MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Evan Longoria, Jason Kipnis and More

With some of the major dominoes such as Giancarlo Stanton down, other big names around MLB are starting to pop up in trade rumors.

Unsurprisingly, the New York Yankees are once again in the thick of the latest chatter, as are a couple of mainstays at other franchises. It is not a foregone conclusion that any of these players will be traded, but the fact there is smoke indicates they could be part of the next major swap.

Let us delve into the latest buzz and analyze what it could mean for the players and teams involved.

          

Rays Moving Face of Franchise?

Perhaps no player in Tampa Bay Rays history has been as important as Evan Longoria, who has spent the last 10 years with the team and was an instrumental part of the 2008 World Series run. However, there are inklings that Longoria's future in Tampa could be shaky.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the St. Louis Cardinals have expressed interest in acquiring Longoria as they look to reload for a pennant run in 2018. Yet, there are some obstacles in a potential deal, as Nightengale notes:

There are reasons this trade would make sense for both teams.

The Cardinals are in need of a third baseman, and Longoria would fit the bill of a great everyday player who could hit in the top of the lineup. The additions of Longoria and Marcell Ozuna would greatly improve a mediocre offense that finished seventh in the National League in scoring last season.

From the Rays side, losing Longoria would be a tough hit initially, but it would shed a 32-year-old signed through 2022 in exchange for presumably a nice haul of younger assets. For a rebuilding Tampa team, this would be ideal.

Per Nightengale, the Cardinals would need the Rays to take back an older player with a big contract. The only way the Rays could avoid this is by lowering their price in terms of desired prospects, which would then make trading Longoria moot.

Longoria's level of play has seemingly dropped in recent years. He posted his lowest average, .261, since 2014 and lowest homer total, 20, since 2012 last season. For a player carrying a long-term contract, these are red flags. 

The signs indicate that a Longoria trade is unlikely. The issues for both sides are too great, as it seems the parameters of a potential deal would net a small return. If Longoria can have a excellent 2018 season, then his value may be high enough for another team such as the Cardinals to part with a top prospect despite his large contract.

          

Mets Looking for 2B Help

While a plethora of injuries created a revolving door in the starting rotation last season for the New York Mets, the team also did not have much stability at second base.

Gavin Cecchini, Jose Reyes and Neil Walker all spent time rotating at second base, and the production was not great as Walker struggled to stay healthy with only 38 games played. Cecchini and Reyes each hit under .250. So it comes as no surprise that the team is looking to upgrade.

New York was linked to Ian Kinsler for weeks, even as recently as Dec. 13, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. However, the Los Angeles Angels swung a deal for him, leaving the Mets searching. According to Marc Carig of Newsday, Cleveland's Jason Kipnis is an option, albeit a long shot:

Kipnis' value has seemingly never been lower. He played in only 90 games and hit a career-low .232 to go with 12 homers and 35 RBI. He is also not a long-term commitment, having been signed through 2019. 

It is unclear who the Indians would want in return, since they hardly showed any flaws last season on the their way to earning the No. 1 seed in the American League postseason. 

As Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News writes, the Mets and general manager Sandy Alderson are taking a patient approach this offseason. Rather than jump on available deals and possibly overspend, New York is waiting it out in hopes that prices will drop and better moves can be made. 

This makes it more likely that any deal involving Kipnis either will not happen or will come at a much later time. The Mets are better off waiting to see what their roster and Cleveland's roster looks like in early 2018 before re-engaging for a better deal. 

Still, the Mets need to make a move for a second baseman. Even though Cecchini was the No. 12 pick in the 2012 MLB draft, it seems clear the Mets do not feel he is ready for full-time duty at second base, which makes the need for a veteran even greater.

          

Yankees Still Shopping for Pitching

No team has made a bigger splash this offseason than the Yankees with Stanton, but they do not seem to be done yet.

CC Sabathia is returning on a one-year deal, giving the team four established starters to go with Sonny Gray, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. The fifth rotation spot belongs to Jordan Montgomery or a young arm like Chance Adams, but the Yankees could be looking at other options on the trade market.

Per ESPN's Buster Olney, the Yankees are exploring the possibility of chasing Arizona Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin. Olney does not specify if New York has made any inquiries, but it is doing research on the lefty.

Corbin is one of a few quality starters the Yankees have been linked to, as Olney outlined the cost of what each of these options could require:

The Yankees do not lack young assets, but it does seem like Corbin could be the smartest route for a rotation that just needs more depth, not a top-end starter. 

Corbin has not been great the last two seasons, posting ERAs over 4.00 while dropping 26 decisions over that span. Still, he is a lefty who can log a lot of innings and is a perfect fit at the bottom of the rotation for a contending team.

He likely would not require a top-end prospect in a trade given his lack of recent production and the fact he is only controllable through 2019. 

Unless the price is right for a better arm such as Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer, pursuing Corbin makes sense since it would still keep the core of the farm system together. Adding him would be the icing on the cake for a tremendous offseason for the Yankees, who look like the favorites to overtake the Houston Astros in the AL.

         

Statistics and contract information are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. 

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Manny Machado, Giancarlo Stanton and More

Trade talks are heating up in MLB, and the latest rumors ahead of the 2017 Winter Meetings center around two of the biggest stars in the game.

Giancarlo Stanton has been a prominent name in trade talks for quite some time now, but recent buzz indicates that his situation is moving closer to a conclusion. Meanwhile, Manny Machado's name has surfaced with the final year of his contract coming up.

Moving both would certainly alter the landscape of MLB, but how feasible are these possibilities?

Let us delve into these rumblings and analyze what effect they could have on the league if true.

         

Where Does Stanton Stand?

The constantly fluid trade developments for Stanton took another turn late Thursday night, as his list of destinations seemingly shrank.

Per Craig Mish of SiriusXM Sports, Stanton approved the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees as teams he would waive his no-trade rights for. 

This list is intriguing for several reasons, starting with the fact that it does not include the San Francisco Giants or the St. Louis Cardinals, two teams that met with Stanton and have often been linked with him.

The Cardinals in particular made a strong offer, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which included top pitching prospects Sandy Alcantara or Jack Flaherty and taking on the 10 years, roughly $295 million remaining on Stanton's mammoth contract.

However, both the Cardinals and Giants are in unclear territory for Stanton, despite each making an offer the Miami Marlins would accept, per Mish:

Stanton has also apparently made it clear that he wants to compete for championships for the foreseeable future. His four preferred destinations made up the league championship matchups last season, and each has a core in place to contend for the next several years. Yet all four have serious obstacles that could prevent such a trade from going down.

The Astros have a bevy of young talent they need to lock up on the heels of their World Series run. Considering they were slightly below the league average last season in payroll, it seems unlikely they could afford even two-thirds of Stanton's contract while holding on to other key pieces.

The Cubs and Dodgers are in similar situations to each other after representing the National League each of the past two seasons. The Dodgers had the top payroll in baseball last season with Julio Arias, Cody Bellinger, Yasmani Grandal, Corey Seager and Chris Taylor all now needing new contracts. Acquiring Stanton would require moving several core players, which does not seem logical considering Los Angeles' success in recent years.

Chicago has Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber all needing raises. Unless they want to move two or three of these players for one monster contract, the Cubs would be wise to look elsewhere.

The Yankees are the scariest destination considering the power they already have in their lineup. ESPN's Buster Olney provided a snapshot of what the Bronx Bombers could field if Stanton were added to the mix:

However, New York just got Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia's huge deals off of their payroll, and adding Stanton's money would put it in a tough spot with the group of young stars coming up that will soon need big contracts.

Jacoby Ellsbury's $21.1 million annual contract would have to be included in such a deal, and even still the Yankees would have an outfield logjam of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Stanton along with top prospects Estevan Florial and Clint Frazier knocking on the door.

As of now, it appears that either the Marlins will have to take a lesser deal or Stanton will have to expand his list to make a trade work. While wanting to play for a contender is understandable, there is a reason why those teams are elite in the first place. They cannot simply move their rosters around to accommodate a player like Stanton.

Unless a major development unfolds, this situation may drag on further.

     

Machado Possibly Available

A 25-year-old third baseman who can hit and has a rocket arm is something every team would sign up for. Well, it seems one could be available shortly.

According FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, the Baltimore Orioles are taking calls on Manny Machado. The superstar is a free agent after this upcoming season, and while the team wants to keep him, it may not be willing to dish out a contract similar to Stanton's, per Heyman.

The Orioles are not shopping Machado, but they are listening to other teams. Heyman adds that the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams expected to have the most interest. 

In just over five seasons, Machado is batting .279 with 138 homers and 406 RBI. Even in a relatively down 2017, the three-time All Star still smacked 33 dingers. Thus, it would obviously take a ton to bring in Machado, but the Phillies and Yankees each have the young talent to do so.

The Yankees are the more interesting option considering they are already built to win a World Series, but they have a crowded infield that would need to be ironed out to fit Machado. The team would hardly hesitate to move Chase Headley, but Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius along with rising stud Gleyber Torres and big bat Miguel Andujar also currently in the fold means several moves would need to happen.

New York is already expected to be a major player for Machado if he hits free agency, but is it content to risk waiting it out just for him to be traded elsewhere and sign a long-term deal? The Yankees have the luxury of possessing so many quality players, particularly in the infield, that they could take this approach.

Rather than trade a roster player or two in addition to a top prospect, the Yankees would be smart to go another year with an infield that brought them to the ALCS while also giving Torres a year to shine. If change is needed, then explore breaking up the infield.

For now, patience is key for a team that does not need to get desperate for talent.

Cardinals Not Done

The Cardinals surely did not put all of their eggs in one basket in terms of roster moves this offseason. Rumor has it that another veteran outfielder could be on the trade block.

Per Heyman, some around MLB believe St. Louis could start shopping Dexter Fowler. Whether this is related to the team's pursuit of Stanton is unknown, but the Cardinals have shown they will trade a recent free agent signing as they moved Mike Leake last year, Heyman noted.

Yet the expectation is the Cardinals would want a trade partner to take on some salary in a Fowler trade, similar to the Leake move.

After winning a World Series with the Cubs in 2016, Fowler was the Cardinals' top free agent addition when he signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million. While the soon-to-be 32-year-old put up career highs in homers, 18, and RBI, 64, in his lowest number of plate appearances, 491, since his rookie season, his age and term on his contract may be regrettable to St. Louis.

The Cardinals may want to maximize their return on Fowler before he potentially declines over the next few years. For a roster looking to get younger, a quality position prospect could be enough to ship out Fowler.

A team like the Colorado Rockies could be a destination given their need for a third outfielder. Fowler could slot in as a nice option in the bottom of the order for a team that is already on the rise following a playoff berth last season. 

Adding Fowler would solidify an already stout lineup, and it would allow the Rockies to focus on bolstering their pitching staff in free agency.

         

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com.

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MLB Free Agents 2018: New Rumors, Predictions for Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, More

Teams in need of pitching help are in luck, as the 2018 MLB free-agent class features numerous top-end starters and All-Star relievers.

A former Cy Young Award winner highlights the recent free-agency rumors, while two quality arms have also been in the news. Unsurprisingly, they are being linked to contending teams looking to bolster their pitching staffs in an attempt to chase a World Series title next season.

Take a look at the latest buzz in MLB circles and predictions for where some of the biggest free agents will land.

       

Brewers Looking for a Splash?

The Milwaukee Brewers became one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, going 86-76 and coming up one game short of the second wild-card spot in the National League. Now, it appears evident the team is looking to move up into the next tier of the NL.

Per Jon Morosi of MLB Network, Milwaukee is making a play for Jake Arrieta:

Pitching was not an issue for the Brewers last season, as they ranked fifth in the NL with a 4.00 ERA. This was even more true for their starting pitchers, whose 398 earned runs were the fourth-fewest allowed in the NL.

Jimmy Nelson, who impressed with a 12-6 record and 3.49 ERA in 29 starts last season, will miss the early part of next season as Morosi noted, but there are still quality arms to pick up the slack. Zach Davies went 17-9 last season with a 3.90 ERA, while Chase Anderson was 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA.

Milwaukee lacked depth behind this Big Three, but the addition of Arrieta would give the Brewers one of the NL's best rotations. However, it must come at the right price.

Arrieta is 31 years old and has shown signs of slowing down the past two seasons. After posting fantastic campaigns in 2014 (10-5, 2.53 ERA) and 2015 (Cy Young Award, 22-6, 1.77 ERA), Arrieta is a combined 32-18 with a 3.30 ERA in the last two seasons. His ERA has risen each of the past two years, yet he is still due for a raise from the $15.6 million he collected this past year.

Joe Zenzola of 105.7 FM in Milwaukee sees going after Arrieta as too great of a financial risk for the Brewers, which the numbers seem to indicate is a valid concern:

Guys like Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello and Jordan Zimmermann each make over $20 million annually, which looks to be the class Arrieta would fall into. It does not make sense for Milwaukee, considering Arrieta's age, to give out more than a three-year deal for this kind of money. Yet, do not be surprised if it overpays.

The fact that the Brewers are the first team to be linked to Arrieta means they are probably very interested. Free agency typically entails poor financial decisions, but Arrieta would help greatly in getting Milwaukee to the next level. Still, Milwaukee's offensive issues could offset this addition, since the unit ranked 10th in the NL in runs scored last season.

So, is Arrieta's contract worth this risk? The smart play is probably no, but the indications right now seem to be that Milwaukee is willing to gamble to improve the rotation, so expect the Brewers to be major players here.

       

Finalists Emerge for Cobb

Heading into last season, it appeared Alex Cobb had dug himself a deep hole for his contract year given his porous 2016. However, the right-hander bounced back to make himself one of the top free-agent arms on the market.

Cobb was a solid 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for a bad Tampa Bay Rays team, a great improvement from his disastrous 8.59 ERA he accumulated in just five starts the previous year. The three years prior, Cobb posted at least 10 wins per season with a 3.19 ERA. Naturally, teams are vying hard for his services.

According to Peter Gammons, the "industry consensus" is that the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees are the two major contenders for Cobb. Considering these two teams are built to contend for a World Series title for the next five years at least, it would make sense that Cobb would have his sights set on joining them. After all, winning is his No. 1 concern, as he relayed to MLB Network Radio:

Cobb is a great option as a third or fourth starter, and he should not come at too pricey of a raise from the $4.2 million he earned last season. It comes down to who of the Cubs and Yankees provide the better fit.

Chicago offers a more prominent role with Arrieta gone and Jon Lester coming off a down year of a 4.33 ERA. Cobb would likely be the second or third starter behind Kyle Hendricks or Lester, but the Cubs have more questions than the Yankees. First, the team lacks much support in the bullpen, especially with Wade Davis likely gone, per 670 The Score's Julie DiCaro. The mediocre depth in the rotation could also be an issue to drive down the Cubs' win total next season.

As for the Yankees, they are trending the greatest of arguably any team in baseball. New York will only improve with top prospects Chance Adams and Gleybar Torres joining an already stacked young core, and the team's rotation is dynamite with a top three of Sonny Gray, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. 

Should Cobb join New York, he would be the fourth starter with Jordan Montgomery claiming the No. 5 spot. Bringing in Cobb could mean the team does not bring back CC Sabathia, who was a leader in the clubhouse while also notching a fantastic 14-5 record last season.

The Yankees would probably put Cobb in the best position to succeed, but the Cubs have a greater need for him and would likely be more willing to jack up their offer. 

The Cubs were the first of the two teams to emerge as a contender, as DiCaro's note on Cobb came out several days before Gammons pinned the Yankees as players. Given how desperate Chicago is to add starting pitching, expect that to be Cobb's destination.

       

Top Reliever Drawing Interest

After notching 29 saves last season while splitting time between the Minnesota Twins and the Washington Nationals, Brandon Kintzler set himself up to be one of the relief options on the free-agent market. According to the latest buzz, teams are lining up for the 33-year-old.

Per Morosi, the Colorado Rockies and the St. Louis Cardinals are two teams looking for a closer that are eyeing Kintzler. The Cardinals were one of the league's top relief units a year ago, ranking seventh in MLB with a 3.81 ERA, but they only converted on 43 of 60 save opportunities. The Rockies meanwhile could use any help they can get, as their 4.40 ERA was the 10th-worst in baseball.

The Twins are also looking to bring back Kintzler, as Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reported almost two weeks ago:

Minnesota would be an intriguing option since Kintzler had the most success of his career there. In 99.2 innings with the Twins over two years, Kintzler allowed just 33 runs and was named an All-Star last season.

In terms of winning now, the Cardinals would probably be Kintzler's ideal situation. The team has the payroll and pieces in place to retool for a run in 2018 after a down 2017, and being a pitcher in St. Louis is much more desirable than Colorado, where routine fly balls turn into homers.

Look for Minnesota and St. Louis to be Kintzler's two finalists, with the Cardinals having more finances to offer.

        

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information is courtesy of Spotrac. 

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MLB Free Agents 2018: Latest Rumors on Billy Hamilton, Cameron Maybin and More

The 2018 MLB free-agent class certainly does not boast the same strength as the 2019 group, where players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are slated to hit the market. Yet, plenty of solid contributors are still available this winter.

Rumors are starting to circulate about where some of the bigger names could be heading. Notable outfielders known for tremendous speed have been in the news as of late, and they could be the first dominos to fall in free agency.

Let us take a look at the latest buzz on surrounding such free agents and what teams have been connected to them.

        

Billy Hamilton on the Move?

Despite generally being one of the elite franchises of the past decade thanks to three World Series titles, the San Francisco Giants endured a dreadful 64-98 campaign last season. Unsurprisingly, they are looking for a lot of help this offseason.

One name to recently surface is Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, who is drawing interest from the Giants, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi on Monday. Hamilton is one of several targets for San Francisco, who Morosi says are making a concerted effort to improve defensively in the outfield.

Hamilton would fit that bill, as his electric speed and fantastic arm have made him one of the most exciting center fielders. In addition to making highlight-reel catches over the years like the one below, he finished third among outfielders with 13 assists and second in double-plays started with four while boasting a 99.1 fielding percentage last season, per FanGraphs

Offensively, Hamilton is a dangerous leadoff man should he reach base. He has posted at least 50 stolen bases in each of the last four seasons, including a career-high 59 steals in 2017. However, he has never hit above .260 in his career, and his on-base percentage has hovered around .300 during that time.

Hamilton is a pending free agent with arbitration eligibility, but the Reds still control his rights. Whether they move him depends largely on Cincinnati's value of him financially.

If the Reds are not comfortable handing Hamilton a hefty raise from the $2.65 million he made last season, which he is certainly due for, then a trade would make sense. With the second-highest payroll in baseball, the Giants can accommodate Hamilton as a free agent.

Assuming this reported interest is real, look for the Reds to save some money by sending off Hamilton to be signed elsewhere while still getting a prospect and some cash back in return.

       

Royals Already Thinking Replacements?

The core of the Kansas City Royals' recent championships runs looks destined to split this winter, as Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are all heading for free agency. 

Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Royals are trying to bring back Hosmer and Moustakas, but they apparently have settled on letting Cain walk. This would leave a huge hole in the team's outfield, but there are reportedly replacements on the radar.

A recent World Series winner is one name to recently pop up, according to Morosi:

Cameron Maybin is talented player who has struggled with consistency at times. In addition to having great range in the outfield, Maybin is an average hitter who has hit over .260 three times in his career. He has shown flashes of being a top-end leadoff man, as he hit .315 in over 90 games in 2016, but he batted .228 last season, including .186 after being traded to the Houston Astros late in the summer.

This makes Maybin a high-reward player, but he does carry plenty of risk. He is coming off a five-year deal that paid him $5 million annually. The same annual salary for fewer years would be comfortable for the Royals, especially if they are going to try to keep up with the bidding for Hosmer and Moustakas.

However, another team could be in a better position financially to bid more for Maybin's upside, which could throw a wrench in Kansas City's plans. While Maybin is definitely no Cain, he is still a serviceable player who the Royals could regularly play near the bottom of the lineup or occasionally leading off. 

This team can still compete for a playoff position, especially by keeping its two prized infielders. Making a play for Maybin makes sense to stay in American League Central contention.

       

Reunion Unlikely for Ichiro

Along with guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki is one of the most iconic Seattle Mariners of all time.

With the 44-year-old Suzuki now a free agent and still looking to play, could Seattle bring him back to possibly close out his career? That seems unlikely, at least according to the latest chatter around the league.

Per MLB.com's Greg Johns, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is looking for outfield help, but the team does not view Suzuki as a viable option. The Mariners are looking to get younger, which certainly does not help Suzuki's case.

Suzuki has not hit at least .300 since 2010, but his on-base percentage has been above .300 since that time. While Suzuki hit .291 in 2016, his average dipped back to the .255 it has hovered around since 2012. 

It is also unclear if Suzuki would be willing to go back to Seattle, as the only recent word of his intentions is that his camp reached out to the Giants, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle

A player like Suzuki is likely to wait very long before finding a contract, as guys his age are not primary options for clubs. Rather, teams will approach him after most of the roster is filled out and in need of a reserve player. 

Suzuki can still contribute to an MLB team, and it would make more sense for him to join a contending team in need a fourth outfielder, such as the Houston Astros. Expect Suzuki to play in his 18th season, but not for Seattle.

        

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference. Contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.

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MLB Rumors: Latest Buzz on Giancarlo Stanton Trade, Masahiro Tanaka and More

Even though the 2017 season ended just days ago, it is never too late to start thinking about next year.

The Houston Astros spent nearly a decade cutting costs and slowly rebuilding through the draft before becoming World Series champions and an MLB powerhouse. With free agency on the horizon, teams must decide whether to start over or continue to add veteran pieces in an attempt to compete for a title in 2018. 

Unsurprisingly, rumors are flying all over the league regarding prominent players. Let us take a look at the latest buzz and the possible ramifications if true.

       

Marlins Cleaning House?

It is a new era in Miami with the Derek Jeter-highlighted ownership group taking over the Marlins, and the direction the brass is taking the team is looking more clear.

According to Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, Miami will try to move slugger Giancarlo Stanton and stud leadoff man Dee Gordon as part of an effort to cut the team payroll down to $90 million. 

Stanton is set to make $25 million next season, with that number ballooning to as high as $32 million in 2023 through 2025. In the prime of his career at 27 years old, Stanton is coming off his best MLB season by hitting .281 with 59 homers and 132 RBI. 

Although he is arguably the most feared hitter in baseball and a fan favorite in Miami, Stanton leaving via trade would be a smart move for the Marlins.

It is inefficient financially to tie up that much money to one player for a small-market team like the Marlins, and Stanton would bring back a nice package, even with a huge contract. SB Nation's Devan Fink compared the situation to Alex Rodriguez in Texas, which turned into arguably the biggest trade of the last 15 years:

Receiving any healthy return of quality prospects while shedding salary would considerably help Miami's rebuild. Throwing in another trade with a player like Gordon, who batted over .300 in his last two full seasons, would be gravy.

If Miami smartly plays these two moves, it could be on pace to become a contender down the road.

        

What Will Tanaka Do?

In his first three seasons in New York, Masahiro Tanaka looked worth the seven-year, $155 million the Yankees dished out for his services.

He posted a 29-16 record with an ERA just over 3.00, and it seemed he was destined to use his player opt-out at the end of 2017 for a greener paycheck. Yet, he came crashing down to Earth last season, struggling to a 13-12 mark with a 4.74 ERA. He was roughed up for 35 homers, tied for third-most in the American League.

That seemed to tip the scales toward Tanaka opting in to keep his high salary despite his mediocre numbers, but that may not be the case. Per FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, people around baseball believe Tanaka could choose free agency. 

Tanaka is set to make $67 million over the next three years should he stay, and even with one general manager saying Tanaka would never "beat that" on the open market, Heyman still reports the MLB sentiment is he'll go. 

Heyman added that while the Yankees initially did not plan to chase Tanaka, they may after his strong postseason finish. Tanaka threw 20 magnificent innings in October, allowing just 10 hits and two runs. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand asserted New York could work out an agreement to keep Tanaka for the same money, just less per year:

The upstart Yankees proved they are ready to win now in 2017, and bringing back Tanaka is the best move for both sides. 

Tanaka can still make his money while pitching for a World Series contender in a rotation that already includes Sonny Gray and Luis Severino. Throw in promising young arms Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery, and Tanaka could make this the top rotation in the AL for the next couple of seasons.

        

What is Cozart's Value?

Cincinnati's Zack Cozart became one of MLB's biggest surprises in 2017, going from an average hitter to a low-end MVP candidate.

After never topping .260 or 16 homers in his previous five seasons, Cozart exploded for 24 homers and 63 RBI while hitting .297 last year. His numbers made him the National League's top hitting shortstop over household names like Corey Seager, per ESPN Stats & Info:

With Cozart set to hit free agency, it would seem he did as well as possible in a contract year. Yet, that may not be the case. Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that while Cozart will do well this offseason, he may not get full value for his numbers.

At 32 years old, Cozart is not likely to get a three-year deal, at least according to one MLB executive who spoke to Buchanan. While the Reds could extend a qualifying offer of $17.4 million to Cozart and receive a high draft pick should he decline and sign elsewhere, Buchanan reports the team is unlikely to do so at the risk of Cozart accepting it and tying up salary it could use for other players.

That leaves Cozart in a no man's land of sorts. He could get a fairly lucrative annual figure with a contender looking to upgrade in the infield, but it will only be on a one- or two-year deal. 

This makes sense given Cozart's history, which means last season could have been an anomaly. Teams will certainly not want to risk that being the case, which ends any chance of Cozart receiving a long-term commitment at this stage of his career.

Unfortunately for Cozart, the list of contenders in need of a shortstop is practically nonexistent. However, a team like the Arizona Diamondbacks could use more pop in the lineup at shortstop or second base, but it would have to be at the right price.

        

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.

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Astros vs. Dodgers: Game 1 Time, TV Info, Live Stream and More

It is not often that arguably the top two teams in the regular season end up meeting in the World Series, but that is just what we have in 2017.

The Houston Astros won the American League West with a 101-61 record, while the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed the National League West with a sparkling 104-58 mark. It is historically rare that two teams of this caliber navigated this far into the postseason, per ESPN Stats and Info:

What is not a surprise is that both teams will trot out elite starters for their Game 1 tilt. Add in a pair of elite offenses, and Tuesday should be the start of a must-watch series.

               

Game 1 Schedule

When: Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

             

Game 1 Preview

There is perhaps no pitcher scarier to the opposition than Clayton Kershaw.

The best arm of this generation, Kershaw was outstanding again in 2017 with an 18-4 record along with a 2.31 ERA. In fact, he has posted an ERA under 2.15 in each of the last four seasons, so the Dodgers should feel pretty good about him throwing in Game 1.

Yet, his postseason play has attracted criticism, especially considering he has been roughed up for an ERA over 6.00 twice since 2009, and he allowed a pedestrian 12 earned runs in 24.1 innings in 2016. 

Pitching in the playoffs is difficult as it entails besting the top lineups in baseball. While Kershaw has not been untouchable in his postseason career, he has still been very good. He allowed just three runs in 11 innings in the NLCS, and his recent play has put him alongside another pitcher known for being clutch, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi:

He has had some trouble against the current Astros lineup, though. Jose Altuve is an excellent 6-for-15 lifetime against Kershaw, including four doubles. Carlos Correa and Evan Gattis are also a combined 3-for-10 versus Kershaw.

While Kershaw could face some slight issues, he has much more room for error compared to his elite counterpart in Houston starter Dallas Keuchel.

Los Angeles' bullpen is brilliant, having ranked fourth in MLB with a 3.38 ERA in the regular season before following up with just three runs allowed in 28.2 postseason frames. 

Meanwhile, it took until Charlie Morton in Game 7 of the ALCS for any pitcher besides Keuchel and Justin Verlander to earn a win for the Astros. In the playoffs, the team's bullpen has been tattooed for 19 runs in 34 innings, and guys like Lance McCullers Jr., who threw four scoreless innings in the aforementioned Game 7, are not going to be available in relief on Tuesday.

Keuchel and any other Astros starter has to be perfect to earn a win, especially against a juggernaut like the Dodgers. It is not like Keuchel has a ton of experience with the Los Angeles lineup to lean on, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle:

This could work to Keuchel's advantage since the Dodgers have not seen his stuff, but it will still be tough sledding for him and the Astros. 

The Dodgers have scored 48 runs in eight games, while the Astros have been formidable with 44 runs in 11 games. Still, Keuchel has to overcome a team with an equal or better offense, a much superior bullpen and a historically great starter.

Throw in the fact that Keuchel went from an ace with a 2.26 ERA at home this season compared to a mortal 3.53 ERA on the road, all signs point to a likely Dodgers win to open up this season.

                    

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

NLCS Schedule 2017: Cubs vs. Dodgers Game Times, Live Stream and Updated Odds

It was not pretty, but the Chicago Cubs staved off elimination and remain alive to defend their World Series crown.

A stressful eighth inning saw the Los Angeles Dodgers close the gap in Wednesday's Game 4, but the Cubs survived to force one more game at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series. Now they will try to get another starting performance like the one Jake Arrieta tossed in Game 4 to try to move the series back to Los Angeles.

Is that plausible? Perhaps, but familiar issues still exist for Chicago. With that in mind, here is how you can catch the rest of the NLCS action, with OddsShark.com providing the latest chances each will go all the way.

            

Series Odds

Cubs: 50-1

Dodgers: 91-100

                    

Game 5

When: Thursday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live

          

Game 6*

When: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m.

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live

 

Game 7*

When: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live

         

Game 5 Preview

If not for Arrieta, this series could already be over.

The righty was nearly perfect in Game 4, allowing just three hits over 6.2 innings. His lone blemish was leaving one pitch up in the zone for Cody Bellinger to go yard in the third frame.

Unless the Cubs can get similar production out of Jose Quintana in Game 5 with an extra inning or two of work, they could be trouble.

Offense is still a serious problem for Chicago in the NLCS, as they have only scored seven runs thus far. The team is not generating enough hits to get men on base, which has resulted in all seven of those runs coming off of home runs, including five solo shots.

As Christopher Kamka of NBC Sports Chicago pointed out, consistently getting on base has been the death of the Cubs' lineup:

A lack of offensive support has left the glaring weakness of relief pitching exposed. The Cubs bullpen has given up a porous eight earned runs in just 13.1 NLCS innings, including 13 walks. To make matters worse, the team's most reliable reliever, Wade Davis, is coming off a 48-pitch save on Wednesday, which likely makes him unavailable for Game 5.

If all of that is not enough reason for Quintana—who owns an excellent 1.59 ERA this postseason but allowed both of his runs in the Game 1 loss—to throw the game of his life, then adding in Clayton Kershaw on the other side certainly suffices.

With a 2.36 ERA in 10 seasons, Kershaw is the greatest pitcher of this generation, but he has lost his dominance in the postseason. In 100.1 career playoff frames, his ERA is a pedestrian 4.57, and he has not been great in 2017, with six runs allowed in 11.1 innings. That includes two runs in five innings in a Dodgers comeback 5-2 victory in Game 1.

In fact, the Cubs franchise has had Kershaw's number throughout his career, per ESPN's Jesse Rogers:

Still, this is Kershaw, and he should strike fear into any lineup he faces. He is also pitching with much more room for error than Quintana, considering the Dodgers' bullpen has allowed just three hits and no runs over 14 innings in the NLCS.

Even if Kershaw allows a run or two, he should still be fine. Los Angeles' two runs were its lowest output of the postseason, as the Dodgers are averaging just under four runs a game this postseason. Having Justin Turner put up MVP-caliber numbers also helps.

In 26 at-bats this postseason, Turner is hitting .423 with three homers and 11 RBI to go with six walks. He's kept in going in the NLCS, batting .385 with two homers and six RBI.

This is no fluke for Turner, who is among the greatest playoff hitters in MLB history, per ESPN:

Everything about this series has pointed to the Dodgers advancing, especially now since only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have ever come back from a 0-3 deficit. Los Angeles is getting much better hitting and pitching on a consistent basis, while the hostile confines of Wrigley Field have not had much of an effect. The team owned the NL's second-best road record this season, and it already took a game in Chicago while nearly coming back in Game 4.

Look for Kershaw to throw at least six solid innings to allow the bullpen to close it down. Quintana has only thrown at least seven innings three times since joining the Cubs in July, and he will be hard-pressed to do so in Game 5 against such a potent Dodgers lineup.

Expect Los Angeles to take advantage of the Chicago bullpen late, thus securing a trip to the World Series.

        

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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ALCS Schedule 2017: Astros vs. Yankees Game Times, Odds and Prediction

We now officially have a series.

After waking up offensively in Games 3 and 4, the New York Yankees are full of life as they look to force an elimination game in the American League Championship Series. As for the Houston Astros, a familiar problem has undone the impressive two-game lead they earned to start the series, and it could end up sinking their season.

Two more games are guaranteed, but it seems likely that one team is going to need to steal a road game in order to win the ALCS. Want to catch the action? Check out the upcoming schedule, as well as the latest odds after, courtesy of OddsShark.com.

   

Latest World Series Odds

Astros: 9/4

Yankees: 7/2

   

Game 5

When: Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

   

Game 6

When: Friday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

   

Game 7*

When: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

 

    

Game 5 Preview

Perhaps no two pitchers are throwing as well this postseason as Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, and the pair were instrumental in earning the Astros two wins to open up this series. Now, Houston's weaknesses are beginning to show up.

Rotation depth and a poor bullpen helped down the Astros in Games 3 and 4. Charlie Morton was tattooed for seven earned runs in just 3.2 innings as Will Harris came on in relief to surrender a three-run homer to the slumping Aaron Judge and allowed an earned run himself in the Game 3 defeat. 

Lance McCullers Jr. turned in perhaps his best start in months as he iced the Yankees for one hit in six innings before conceding a solo shot to Judge. Yet, the relief party of Chris Devenski, Ken Giles and Joe Musgrove combined to allow six hits and five runs to squander Houston's four-run lead in Game 4. 

In fact, only Keuchel and Verlander have registered wins for Houston this postseason, combining for just five earned runs in 30.1 innings. As for the rest of the Astros, they have combined for a porous 29 runs conceded in 38.1 innings. The bullpen was not much better throughout the regular season, finishing 17th in MLB with a 4.27 ERA. 

Keuchel is set to start Game 5, which is the bright side for Houston. He blanked the Yankees for just four hits and no runs over seven innings in Game 1, but he has only gone at least seven innings four times since May 2. This means the Astros will have to again turn to their shaky bullpen at some point, which forced MLB Network's Robert Flores to joke that Keuchel may need to stay in the game as long as possible:

Masahiro Tanaka is up again for this deep rotation, and he has also been sensational in the postseason. He's allowed just seven hits and two walks in a pair of starts, going 13 innings in that time. Tanaka should be fine, but unlike Keuchel, he has a dominant bullpen supporting him that should have Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and possibly Aroldis Chapman available in Game 4.

That Yankees' pitching prowess has been able to limit an explosive Astros offense to just nine runs in four games—a far cry from the 24 they scored in four ALDS games to go with their MLB-best 896 runs in the regular season. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are the only two Astros hitting above .231 who have played in all three games, with stars like George Springer, .071 average, being the main culprits for the scoring lag.

Springer understands Houston needs more offensively, but he still feels his team can overcome and grind out enough wins, per Matt Ehalt of NorthJersey.com.

"I would be surprised, but [when] you’re facing a staff like that and bullpen like that, it’s hard to score," said Springer after Game 3. "Those guys are good over there and it's going to be a battle this whole series. We’re not going to come out and score eight runs every game. We’re going to have to fight."

Houston needs to rebound quickly, as the Yankees have been an unstoppable force at home in 2017. With the AL's best home mark of 51-30 during the regular season, New York is using Yankee Stadium to help fuel its playoff run, and history has been kind to the team when doing so, per ESPN:

With that in mind, Game 5 truly feels like a toss-up.

Keuchel should be his excellent self, but he cannot afford any mistakes given the mediocrity of his bullpen and the energy that an error would give the Yankee Stadium crowd. Tanaka and the bullpen should also be fine, but can New York provide enough run support?

The past two games have shown that the most likely scenario is Keuchel going six or seven innings, maybe giving up a run, before New York scores late. The Yankees do not have nearly the same amount of risk associated with them due their pitching depth, so they look to be a safer bet to take Game 5, especially at home.

Still, the Astros have another Verlander start left, and he is much more likely to give them extended starting length to avoid the bullpen. Look for this series to eventually go seven games, but Houston's chances are slim unless they can find a gem outing from a third starter.

 

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

ALCS Schedule 2017: Astros vs. Yankees Game Times, Odds and Prediction

We now officially have a series.

After waking up offensively in Games 3 and 4, the New York Yankees are full of life as they look to force an elimination game in the American League Championship Series. As for the Houston Astros, a familiar problem has undone the impressive two-game lead they earned to start the series, and it could end up sinking their season.

Two more games are guaranteed, but it seems likely that one team is going to need to steal a road game in order to win the ALCS. Want to catch the action? Check out the upcoming schedule, as well as the latest odds after, courtesy of OddsShark.com.

   

Latest World Series Odds

Astros: 9/4

Yankees: 7/2

   

Game 5

When: Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

   

Game 6

When: Friday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

   

Game 7*

When: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

 

    

Game 5 Preview

Perhaps no two pitchers are throwing as well this postseason as Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, and the pair were instrumental in earning the Astros two wins to open up this series. Now, Houston's weaknesses are beginning to show up.

Rotation depth and a poor bullpen helped down the Astros in Games 3 and 4. Charlie Morton was tattooed for seven earned runs in just 3.2 innings as Will Harris came on in relief to surrender a three-run homer to the slumping Aaron Judge and allowed an earned run himself in the Game 3 defeat. 

Lance McCullers Jr. turned in perhaps his best start in months as he iced the Yankees for one hit in six innings before conceding a solo shot to Judge. Yet, the relief party of Chris Devenski, Ken Giles and Joe Musgrove combined to allow six hits and five runs to squander Houston's four-run lead in Game 4. 

In fact, only Keuchel and Verlander have registered wins for Houston this postseason, combining for just five earned runs in 30.1 innings. As for the rest of the Astros, they have combined for a porous 29 runs conceded in 38.1 innings. The bullpen was not much better throughout the regular season, finishing 17th in MLB with a 4.27 ERA. 

Keuchel is set to start Game 5, which is the bright side for Houston. He blanked the Yankees for just four hits and no runs over seven innings in Game 1, but he has only gone at least seven innings four times since May 2. This means the Astros will have to again turn to their shaky bullpen at some point, which forced MLB Network's Robert Flores to joke that Keuchel may need to stay in the game as long as possible:

Masahiro Tanaka is up again for this deep rotation, and he has also been sensational in the postseason. He's allowed just seven hits and two walks in a pair of starts, going 13 innings in that time. Tanaka should be fine, but unlike Keuchel, he has a dominant bullpen supporting him that should have Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and possibly Aroldis Chapman available in Game 4.

That Yankees' pitching prowess has been able to limit an explosive Astros offense to just nine runs in four games—a far cry from the 24 they scored in four ALDS games to go with their MLB-best 896 runs in the regular season. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are the only two Astros hitting above .231 who have played in all three games, with stars like George Springer, .071 average, being the main culprits for the scoring lag.

Springer understands Houston needs more offensively, but he still feels his team can overcome and grind out enough wins, per Matt Ehalt of NorthJersey.com.

"I would be surprised, but [when] you’re facing a staff like that and bullpen like that, it’s hard to score," said Springer after Game 3. "Those guys are good over there and it's going to be a battle this whole series. We’re not going to come out and score eight runs every game. We’re going to have to fight."

Houston needs to rebound quickly, as the Yankees have been an unstoppable force at home in 2017. With the AL's best home mark of 51-30 during the regular season, New York is using Yankee Stadium to help fuel its playoff run, and history has been kind to the team when doing so, per ESPN:

With that in mind, Game 5 truly feels like a toss-up.

Keuchel should be his excellent self, but he cannot afford any mistakes given the mediocrity of his bullpen and the energy that an error would give the Yankee Stadium crowd. Tanaka and the bullpen should also be fine, but can New York provide enough run support?

The past two games have shown that the most likely scenario is Keuchel going six or seven innings, maybe giving up a run, before New York scores late. The Yankees do not have nearly the same amount of risk associated with them due their pitching depth, so they look to be a safer bet to take Game 5, especially at home.

Still, the Astros have another Verlander start left, and he is much more likely to give them extended starting length to avoid the bullpen. Look for this series to eventually go seven games, but Houston's chances are slim unless they can find a gem outing from a third starter.

 

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

NLCS Schedule 2017: Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 3 TV Coverage and Predictions

Could the Chicago Cubs' World Series defense be coming to an end?

After battling to edge the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series, the Cubs have gone down two games in the 2017 NLCS against the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers. Now they will need to rely on the comfortable confines of Wrigley Field to break out of their slump and get back into this series.

Want to catch the action? Check out how you can tune in for Game 3.

   

NLCS Game 3 Viewing Schedule

When: Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live

    

Game 3 Preview

The Cubs had no problems scoring runs after the All-Star break, leading MLB with a whopping 423 runs in that span. Yet the bats have gone cold this postseason.

The team is averaging under three runs a night in seven games, with nine of those coming in the ALDS Game 5 triumph over Washington. Granted, a decrease in scoring is expected when facing aces like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but Chicago's current pace simply is not going to cut it.

Not when the Cubs' pitching has been down all season. After leading baseball with a 3.15 team ERA a year ago, Chicago's pitching dropped to a 3.95 mark in 2017. In the postseason, the team's ERA is 4.01.

The Cubs need several key guys to start hitting, including Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who are both batting below .200 in the playoffs. Javier Baez is the most floundering Cub at the moment, per ESPN Stats and Info:

On the other hand, the Dodgers have been excellent this postseason with five straight wins. 

They will trot out Yu Darvish in Game 3, which is a testament to the team's rotation depth. In a limited sample size, Darvish has been great against the current Cubs lineup. Bryant is 0-for-3, as Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell are also hitless. Ben Zobrist is a brutal 2-for-12. Rizzo is the only Chicago hitter with much success, having smacked a two-run double off of Darvish.

That is not a good sign for Chicago, especially since it has yet to score a run off of Los Angeles' bullpen. 

Yet Kyle Hendricks will look to lift the Cubs back into this series. 

The righty has an exceptional playoff resume, which typically makes him a surefire option to boost this Chicago team. However, he was lit up for nine hits and four runs in just four innings in Game 5 against Washington. That is not normal for Hendricks, who entered the game with sick numbers, per MLB Network:

Was his last start simply an anomaly? Perhaps, but he will have to take care of Justin Turner in order to shut down the Dodgers lineup, as the third baseman is turning in an MVP-type postseason performance.

He is batting .429 in October, hitting two homers and driving in 10 runs in the process. Need clutch hits? Turner is fresh off of a three-run walk-off shot to end Game 2, as he is hitting .375 in the NLCS. Per Sporting News' Ryan M. Spaeder, Turner is actually one of the best playoff hitters of all time:

Turner is 2-for-7 lifetime against Hendricks, including a homer and three RBI. 

Chicago was pretty solid at home, 48-33, which was good for third-best in the NL. They have run into the league's top two road teams during the regular season, though, in Los Angeles and Washington. The Dodgers were 47-34 away from home in 2017, which could neutralize Chicago's home-field advantage.

There is something to be said about postseason experience, particularly since the Cubs have now played in the NLCS for three straight years. The Dodgers have been snakebitten in the playoffs, but this year just feels different.

Chicago is hanging on like never before, while Los Angeles is surging and finding ways to win games with offense and pitching. Until the Cubs can prove they can hit this postseason, it is hard to pick them over Darvish and the Dodgers. Expect a close one, but look for the road team to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.

 

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

ALCS Schedule 2017: Dates, TV Schedule, Early Odds and Picks

The New York Yankees shocked the world in the American League Division Series, coming back to win three straight games to knock out the AL favorite Cleveland Indians. Yet, can they continue their magic?

New York cannot afford to fall into a similar deficit in the AL Championship Series, as the Houston Astros are playing World Series-caliber baseball at the moment, particularly on offense.

One league MVP candidate is doing his best to secure a pennant for the Astros, while the Yankees' leading slugger is hoping to end his free fall in the ALCS.

How can you catch all of this exciting action? Tune in starting Friday to see if the Yankees can win another series as an underdog while Houston tries to keep on rolling, with the current World Series odds coming via OddsShark.com.

              

ALCS 2017 Viewing Schedule, Dates

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 13 on FS1

Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 14 on Fox

Game 3: Monday, Oct. 16 on FS1

Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 17 on Fox/FS1

Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 18 on Fox/FS1

Game 6*: Friday, Oct. 20 on Fox/FS1

Game 7*: Saturday, Oct. 21 on Fox/FS1

          

Updated World Series Odds

Houston Astros: 9-4

New York Yankees: 15-4

             

ALCS Preview

Pitching was the name of the game for the Yankees in the ALDS, as CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined for three excellent starts to propel New York to come back from the two-game deficit.

It also helps that the team possesses a lights-out bullpen that capped off the three wins, per SI.com's Joe Sheehan:

Relief pitching is an area the Yankees excelled in this season, as they finished third in the league with a bullpen ERA of 3.34. That has carried over into the postseason as a whole.

Aroldis Chapman has thrown 6.2 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts, Tommy Kahnle has not allowed a hit in five innings and David Robertson has conceded just four hits and one run in eight frames of work.

When the Yankees receive a solid start, they are pretty tough to beat. This bullpen gives them a distinct advantage late in the game, as the Astros' mediocre relief pitching put them 17th in MLB with a 4.17 ERA, and they followed that up with 10 runs allowed over 16.1 innings in their ALDS matchup with the Boston Red Sox.

Luckily for Houston, it has an offense explosive enough to spot its bullpen with plenty of runs.

The Astros led the league in scoring this season, easily topping the second-ranked Yankees with 896 runs while also leading MLB with a .282 average. In fact, Houston boasted one of the best attacks in baseball history, per MLB.com's Mike Petriello:

Jose Altuve has led the way this postseason, going 8-for-15 in the ALDS with three homers, four RBI and four walks.

Meanwhile, his main competition for AL MVP could not be struggling more. Aaron Judge had one hit, a huge two-run double in Game 4, in the ALDS and set a record for most strikeouts in a postseason series with 16.

ESPN's Buster Olney put the slump into a different perspective during Game 5:

Judge did not receive the quality of help around him like Yulieski Gurriel and George Springer, who each hit over .400, while Carlos Correa is still arguably the best shortstop despite not having his best series. Yet, the Yankees cannot feel as great about their chances if Judge replicates this clunker of a series.

Starting pitching is an area of strength for Houston, though, carrying two aces in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander along with strong secondary options such as Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock.

Keuchel, who will start Game 1, iced the Yankees in his lone start against them in the regular season, going six innings with five hits and earned runs.

Still, the Yankees can counter. Starting pitchers have not been announced, but it is safe to assume two of Sonny Gray, Severino and Tanaka will start in Games 1 and 2.

Gray was shaky with his 3.1 innings of work in the ALDS, but he is still a quality arm and his 3.45 career ERA make him one of the best pitchers in this series.

Throw in Severino and Tanaka, both of whom are coming off of at least seven innings of masterful pitching in their last outings, and New York is sitting pretty with Sabathia available to throw big innings later in the series.

With all of these factors in mind, the Yankees feel like the favorite here. 

They are much better equipped than Boston to handle Houston with their pitching, and they have been scraping together an average of just under five runs a game, which is more than enough in the playoffs.

The bullpen will be key, as New York's stronger ability to hold leads or cease the Astros' offense late in games can allow the Yankees to capitalize on a shaky Houston relief group.

This series looks destined to go at least six games, but look for the Yankees to pull another upset and move on to the World Series.

              

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoffs 2017: Odds, TV Schedule, Predictions for Final ALDS Game

After each divisional series began with two-game leads, the New York Yankees have emerged as a possible upset contender as they forced Game 5 thanks to excellent pitching.

The Bronx Bombers have responded in a big way since blowing a five-run lead in Game 2, which puts the pressure back on the Cleveland Indians to prove themselves as the American League favorite. The winner of Wednesday's ALDS matchup will move on to battle the Houston Astros, who used a late comeback Monday to finish off the Boston Red Sox.

It will not be an easy task for the Yankees, who once again have to overcome likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Yet, the pitching prowess of New York gives as good of a chance as ever to complete the impressive turnaround. Take a look at what Vegas thinks of that chance, according to OddsShark.com.

       

Yankees at Indians Viewing Guide

When: Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Odds: Yankees 147/100, Indians 27/50

 

Game 5 Preview

No pitcher instilled more fear in AL opponents this season than Kluber, who posted a stout 18-4 record with a 2.25 ERA this season. Even more impressive was the 0.84 ERA Kluber finished with in six September starts leading into the postseason.

Naturally, the shellacking the righty endured in Game 2 came as a giant shock. Kluber was tattooed for seven hits, six runs and home runs to Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez in just 2.2 innings.

As baseball writer Jayson Stark noted, Kluber has not been hit that hard in quite some time:

Kluber hopes a second go-around against the Yankees, a team he allowed just three runs in 17 innings to in two 2017 regular season starts, will translate into redemption on Wednesday, per Alec Brzezinski of Sporting News:

"I think we do that constantly throughout the year. That's part of being a starting pitcher. The way we approach it is you get to pitch once every five games, but those other four games, you're learning, you're trying to pick up on tendencies, things like that

"We talk a lot amongst the starters about other teams and their lineups and maybe the way we want to attack them, what they're trying to do, things like that. So I think it's no different now. That's kind of the way we always go about it."

For a pitcher as talented as Kluber, expecting improvement in his next start should be a given, which is bad news for the Yankees. It will be up to CC Sabathia to help save New York's season.

The 37-year-old lefty already got the best of Kluber in Game 2, allowing three hits and two earned runs in 5.1 innings. Sabathia only had three starts this season of at least seven innings, but he does not need to go the distance for the Yankees to be successful in Game 5.

New York has arguably the best bullpen in baseball, as it can trot out a number of flame-throwing arms. Take Game 4 for example, as the Yankees' power pitching was on display without Aroldis Chapman or Chad Green taking the hill, per MLB.com's Daren Willman:

The Yankees bullpen should be plenty rested after Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined for 14.1 innings in the last two games. On the contrary, Cleveland has had to delve into its relief pitching over the same span after Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco combined for a mere 7.1 frames.

Either way, both teams need star players to break out of slumps to generate any consistent offense. 

Aaron Judge is mired in a 1-for-15 start in the ALDS, while Cleveland's two most dangerous hitters have also been iced in the series, via ESPN Stats and Info and ESPN's Jordan Zirm:

Of course, Francisco Lindor smacked a grand slam in Game 2, and Judge lined a huge two-run double in Game 4, so neither of these guys have been totally ineffective. Yet either getting hot would give his team a massive boost in Game 5.

Starting pitching has to favor the Indians, but the Yankees look to have an advantage in the bullpen. So who has the edge?

Playing at Progressive Field is a major plus for Cleveland, who boasted a 49-32 mark for the AL's second best home record behind the Yankees. That also helps Kluber, who is normally dominant at home with a 10-2 record and 1.81 ERA in the regular season. 

Expect Kluber to go deep into the game while the Indians are able to muster a run or two off of Sabathia before being shut down by the New York bullpen. The contest will come down to the final pitches, but look for the experience of the Indians to take over against a Yankees team starting five key players in Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Hicks, Judge and Sanchez who are playing in their first postseason series.

       

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Schedule 2017: Live Stream, Predictions for Friday’s AL, NL Matchups

The American League and National League divisional rounds are nearly both underway, and Friday provides the first chance to watch all four matchups in one day.

As with any playoff series, exceptional pitching is set to be on display, as arguably the game's top two pitchers in Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians will take the hill. Yet, that has not seemed to matter at times this postseason. In the wild-card round, for instance, a starting foursome that included aces like Zack Greinke and Luis Severino combined to pitch just 7.1 innings.

How can you watch this full day of top-notch baseball? Check out the viewing schedule for Game 2s in the AL and Game 1s in the NL.

   

Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

When: Friday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. ET

Television: FS1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

   

New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians

When: Friday, Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. ET

Television: MLB Network

Live Stream: MLB.tv

   

Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals

When: Friday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live, MLB.tv

   

Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

When: Friday, Oct. 6 at 10:30 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live, MLB.tv

    

Houston vs. Boston Preview

The Boston Red Sox threw their ace in Game 1, and it did not go well.

Chris Sale was tattooed for seven runs and nine hits in just five innings as the Houston Astros easily took the contest 8-2. The Red Sox will now turn to Drew Pomeranz to tie the series before it heads back to Boston.

Pomeranz turned in an excellent season, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He also threw his best against baseball's top teams, per the Red Sox Notes statistics profile:

He will need to be just as stout on Friday against an Astros lineup littered with dangerous bats. Houston led MLB with 896 runs and a .282 team average in the regular season, and the offense is still rolling after battering Sale. 

Besides Thursday's hero Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, Pomeranz does have a solid history against the Astros lineup, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle:

This should make it a low-scoring affair, especially since Houston is throwing 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. 

The lefty was great again this season with a 14-5 mark and 2.90 ERA, but he has not faced this Boston lineup too often. Other than Rajai Davis and Mitch Moreland, both of whom are hitting below .100 lifetime, no Red Sox hitter has more than 10 career at-bats against Keuchel.

Such a tight pitching matchup makes this game a toss-up on paper, but Houston's dynamite offense and rowdy home crowd should give them a slight advantage. Look for the Astros to squeeze a run or two home to walk out with a narrow win.

    

Cleveland vs. New York Preview

If one thought the Red Sox were in trouble after Game 1, take a look at the New York Yankees' ominous position.

After using their bullpen for 8.2 innings in the wild-card round, the Yankees got just 3.1 frames out of starter Sonny Gray on Thursday. New York relievers still allowed just two hits and a run the rest of the night, but a dominant bullpen is being stretched out early.

It will be up to 37-year-old CC Sabathia to right the ship and give New York a quality outing. He has been the man for the job in 2017 after a Yankees loss, per Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News:

Sabathia has gone seven or more innings only three times this season, but New York should have Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson available again after their long wild-card stints. The Yankees should be set up to win on the hill, except for one major problem.

No pitcher was as dominant this season, especially in the AL, as Kluber. He went 18-4 on the year with a sparkling 2.25 ERA, which will likely win him the Cy Young. He has also been fantastic against the Yankees this season, posting a 2-0 record with three runs allowed in 17 innings. Lifetime, only Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting above .250 among the current Yankees.

With a rested bullpen and possibly the best pitcher in baseball, Cleveland should be favored here. This is truly an elite team that has already flexed its muscles in this series. Expect a 2-0 Indians lead going back to the Bronx.

    

Chicago vs. Washington Preview

After a slow start, the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs got back on track to win the NL Central and enter October as a title contender.

After the All-Star break, Chicago led MLB with 423 runs and were second with a .273 team batting average. Kris Bryant, 29 homers and 73 RBI, and Anthony Rizzo, 32 homers and 109 RBI, returned to form again in 2017, as Chicago had six players smack at least 20 dingers for the year.

The Cubs will need that offense going against a red-hot Stephen Strasburg, who finished the year with a 15-4 record and 2.52 ERA. He ended his season on an absolute tear over five starts, per the Washington Nationals team Twitter account:

With Trea Turner coming back from injury, this is the best Nationals team ever on paper, especially with Ryan Zimmerman going off for 36 homers and 108 RBI on the year. This makes them the favorite for the series and Game 1.

Strasburg should perform very well if he continues his recent play, and that will be the key to this game. Washington ranked a lowly 23rd in MLB with a bullpen ERA of 4.41, so this will be the weakness for Chicago to exploit.

Against any other Washington starter besides Max Scherzer, this would give the Cubs a pretty solid chance to pull out a win. However, expect Strasburg, who was 7-2 at home this season, to lead the Nationals to an early series lead.

    

Arizona vs. Los Angeles Preview

Another year, another example of Kershaw's otherworldly talents.

After putting up an 18-4 record and 2.31 ERA in 2017, Kershaw continued to lower his career numbers, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian:

There is no question Kershaw is likely the top pitcher of his generation, but his postseason numbers have not matched his regular-season dominance. He sports 4.55 ERA in 14 career starts, and he is coming off of a shaky 2016 playoff run in which he allowed 12 runs in 24.1 innings despite his excessive use.

He will start another chance to possibly pitch in a World Series on Friday against an Arizona team that has given him some trouble. In seven starts over the last three years prior to 2017, Kershaw allowed 19 runs in 42 innings against the Diamondbacks. Yet, he bounced back this season with a ridiculous 0.59 ERA against Arizona in two starts.

He has handled Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt pretty well over the years. Goldschmidt is hitting just .227 in 44 at-bats, including 17 strikeouts. The Diamondbacks are going to need some offense in Game 1 to help out starter Taijuan Walker against a loaded Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that has routinely batted players like Yasiel Puig seventh or eighth.

Puig, by the way, hit 28 homers this season. 

Picking against Kershaw is never a smart bet, and as long he even closely resembles his typical self, the Dodgers should be able to generate enough runs to get the Game 1 win.

 

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Schedule 2017: TV, Live Stream and Bracket Predictions for Thursday

The American League pennant appears to an open race, as the remaining four teams have the pieces to make a deep run in the 2017 MLB playoffs.

With the wild-card round over, it is finally time for those clubs to clash, which should make for some exciting baseball. Between elite pitching and prominent young stars, Thursday's matchups are destined to be the start of greatness.

With that in mind, here is how to watch that action unfold. Continue along for a brief preview of each Game 1 matchup.

          

Red Sox at Astros

When: Thursday, Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. ET

Television: MLB Network

Live Stream: MLB.tv

Yankees at Indians

When: Thursday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Television: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

              

Boston at Houston Preview

Two of the biggest pitching names in baseball are set to duel Thursday with each being at different stages in their careers.

Chris Sale is in the Cy Young discussion after another outstanding season in which he easily led MLB with 308 strikeouts to go with a 17-8 record and 2.90 ERA. After his trade to Boston last offseason, the 28-year-old lefty is primed to be an elite ace for the next several seasons.

On the other hand, Justin Verlander, 34, is in the latter part of his career, but he found form with Houston. He's been dominant for the Astros since coming over in August, via MLB.com's Brian McTaggart:

Experience and his current hot streak seem to be the motivation behind this move. Verlander has been a solid postseason pitcher, posting a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts, but he has not thrown a playoff pitch since 2014. That also came in a start where he conceded three runs in five innings. 

He has posted great career numbers against several key Red Sox. Mookie Betts is 0-for-13 lifetime against Verlander, while Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia are all hitting below .150. Eduardo Nunez and Mitch Moreland are batting .333 and .345, respectively, against the former Detroit Tigers ace.

On the other hand, the Astros' loaded lineup feasts on left-handed pitching, particularly when it comes from heaters like Sale. MLB.com's Daren Willman elaborated on this trend:

Conversely to Verlander, Sale limped to the end of the regular season. He is not in great form going into his first career playoff start, per MLB.com's Richard Justice:

This, along with Verlander's huge experience advantage, have to give Houston a slight edge in Game 1. Both teams possesses stout hitting throughout the lineup, but the Astros have fared well against the Red Sox. The home team is 4-3 in the season series, taking three out of four contests to close out the regular season.

          

Yankees at Indians Preview

New York's silence was broken late Wednesday, as Sonny Gray was tabbed to start in Game 1, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.

Since joining the Yankees in late July, Gray has been solid, but not great. He is 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. Yet, he is the best option New York has at this point since Luis Severino started the AL Wild Card Game and Masahiro Tanaka was wildly inconsistent in the regular season. 

The good news is Gray does not need to pitch a complete-game gem for the Yankees to be successful. They possess a monster bullpen that is fresh off of shutting down the Minnesota Twins for one run over 8.2 innings.

The bad news? Cleveland's bullpen is arguably just as good, as MLB.com's Jordan Bastian explained:

The unit is also fresh. Meanwhile, the Yankees are likely to be without Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson for Game 1 since each tossed at least two innings on Tuesday night. This leaves Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and possibly lefty Jordan Montgomery as the most viable options available before Aroldis Chapman.

Cleveland also has the benefit of giving Corey Kluber an extra day of rest, as Trevor Bauer will start Game 1. It also does not hurt that Bauer was excellent in this matchup in the regular season, unlike his counterpart, via Sporting News' Max Wildstein:

New York's marathon bullpen outing in its last game puts it at a disadvantage on the road. In a game where the lineups are mostly even, this edge in starting and relief pitching should put the Indians ahead 1-0 in the ALDS by the time Thursday is over.

           

Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Schedule 2017: TV Times, Live Stream for NL Wild Card, ALDS Games

The New York Yankees survived to advance to the American League Divisional Series, and now it is the National League's turn for the spotlight.

The Colorado Rockies will visit the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday for the NL Wild Card. After a wild contest Tuesday, both teams have the potential to put on a strong encore performance. Yet, the appearance of an established ace could swing the game in a certain direction and give one team a distinct advantage.

Meanwhile, the ALDS will begin on Thursday, and the entire series live-stream and television schedules can be found at MLB.com.

         

NL Wild Card viewing guide

When: Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: TBS Live, MLB.tv

           

Surprisingly, the Diamondbacks have been among baseball's most successful franchises since their debut season in 1998. Including a World Series title in 2001, Arizona has found itself playing October baseball almost as much as any club in the last 20 years:

However, the team is now back in the postseason for just the first time since 2011, and it's a winner-take-all showdown with a division rival.

Zack Greinke figures to be a key figure in Wednesday's contest, as the star hurler will be the best arm in the stadium and the player who can make the biggest difference toward an Arizona win.

Greinke will face 25-year-old Jon Gray, who emerged as a reliable top option down the stretch for the Rockies. 

Fox Sports Arizona provided a quick look at the pitching matchup:

While Colorado lacks an ace and starting pitching overall, it has plenty of offense. The Rockies led the NL in scoring this season and feature three players in Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds who smacked at least 30 home runs on the year.

Greinke has plenty of experience dealing with this Colorado lineup, but the results have been mixed.

In over 40 at-bats each, Carlos Gonzalez and D.J. LeMahieu are hitting over .300, while the former has five homers. Trevor Story has also had success against Greinke, posting a .333 average with four jacks and nine RBI in just 24 at-bats.

On the contrary, Greinke has cooled off Arenado and Blackmon. Both are hitting below .280 lifetime with zero homers against the 33-year-old in nearly 50 plate appearances each. Blackmon has also struck out 11 times in 49 at-bats. 

Still, Arizona has to be feel good about its chances Wednesday with Greinke on the hill. He has allowed less than three runs in his last six postseason starts, which should give the Diamondbacks offense enough support to attack an inexperienced Gray.

Arizona also posted the NL's second-best home record in 2017 at 52-29, so look for it to advance through the wild-card round.

On the other hand, it will be strength against strength when the ALDS begins on Thursday.

The Yankees bullpen put on a masterful performance after Luis Severino lasted just one out in his playoff debut. New York allowed one run over the next 8.2 innings, as its deep stable of electric arms flashed its might, per Fox Sports:

That group did not even include four-time All-Star Dellin Betances and his potentially overwhelming stuff, or Adam Warren. Simply, this unit is good enough to go five or six innings of shutdown baseball every night this postseason, but that is nothing new for the Indians.

Cleveland used a similar strategy in its World Series run a year ago, and the bullpen is lights-out once again. Featuring studs like Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, the Indians led MLB this year with an ERA of 2.89 among their relievers.

This helped Cleveland get the better of New York in the regular season, per ESPN Stats and Info:

While this series looks to be a tight one due to the expected lack of scoring from the bullpen, the Indians have to be a slight favorite here. They will have home-field advantage in the short five-game series, and their three set starters of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and likely Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber are far more reliable than what the Yankees can start.

Starting pitching should be the difference in this matchup, as Cleveland's odds of handing its bullpen a lead are slightly better at the moment.

             

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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MLB Playoffs 2017: Live Stream, TV Schedule for AL, NL Wild Card Bracket

October has finally arrived, but the 2017 MLB playoffs could end in a flash for two teams after the Wild Card Round.

Anything can happen in a one-game playoff, which makes the American League and National League contests must-watch television. Each game will also feature an ace that could give the home teams an even greater advantage to move onto the divisional round.

How can you watch these showdowns? Check out the television and live-stream schedules for the sudden-death round.

 

AL Wild Card Viewing Guide

Matchup: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees

When: Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN and MLB.tv

 

NL Wild Card Viewing Guide

Matchup: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks

When: Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. ET

Television: TBS

Live Stream: Watch TBS and MLB.tv

 

Twins at Yankees Preview

It is not a secret that the Yankees' youth movement is legit.

Between the historic season from Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez's emergence as arguably the best hitting catcher in baseball, New York took what looked like a rebuilding year and turned it into a postseason berth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2017 was Luis Severino's transformation into an ace.

The 23-year-old was a disaster last season, going 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA in a year that saw him demoted to Triple-A and later reduced to a bullpen role upon his return to New York. This season, Severino became one of the most electric arms in baseball, posting a 14-6 record, 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 31 starts.

As a result, Severino will get the start Tuesday, and he's been among MLB's best shutdown pitchers this year. Even though the New York Post's Dan Martin noted that Severino has never pitched in a playoff game of any kind in his life, his play this season shows his stuff is perfect to keep his team in contention in a one-game setting, per ESPN Stats and Info:

That is bad news for the Twins, who will trot out veteran Ervin Santana to keep their season afloat. Santana has been a solid top-of-the-rotation guy for the bulk of his career, but the Yankees have not been kind to him. In 20 starts, Santana is 6-10 with a 5.66 ERA against New York. 

Still, Santana does not seem fazed by his poor history with the Yankees, as WFAN 660's Sweeny Murti relayed Monday:

This New York team is certainly capable of making him pay for a bad outing as it ranks second in MLB with 858 runs scored on the year. The long ball is where the Yankees can create the most havoc since they led the league with 241.

Making matters worse is the strength of the Yankees bullpen. Loaded with elite arms like Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson, New York's relievers ranked third in MLB with a 3.34 unit ERA. This takes pressure off of Severino to throw more than six innings since the Yankees can turn to the bullpen at any time down the stretch Tuesday.

Relief pitching has been an issue for the Twins, who rank 22nd in that category with a 4.40 ERA.

The signs clearly point to New York as the better team, but anything is possible in a one-game series. Expect a close contest throughout, but look for the Yankees bullpen to be the difference in the late innings.

 

Rockies at Diamondbacks Preview

Perhaps no team in baseball presents a more challenging top of the order than the Rockies, who have three players with an average over .300 in Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu. Arenado and Blackmon each clocked 37 homers on the year, while Mark Reynolds and Trevor Story also hit at least 24 jacks each on the year.

This should make for an excellent matchup with Arizona ace Zack Greinke, who was 17-7 in 2017 with a 3.20 ERA. He did not end the season on the highest note, though, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

Greinke has still shown the ability to turn it on come October as he posted a sparkling 2.38 ERA in his last six postseason starts, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Colorado may need to score to help pick up Jon Gray, a 25-year-old set to make his playoff debut Wednesday. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 MLB draft began to look like a star this season, putting up a 10-4 record and 3.67 ERA in 20 starts, with 15 of those coming after the All-Star break.

Gray is 2-1 against the Diamondbacks on the year, but his two victories came in Arizona. In those wins, Gray conceded 14 hits and four runs in 13 innings. Under normal circumstances, that would be enough support for Colorado's offense, but that may not be the case with Greinke on the opposing hill.

The Diamondbacks boast an all-world player in Paul Goldschmidt, who blasted 36 homers and 120 while hitting .297 this season. J.D. Martinez helps as a stout hitter at the top of the lineup, while leadoff man David Peralta and power hitter Jake Lamb give Arizona a formidable attack.

Arizona's dominant home record gives it an advantage in this game. The Diamondbacks were 52-29 at home on the year, putting them behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers as the best mark in baseball. A Colorado team that relies on the long ball is destined to falter away from Coors Field, which makes the Rockies a volatile team in the postseason.

Throw in that Arizona is starting a more reliable option in Greinke, and the Diamondbacks have to be favored Tuesday. As long as Greinke does not get sloppy with location and allows some bombs, Arizona should advance.

 

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Updated Rumors, Predictions on Top Stars Available

The Kansas City Royals' run as World Series contenders seems to be at an end, and the realities of being a low-payroll MLB team could sting this offseason.

Most of the Kansas City core could be out the door this winter, as top stars like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are sure to be hot commodities in the 2017 free agent market. Can the Royals re-sign at least one or two of these players? That proposition is looking murky at best.

Funds are short for the 2015 world champs, whose $158 million payroll this season is less than half that of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a major issue in the latest free agency rumors.

         

Hosmer a Top Priority

Of the three big Royals set to hit free agency, Hosmer has the least amount of star power and is the most realistic option to return. He is also a favorite of the organization.

FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reported the team "loves" Hosmer and will make a serious push to bring him back. Kansas City is reportedly willing to exceed the $100 million mark with its contract offer, which at least puts them in the conversation financially with what big-market teams are likely to put up.

Hosmer said last year he was open to a long-term extension, per MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan, but he has stayed quiet on the matter this season. 

Heyman noted that making such a push compromises the Royals' position with Cain and Moustakas, but prioritizing a guy like Hosmer over the other two makes more sense if the team is as invested in him as Heyman reported. The team seemingly has to put all of its eggs in one basket, and Hosmer is a great choice.

The 27-year-old is in the midst of arguably his best MLB season. He is batting .317 with career bests of 189 hits, a .383 on-base percentage and a .876 OPS. His 24 homers are one of his career-high, and he still plays a mean first base. 

Per MLB.com, most of Kansas City's top prospects are pitchers or outfielders. That is not the case for top-ranked Nick Pratto, but his power can serve him well as a designated hitter, and the 18-year-old has time to transition to a new spot for the majors if Hosmer chooses to stay.

Given how Hosmer has excelled as a Royal, the hometown club should be a slight favorite. Yet this free agency can go anywhere. With the Kansas City core splitting, he could be more enticed with big money and a more competitive team. Keep an eye on this one, as it looks to be one of the most fluid situations among the top guys on the market.

       

Rangers and Cain a Match?

The Texas Rangers are certainly looking to upgrade back into playoff contention following a disappointing year under .500, and a Royals core member could be on the radar.

In his mailbag piece earlier this week, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers "have always liked" Cain, and they asked Kansas City about the speedy outfielder's availability on multiple occasions. Could this put them among the teams jockeying for Cain? Potentially not.

While Texas seems sure to gauge Cain's interest and discuss terms, Fraley sees the team focusing more on starting pitching this winter. The Rangers sit 12th in the American League with a 4.67 team ERA. 

Cole Hamels, 11-5, is the everyday starter and even his ERA is rough at 4.11. With the departure of Yu Darvish and possibly Andrew Cashner, it is easy to see why starting pitching could be such a priority for Texas.

Loading up on pitching may indeed put the Rangers out of Cain's price range. Every team wants a rangy, athletic center fielder who can hit, which is just what Cain provides. 

He is currently set to hit at least .300 for the third time in the last four seasons in addition to stealing at least 25 bases over that same span. Cain simply has all of the tools needed for a star leadoff man.

Yet he looks like a safe bet to play in a different uniform next season. If the Royals are that set on bringing back Hosmer, financial issues and prospect depth at outfield make it likely Cain will have better offers.

He is also 31 years old, which could steer him toward immediately contending teams for the last few years of his prime.

         

Mets Infield Appears to Stay Intact

Top New York Mets prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith have shown spurts of potential to become cornerstones of the franchise, and it seems a familiar face will join them in the infield next season.

Heyman reported the team is likely to pick up third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera's option for 2018. This would pay him $8.5 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent the following winter. 

The 31-year-old has been solid in his two years in New York. He is hitting .273 with 13 homers and 55 RBI this season following a fantastic 2016 where he batted .280 with 23 jacks and 62 RBI. Especially with David Wright's future being uncertain at best, this is a smart move to keep some stability for the Mets.

The team's infield is now likely to be Cabrera along with Rosario at short stop and Smith manning first base. This qualifies as an above-average bunch if the latter two youngsters can start to blossom with a full season of work. That will leave fellow upcoming players Gavin Cecchini and T.J. Rivera to battle for the second base spot.

Wilmer Flores can provide depth as a utility option to spell an infielder when facing a lefty pitcher.

A vastly disappointing 2017 season may be closing for the Mets, but this team has a lot to look forward to next year, especially if the rotation can stay healthy.

       

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com. 

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Rumors, Predictions for Zack Cozart, Shohei Otani and More

The 2017 MLB postseason may be just around the corner, but that does not mean it is too early to look ahead at potential impact free-agent moves that could abound this offseason.

Rumors are already starting to fly about possible destinations for pending free agents, particularly for teams out of the playoff picture with key players on the verge of testing the market. Meanwhile, contenders will be sure to eye pieces to fill in any weaknesses to ensure a return trip to the postseason. 

With that in mind, let us take a look at the latest buzz surrounding free agents.

         

Cincinnati Pushing for Cozart Return?

A brutal rotation and overall lack of pitching contributed to a down year for the Cincinnati Reds, but the National League Central cellar club did produce some unexpected standouts from the plate.

Zack Cozart, along with Scooter Gennett, led the way with a career year as the Reds currently sit in the middle of the pack in the NL in most hitting categories while having the league's worst team ERA. In Cozart's case, he seemed like a prime candidate to hit free agency as a decent infield option, but now his outlook is entirely different.

At 32 years of age, Cozart had never hit over .260, smacked more than 16 home runs or walked more than 40 times in a season. He has shattered all of those career highs in 2017 with a current .302 average, 24 homers and 60 walks in addition to easily setting career bests with a .388 on-base percentage and a .944 OPS. 

This transformation puts him in historical company, per noted Reds statistician and author Joel Luckhaupt:

As a result, many assumed Cincinnati would sell high this summer and deal Cozart, but FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reported the team may have more long-term plans for the All Star:

"The Reds may try to keep star free agent shortstop Zack Cozart, which would make their decision not to trade him look a lot better. They certainly put a high price on him in trade discussions this summer, asking the Orioles at one point for top prospect Austin Hays, who later became the first player from the 2016 draft to make the majors."

This is certainly an interesting proposition for the Reds, but it has plenty of potential to turn into a miscue.

Cozart's career numbers clearly show that this season is an anomaly, and he did all of it playing on a one-year, $5.3 million deal. That figure, and years, is guaranteed to soar this offseason. So, does a rebuilding team like Cincinnati want to invest so much in a 32-year-old infielder?

The signs show that they are not totally committed to doing so. Heyman reported they placed and then pulled Cozart from revocable waivers after the trade deadline, but only because a team put in a claim. This forced the Reds' hand in not being able to trade him, as it looks like they were definitely interested. 

Unless Cozart agrees to a favorable discount, the Reds would be wise to let him walk. He has not shown he can consistently replicate his 2017 production, and five of the team's top 12 prospects are infielders, per MLB.com

Expect Cozart to eventually hit the free agent market, where more desperate teams are likely to take financial risks.

         

Japanese Phenom Closer to MLB Jump

Another year, another situation of MLB teams jockeying for the services of a major Japanese baseball star. Yet this looks to be an unprecedented free agency battle in the sport.

Shohei Otani is arguably the most unique, on and off the field, and talented player to ever come out of Japan, and he is only 23 years old. 

For his on-field production, Otani has earned the reputation as the Babe Ruth of Japan. Per Baseball-Reference, he exploded for 22 homers, 67 RBI and a .322 average in 2016 before putting up eight jacks, 31 RBI and a .337 mark in 60 games so far this year.

Furthermore, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 20 starts in 2016, but those numbers dropped in only four appearances this year to 2-2 with a 4.96 ERA. Otani posted double-digit wins and an ERA under 2.65 every year from 2014 to 2016.

It comes as no surprise that he is coveted by MLB teams, and his move took a big step recently. Heyman reported that Otani is interviewing potential agents, and he could even narrow his list down for second interviews by next week. 

The role of an agent in Otani's case may not be as influential compared to other big-time free agencies. Since he is under the age of 25, Otani cannot join MLB as a unrestricted free agent, meaning he can only sign with a team via its prospect pool funds. 

Right now, it seems the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have the most international pool money at $8 million, per a Heyman report in August. This makes Otani's potential decision more tied into fit than cash.

Whether he demands to be a starter and everyday player is not known, but at worst it appears Otani will be an impact player from either side of the mound. An interesting option could also be making him into a dominant reliever, which puts less wear on his body as an everyday position guy.

Either way, expect Otani to make the jump this offseason and for his name to be arguably the hottest on the free agent market.

      

Mets Hoping to Strengthen Bullpen

Injuries are the main culprit for the derailment of the New York Mets' season, but do not overlook relief pitching as an extreme weakness.

The bullpen has been historically bad in 2017. As it stands, the unit is third-worst in MLB, with 309 runs conceded along with a second-worst 4.77 ERA. Per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, 2017 breaks the 1962 Mets' record of 298 relief runs and is on pace to break that team's record of a 4.76 ERA.

Naturally, one of New York's top priorities this offseason is enhancing that bullpen, according to Heyman

The team's three top relievers in Jerry Blevins, Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos are all either under contract this season or under team control with arbitration rights. That leaves the Mets with a decent foundation and two potential closers in the bullpen, but more help is certainly needed.

New York could make a run at the big names in free agency like Wade Davis, but there are plenty of other solid middle-relief options. Luke Gregerson has thrown plenty of quality innings for the Houston Astros, while others like Brian Duensing, Yusmeiro Petit, former Met Addison Reed and Tony Watson are excellent potential additions that would not break the bank.

If the Mets can finally get some injury luck from its starting pitching to go along with a solid bullpen, this team is more than capable of contending in the NL. With that in mind, expect New York to make a heavy push to sign multiple quality relievers to make another run next season.

        

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. Contract information is via Spotrac.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

World Series 2016: Biggest Offseason Questions for Cubs and Indians

An epic 2016 World Series ended with one of the most memorable games in recent baseball history. The Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought with an 8-7, 10-inning win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7.

While the elation is through the roof in Chicago, the disappointment is deep in Cleveland. Both teams, however, have plenty to address this offseason to ensure they make it back to the Fall Classic. Each club is facing important departures and obstacles that could affect the chances of a rematch in 2017.

Let us take a look at two major questions facing the Cubs and Indians, respectively, as they head into a significant offseason.

    

Can Chicago Re-Sign or Replace Pending Free Agents?

The Cubs went wire-to-wire as the best team in baseball, thanks to a loaded lineup and deep pitching staff that resulted in the seventh-highest payroll in the sport. Yet, the club may be forced to part with several key pieces of its championship squad.

Chicago has four significant players who could become free agents this winter in Aroldis Chapman, Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel. How the team handles these situations could have a tremendous impact on next season.

Fowler signed a one-year deal worth $9 million last offseason with an option to initiate a $5 million buyout to decline the second year, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. The 30-year-old could decide to opt out after he posted a .276 average with 13 homers and 48 RBI this season,. Those were his best numbers since 2012. Fowler was also a hero in Game 7, going 3-for-5 with an RBI, thanks to a historic swing, per Bleacher Report:

Perhaps more important to Chicago's postseason run was Chapman, a trade-deadline acquisition who solidified the team's pitching staff. Since Chapman's arrival from the Yankees, the Cubs converted 16 of his 18 save attempts with a 1.55 ERA in the regular season. He also became the only bullpen member manager Joe Maddon trusted near the end of the World Series. Chapman pitched 5.1 innings with 97 pitches thrown in the last three games.

Coghlan and Hammel are less significant, as the former served as a reserve outfielder this season while Hammel won 15 games before failing to make the postseason roster. Given the value of starting pitching in MLB, it is hard to imagine Chicago making any legitimate effort to keep Hammel signed, as he could command some solid money.

The same could go for Fowler, as he could be in for a payday after his strong playoff finish. His .276 average was the second-highest of his career. As such, Chicago could be better suited to keep Coghlan in the outfield rotation. The Cubs then could promote a younger guy such as Javier Baez or Addison Russell to replace Fowler at the top of the order.  

This would end up saving the Cubs a long-term deal that could top $10 million a year for Fowler.

Lastly, Chicago should try to retain Chapman, but it has to be smart. The 28-year-old could command one of the biggest contracts ever for a reliever. Meanwhile, the Cubs have young players such as Baez, Kris Bryant, Russell and Kyle Schwarber who will eventually require hefty new deals.

For the right price, Chapman would be a perfect fit for a Cubs team that needs bullpen help. But that cost could end up being too high, as John Harper of the New York Daily News expects the Yankees to make a serious run at the closer.

    

Should Cleveland Bring Back Mike Napoli?

After outfielder Michael Brantley's season ended due to a shoulder injury early in the season, it seemed Cleveland would have a massive hole in the middle of its lineup. Luckily, first baseman Mike Napoli came through for the Indians.

In 2016, Napoli experienced a career renaissance with his power at the plate, which Cleveland desperately needed. Even with Napoli's 34 dingers, the Indians still finished 18th in homers in the majors. However, the 35-year-old is a pending free agent, and it is not clear how the team will handle this situation.

Prior to Game 6, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported that the Indians have interest in bringing back Napoli, and the team believes the player shares that intrigue. 

"We have a desire to have him here, and my sense is that he has a desire to be here," said Cleveland general manager Mike Chernoff, per Crasnick. "That's something we'll have to address once the World Series is over."

Napoli will likely expect a raise from the one-year, $7 million deal he played on last season, given his production. But is this something Cleveland should want? Napoli is not a young player, and this past season was an outlier compared to his previous five campaigns:

His postseason numbers were also dreadful. Napoli posted a .173 average, one homer, three RBI, 21 strikeouts and just four walks. During Game 6, Sports Illustrated's Jonah Keri noted that Napoli's production was even worse, considering where he was hitting in the lineup:

The Indians do not have the payroll of big clubs such as the Cubs or Yankees. It cannot afford to be risky with players battling inconsistency such as Napoli. With Brantley set to return and the team having the option to re-sign Carlos Santana, Cleveland can make up for Napoli's production. It should move on unless he decides to stay at a discounted rate.

    

Can Both Teams Return to the World Series?

Chicago was the best team in baseball this season, and it could be better in the coming years. The team could even challenge this historic mark, courtesy of MLB.com:

Cubs President Theo Epstein has done a magical job of creating an influx of young talent, which sets the team up for a potential dynasty. Anthony Rizzo is the oldest member of Chicago's offensive core moving forward at 27 years old. The remaining position players are all 24 years of age or younger. For being so young, this group still put up impressive numbers this season:

Other than Rizzo, the guys above—as well as Schwarber—have not even hit the peak of their primes yet. When they do, this lineup will be downright scary.

The rotation is also in good hands, as its top three arms still have plenty in the tank to propel another championship run. Jake Arrieta is 30 years old; Jon Lester is still 32. And 26-year-old Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA in the regular season and added a sparkling 1.42 mark in the postseason.

All three players are locked up until at least 2018, which makes the top of this Cubs rotation arguably the best in baseball next season. The bullpen could use some work, but this unit cannot be fully evaluated until the Chapman issue is resolved.

Cleveland also has plenty of reason for optimism because of the boost it will receive next season from players returning from injury.

Not only will Brantley return next season, but the New York Post's Joel Sherman reports that the star could be available for the entire season.

“He should be fine for spring training next year,” Chernoff said, per Sherman.

The Indians could deploy him with emerging superstar Francisco Lindor to solidify a lineup that still ranked fifth in MLB in runs without Brantley.

Cleveland was able to make this postseason run without several other key parts, as Tom Withers of the Associated Press noted:

Those two pitchers are Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. The latter returned for some relief work in the World Series, while Carrasco was shelved for the entirety of the playoffs. Here is what the Indians were missing behind ace Corey Kluber:

Having these two dynamic arms could have made the difference in this series for Cleveland. Yet, their absences gave 25-year-old Trevor Bauer some valuable experience. Bauer's development in his fourth full season could give the Indians a formidable rotation of their own.

Napoli and possibly Rajai Davis are the only impactful free agents with a chance of leaving. Cleveland will return its sensational bullpen of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw to go with its returning healthy players.

Given what each team is bringing back, Chicago and Cleveland look to be the favorites to emerge from their respective leagues. The volatility of MLB makes it unlikely that this will happen, but there is a chance the world could be treated to a sequel of this memorable matchup.

    

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Contract and free-agency information are courtesy of Spotrac.com. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cubs vs. Indians: Game 7 Time, TV Info, Live Stream and More

It all comes down to Wednesday night, as the Chicago Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with each team looking to end long championship droughts.

Chicago, having not won the World Series since 1908, battled back to tie the series after being down 3-1, including a massive 9-3 road win on Tuesday night. Cleveland, which has not won a world title since 1948, could not contain the Cubs in Game 6, but the team has to feel good with several big names available to take the hill in MLB's final game of the 2016 season.

Let us take a look at the schedule for Game 7, as well as a breakdown of this colossal showdown at Progressive Field.

       

Game 7 Preview

A pair of aces will square off on Wednesday as Chicago sends out Kyle Hendricks to combat Cleveland stud Corey Kluber.

Hendricks led the majors in ERA this season at 2.13, and that strong play has carried over into the playoffs. In four starts, the 26-year-old is sporting a 1.31 ERA despite a modest 1-1 record. He did not allow a run in his lone start of the series, but he was tacked for six hits in just 4.1 innings. 

The Cubs need Hendricks to put in quality work in Game 7, which would equate to about five innings and no more than two runs allowed. Chicago has plenty of arms at its disposal that will be available in the team's final game of the year, and CBS Sports' Mike Axisa postulated that another Cubs ace will be a major factor:

In addition to Jon Lester, the Cubs will also have John Lackey available to potentially get a few outs. This could be significant, considering Aroldis Chapman pitched 3.3 innings in the last two games. The closer has looked sensational with only two hits and a walk allowed in that span, but will fatigue be a factor if he is needed with the game on the line Wednesday? That is yet to be determined.

Regardless of how it decides on its pitching strategy, Chicago will need its best effort, as Cleveland will deploy its full arsenal of elite arms in Game 7.

Kluber is showing off elite stuff this postseason, flashing a 4-1 mark with a 0.89 ERA in five starts. He is arguably the World Series MVP at this point, allowing just nine hits and one earned run in two starts. His ERA is also historically low, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale:

The 30-year-old will be pitching on short rest for the second time in this series, but Cleveland's early Game 6 blowout loss should actually help take any pressure off of Kluber to go deep in Game 7.

The Indians' dominant bullpen trio of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw should all be fully rested after getting Tuesday night off, and the three's 2016 postseason numbers suggest Chicago needs to get runs early to have any chance of ending its World Series drought:

This unit essentially cuts the game in half, which means Cleveland only needs four to five strong innings from Kluber before letting the bullpen bring it home. So can Cleveland grab an early lead? Well, shutting down the middle of Chicago's lineup will be a must.

Kris Bryant is 5-for-8 with two home runs and two RBI in his last two games, while Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist have combined for 11 hits and nine RBI over that span. In Chicago's recent pair of wins, the rest of the team combined for just four hits. 

Despite the strength of that quartet, the circumstances set up too well for Cleveland.

The team relies on dominant pitching to win close, low-scoring games, and it is boasting a ridiculous amount of firepower on the mound Wednesday. Chicago erupted for nine runs in Game 6, but seven of those came off of Josh Tomlin, as the Cubs are still struggling to produce consistent offense, particularly against the Indians bullpen.

Expect Cleveland to generate a tight early lead, with the bullpen and rowdy home fans providing enough push to give the team a much-awaited world championship.

         

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com