Kansas City still has the best record, and Texas is 30-17 since the start of August. 

As was proven last season, the wild cards are not to be taken lightly. This has already been a strange year for MLB, so October should be insane. 

 

2015 World Series Schedule

 

Bold World Series Predictions

St. Louis Won't Play in the World Series...

Since the 2015 season started, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals have been the best teams in their respective leagues. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the I-70 series would be renewed to determine baseball's champion for months. 

A funny thing has happened along the way, though: Other teams have caught up to them.

The Cardinals, despite being the first team to clinch a playoff berth, only have a four-game lead over Pittsburgh. Those two teams play a final three-game series from Sept. 28-30 that will determine the division winner. 

By the way, per ESPN's Buster Olney, the Chicago Cubs have been the league's best team by record for nearly two months:

Aside from playing in a division with those two teams, the Cardinals have been able to thrive despite key players missing a lot of time this year. 

That doesn't even include the two stints Matt Holliday spent on the disabled list due to leg injuries, or Randal Grichuk's three-week absence due to an elbow problem earlier this season. 

There is some hope in St. Louis that Adam Wainwright can return to pitch out of the bullpen this season after he was cleared for baseball activities, per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch

"I think I'd have a much higher confidence level to have him throw in-season before you put him on the [playoff] roster," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told Langosch. "If you recall the last time he was in the bullpen, he was pretty good."

That would be a huge boost to the Cardinals' pitching staff, but St. Louis is 9-10 in September and has been outscored by 26 runs (93-67) entering play on Tuesday. 

Granted, recency bias can lead to a lot of problems, but looking at how deep the NL is, the Cubs, Pirates and Dodgers all look better built to play in October because of how dominant the top of their rotations can be.

The Dodgers and Cubs can beat a pitching staff into submission, ranking sixth and ninth in home runs, respectively, so St. Louis' once-dominant run in the NL doesn't look like it will have a happy ending. 

 

...Neither Will Kansas City

The Royals are going to cruise to an AL Central title, but they look as flawed now as they have at any point this season. Johnny Cueto hasn't been the ace they traded for, posting a 5.12 ERA with just 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 starts. 

By comparison, Cueto had a 2.62 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 19 starts with Cincinnati before the trade. 

That once-vaunted bullpen is not the same as it was last year. Something has happened to Greg Holland, as his drop in velocity is getting harder to ignore, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Kelvin Herrera's ERA in the second half is 3.90 in 27 games. Wade Davis remains spectacular, but it was the way Royals manager Ned Yost deployed all three of his weapons last year that got Kansas City within one win of a championship.

Kansas City still has the AL's best defense, with FanGraphs crediting it with 56 runs saved. But with so many questions in the rotation starting with Cueto and late in games with the bullpen, how do you trust this team to make another deep October run?

 

Canada vs. Hollywood

The Toronto Blue Jays are the AL's best team, regardless of what records say, right now. They are also the most dangerous team because no one can match their offensive firepower. 

Entering play Tuesday, the Blue Jays had scored 103 more runs than any other team in baseball. They are on pace for 891 runs scored, which would be the most by a team in a season since the 2009 New York Yankees.

Unlike the Royals, who are trying to figure out what's gone wrong with their big midseason acquisition, the Blue Jays have gotten more than they could have hoped for from David Price since acquiring him from Detroit.

Just as important as Price's individual performance for the Blue Jays is how the rest of the pitching staff has followed his lead. Toronto leads the AL with a 3.21 ERA and .664 OPS against in the second half. 

It was hard enough to beat Toronto knowing it would take at least five runs every night to do so, but adding one of the sport's best pitchers to an otherwise solid staff took the Blue Jays from interesting novelty to AL pennant favorite. 

With Kansas City not looking as strong, Texas still lacking pitching depth behind Cole Hamels and New York being dominated by its division rivals this season, the Blue Jays have a clear path to make the World Series for the first time since the franchise's last title in 1993. 

Their opponent in that series could be any of the NL Central teams, but this feels like the year Los Angeles finally gets over that St. Louis-sized hump that's stood in its way the past two years. 

I will admit that part of me just wants to see the Dodgers win the NL so that the ridiculous narrative of Clayton Kershaw not being a good playoff pitcher dies. He had three consecutive starts allowing a total of one earned run with 23 strikeouts in 19 innings against Atlanta and St. Louis in 2013, for example. 

Has Kershaw had bad starts in the playoffs? Absolutely, but the sample size is so small that no one can definitively say he's terrible in October. Did Alex Rodriguez suddenly find his clutch gene during the 2009 postseason when he hit .365/.500/.808 in helping New York win a World Series?

But aside from getting rid of the Kershaw narrative, he and Zack Greinke are operating on a different level than any other NL pitcher with the exception of Chicago's Jake Arrieta. L.A.'s aces rank first (Kershaw) and third (Greinke) in FanGraphs' wins above replacement among NL pitchers. 

The biggest concern for the Dodgers in October is offense. They rank 27th out of 30 teams in runs scored since the All-Star break, but the addition of rookie shortstop Corey Seager has provided a spark. He may not continue to post a 1.086 OPS in October, though it would be hard to do worse than Jimmy Rollins' .630 mark.

Seager isn't a good defensive player at shortstop, but when Kershaw is almost a lock to strike out 10 and Greinke can punch out hitters with the best of them, defense doesn't become as critical as it would if a pitch-to-contact ground-ball guy is on the mound. 

The Dodgers don't have a deep lineup, but with those two starters able to go at least three times in a five-game series and four times in a seven-game series, they don't have to score much to win. 

That's why the Blue Jays and Dodgers will meet in the World Series to determine MLB's champion for the 2015 season. 

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise noted

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Greg Holland Injury: Updates on Royals Pitcher’s Elbow and Return

The Kansas City Royals bullpen will be short-handed for the time being as closer Greg Holland recovers from a sore elbow. 

Continue for updates. 


Wade Davis to Take Over as Closer

Tuesday, Sept. 22

Per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, Royals manager Ned Yost initially announced Tuesday afternoon that Wade Davis will serve as the closer "for (the) next few days" with Holland battling "tightness" in his elbow. Not long after that announcement, however, Flanagan reported "now Yost says Davis will close the rest of the way and playoffs."       

It's been clear for some time that something is wrong with Holland. The right-hander averaged at least 95.8 mph with his fastball from 2012-14 and had a 1.88 ERA with 284 strikeouts in 196.1 innings but hasn't been as dominant this season with a 3.83 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 44.2 innings.

Along with those decreased stats, ESPN Stats & Info noted on Sept. 19 that Holland's fastball velocity this month is the worst of his career:

The good news is Davis can fill any role out of the bullpen, sporting a tidy 0.88 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 31 hits allowed in 61.2 innings this season. 

However, losing Holland to this injury and seeing his velocity drop the way it has should give Kansas City fans pause heading into the postseason. The Royals bullpen—specifically the trio of Holland, Davis and Kelvin Herrerawas the team's biggest asset en route to the World Series.

Without one part of the three-headed monster pitching at his best heading into October, the Royals could be more vulnerable than they have looked at any point during the regular season.

 

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

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Bruce Rondon Shut Down for Season by Tigers Due to ‘Effort Level’

For the first time since 2010, the Detroit Tigers will not play postseason baseball, and it appears hard-throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon wants to get an early start to his offseason. 

According to James Schmehl of MLive Media Group, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was not happy with the effort Rondon was giving:

Per Catherine Slonksnis of BlessYouBoys.com, Tigers catcher Alex Avila said "to be a big part of this team you have to be here" but did not go into specifics regarding Rondon. She also reported that Alex Wilson and Neftali Feliz will split closer duty in Rondon's absence. 

Rondon's performance on the field has left a lot to be desired, as the 24-year-old sports a 5.81 ERA and 1.613 WHIP in 35 games, though his 3.12 ERA in September is his best for any month this season since returning in June. 

The Tigers have been a disappointment in every facet of the game this season. They were expected to compete for a spot in the postseason but currently sit in last place in the American League Central with a 69-81 record. 

Whatever happened with Rondon only magnifies the problems that have plagued Detroit and makes this offseason crucial for the future direction of the franchise. Dave Dombrowski has already left, leaving Al Avila in charge to put his stamp on the team this winter as general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations

Whether that plan includes Rondon, especially in light of whatever happened to get him sent home, will be one of the key decisions for Avila to ensure the Tigers avoid another last-place finish after four consecutive division titles.       

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Bruce Rondon Shut Down for Season by Tigers Due to ‘Effort Level’

For the first time since 2010, the Detroit Tigers will not play postseason baseball, and it appears hard-throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon wants to get an early start to his offseason. 

According to James Schmehl of MLive Media Group, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was not happy with the effort Rondon was giving:

Per Catherine Slonksnis of BlessYouBoys.com, Tigers catcher Alex Avila said "to be a big part of this team you have to be here" but did not go into specifics regarding Rondon. She also reported that Alex Wilson and Neftali Feliz will split closer duty in Rondon's absence. 

Rondon's performance on the field has left a lot to be desired, as the 24-year-old sports a 5.81 ERA and 1.613 WHIP in 35 games, though his 3.12 ERA in September is his best for any month this season since returning in June. 

The Tigers have been a disappointment in every facet of the game this season. They were expected to compete for a spot in the postseason but currently sit in last place in the American League Central with a 69-81 record. 

Whatever happened with Rondon only magnifies the problems that have plagued Detroit and makes this offseason crucial for the future direction of the franchise. Dave Dombrowski has already left, leaving Al Avila in charge to put his stamp on the team this winter as general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations

Whether that plan includes Rondon, especially in light of whatever happened to get him sent home, will be one of the key decisions for Avila to ensure the Tigers avoid another last-place finish after four consecutive division titles.       

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Yadier Molina Injury: Updates on Cardinals Star’s Thumb and Return

Yadier Molina has been a driving force for the St. Louis Cardinals throughout his career, but the star catcher's season is in jeopardy after suffering a thumb injury.

Continue for updates. 


Molina has Ligament Tear in Injured Thumb

Monday, Sept. 21

Bob Nightengale of USA Today shared news of Molina's injury, adding the catcher would be re-evaluated in a week to gauge whether he can return this season. However, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is "cautiously optimistic" Molina will be back before the playoffs, via Nightengale.

With Molina out of commission, the Cardinals added Travis Tartamella to the roster to give them depth behind the plate, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

According to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, Molina suffered the injury during the Cardinals' 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. 

Injuries unfortunately seem to be following Molina now that he's on the wrong side of 30. He did appear in 136 games during the 2013 season, an exceptional amount for an everyday a catcher, but he missed 52 games last year. 

This season is the healthiest Molina has been in two years, though his offensive numbers have taken a dip. His .660 OPS would be his worst since 2006, but the 33-year-old still ranks as one of the best defensive catchers by FanGraphs' metrics. 

Molina left a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 24 after taking a foul tip off of his right knee protector. Those kinds of nicks and dings come with the territory for catchers, but the dynamic of St. Louis' roster is significantly altered in the absence of his backstop wizardry. 

The Cardinals haven't missed a beat this season, despite a lot of injuries to key players. Adam Wainwright hasn't started a game since April 25; Jordan Walden is on the 60-day disabled list; Matt Adams missed three months; Matt Holliday and Jon Jay are going to play in fewer than 100 games; Randal Grichuk's stellar rookie season was interrupted by an elbow injury in August.

St. Louis' front office has done a masterful job of building a deep, talented roster to not only withstand all of those blows, but continue to thrive. Being without a starting catcher is different because defense and the handling of a pitching staff are so crucial to success.

Losing Molina for any length of time down the stretch, especially with Pittsburgh and Chicago coming on strong in the National League Central, leaves the Cardinals with a lot of questions heading into the final postseason push.   

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Yadier Molina Injury: Updates on Cardinals Star’s Thumb and Return

Yadier Molina has been a driving force for the St. Louis Cardinals throughout his career, but the star catcher's season is in jeopardy after suffering a thumb injury.

Continue for updates. 


Molina has Ligament Tear in Injured Thumb

Monday, Sept. 21

Bob Nightengale of USA Today shared news of Molina's injury, adding the catcher would be re-evaluated in a week to gauge whether he can return this season. However, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is "cautiously optimistic" Molina will be back before the playoffs, via Nightengale.

With Molina out of commission, the Cardinals added Travis Tartamella to the roster to give them depth behind the plate, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

According to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, Molina suffered the injury during the Cardinals' 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. 

Injuries unfortunately seem to be following Molina now that he's on the wrong side of 30. He did appear in 136 games during the 2013 season, an exceptional amount for an everyday a catcher, but he missed 52 games last year. 

This season is the healthiest Molina has been in two years, though his offensive numbers have taken a dip. His .660 OPS would be his worst since 2006, but the 33-year-old still ranks as one of the best defensive catchers by FanGraphs' metrics. 

Molina left a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 24 after taking a foul tip off of his right knee protector. Those kinds of nicks and dings come with the territory for catchers, but the dynamic of St. Louis' roster is significantly altered in the absence of his backstop wizardry. 

The Cardinals haven't missed a beat this season, despite a lot of injuries to key players. Adam Wainwright hasn't started a game since April 25; Jordan Walden is on the 60-day disabled list; Matt Adams missed three months; Matt Holliday and Jon Jay are going to play in fewer than 100 games; Randal Grichuk's stellar rookie season was interrupted by an elbow injury in August.

St. Louis' front office has done a masterful job of building a deep, talented roster to not only withstand all of those blows, but continue to thrive. Being without a starting catcher is different because defense and the handling of a pitching staff are so crucial to success.

Losing Molina for any length of time down the stretch, especially with Pittsburgh and Chicago coming on strong in the National League Central, leaves the Cardinals with a lot of questions heading into the final postseason push.   

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yadier Molina Injury: Updates on Cardinals Star’s Thumb and Return

Yadier Molina has been a driving force for the St. Louis Cardinals throughout his career, but the star catcher's season is in jeopardy after suffering a thumb injury.

Continue for updates. 


Molina has Ligament Tear in Injured Thumb

Monday, Sept. 21

Bob Nightengale of USA Today shared news of Molina's injury, adding the catcher would be re-evaluated in a week to gauge whether he can return this season. However, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is "cautiously optimistic" Molina will be back before the playoffs, via Nightengale.

With Molina out of commission, the Cardinals added Travis Tartamella to the roster to give them depth behind the plate, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

According to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, Molina suffered the injury during the Cardinals' 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. 

Injuries unfortunately seem to be following Molina now that he's on the wrong side of 30. He did appear in 136 games during the 2013 season, an exceptional amount for an everyday a catcher, but he missed 52 games last year. 

This season is the healthiest Molina has been in two years, though his offensive numbers have taken a dip. His .660 OPS would be his worst since 2006, but the 33-year-old still ranks as one of the best defensive catchers by FanGraphs' metrics. 

Molina left a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 24 after taking a foul tip off of his right knee protector. Those kinds of nicks and dings come with the territory for catchers, but the dynamic of St. Louis' roster is significantly altered in the absence of his backstop wizardry. 

The Cardinals haven't missed a beat this season, despite a lot of injuries to key players. Adam Wainwright hasn't started a game since April 25; Jordan Walden is on the 60-day disabled list; Matt Adams missed three months; Matt Holliday and Jon Jay are going to play in fewer than 100 games; Randal Grichuk's stellar rookie season was interrupted by an elbow injury in August.

St. Louis' front office has done a masterful job of building a deep, talented roster to not only withstand all of those blows, but continue to thrive. Being without a starting catcher is different because defense and the handling of a pitching staff are so crucial to success.

Losing Molina for any length of time down the stretch, especially with Pittsburgh and Chicago coming on strong in the National League Central, leaves the Cardinals with a lot of questions heading into the final postseason push.   

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Masahiro Tanaka Injury: Updates on Yankees Star’s Hamstring and Return

The New York Yankees pitching staff took a hit Sunday when the team announced Masahiro Tanaka will miss Wednesday's start with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain.     

Continue for updates. 


Ivan Nova to Take Tanaka's Start

Sunday, Sept. 20

While any injury to a pitcher of Tanaka's quality is a concern, the silver lining for the Yankees is the severity of the setback. Buster Olney of ESPN noted New York hopes the pitcher only misses one start.

Tanaka missed more than one month from late April to early June because of a forearm strain. But his ERA sits at a solid 3.38, and he boasts an impressive 0.99 WHIP. 

His inconsistencies in the health department were compounded by the fact that CC Sabathia missed a large portion of 2015 with a knee injury. Michael Pineda also missed time, and Ivan Nova is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery last year. 

The Yankees have been able to stay in the American League East and wild-card races despite all of the problems with their starting rotation, but given how well the Toronto Blue Jays have been playing since acquiring David Price, they likely have their eyes on a wild-card spot.

Ideally, Tanaka will return after only one missed start and be fresh for a postseason run in October.

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Justin Turner Injury: Updates on Dodgers 3B’s Knee and Return

The Los Angeles Dodgers lost third baseman Justin Turner on Saturday night when he was taken out of a game with a knee problem. 

Continue for updates. 


Turner Battling Knee Soreness

Saturday, Sept. 19

According to the Dodgers' official Twitter, Turner left the game against Pittsburgh due to soreness in his left knee. 

Turner, 30, has been one of the Dodgers most valuable hitters in 2015. He entered Saturday hitting .289/.365/.485 with 15 home runs and a team-leading .850 OPS. 

The left side of Los Angeles' infield is banged up right now, with Turner joining shortstop Jimmy Rollins in battling health problems. Rookie Corey Seager has been fantastic since getting called up and has the ability to play shortstop or third base, depending on what manager Don Mattingly needs. 

However, the Dodgers don't have a potent offense, entering play Saturday tied for 19th with 606 runs scored. Losing a player like Turner, whether for one game or multiple days, makes the lineup even weaker with the postseason rapidly approaching. 

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Justin Turner Injury: Updates on Dodgers 3B’s Knee and Return

The Los Angeles Dodgers lost third baseman Justin Turner on Saturday night when he was taken out of a game with a knee problem. 

Continue for updates. 


Turner Battling Knee Soreness

Saturday, Sept. 19

According to the Dodgers' official Twitter, Turner left the game against Pittsburgh due to soreness in his left knee. 

Turner, 30, has been one of the Dodgers most valuable hitters in 2015. He entered Saturday hitting .289/.365/.485 with 15 home runs and a team-leading .850 OPS. 

The left side of Los Angeles' infield is banged up right now, with Turner joining shortstop Jimmy Rollins in battling health problems. Rookie Corey Seager has been fantastic since getting called up and has the ability to play shortstop or third base, depending on what manager Don Mattingly needs. 

However, the Dodgers don't have a potent offense, entering play Saturday tied for 19th with 606 runs scored. Losing a player like Turner, whether for one game or multiple days, makes the lineup even weaker with the postseason rapidly approaching. 

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com

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Omar Infante Injury: Updates on Royals 2B’s Back and Return

Omar Infante’s disastrous regular season for the Kansas City Royals may be over as it's unlikely he'll play again before the postseason due to a back injury.

Continue for updates. 


Infante to Have MRI; No Return Timetable 

Saturday, Sept. 19

Per Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, Royals manager Ned Yost said Infante will be "out for a while" and did not offer a potential return date for the veteran second baseman. 

Infante told Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com he will undergo an MRI on his back Monday after the Royals finish a series in Detroit this weekend. 

The 33-year-old left Friday's game against the Tigers in the fifth inning with an injury. If this is the end of his season, he did go out on a high note after driving in seven runs against Cleveland in an 8-4 win on Thursday. 

Unfortunately, that was about the only thing that's gone right for Infante this season. He's hitting .220/.234/.318 in 440 at-bats. 

The Royals had already reduced Infante's playing time in the second half after acquiring Ben Zobrist from Oakland, so his absence on the field won't impact the team's quest to make a second consecutive World Series appearance. 

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