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.

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

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. 

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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. 

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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.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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.

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World Series 2016: Cubs vs. Indians Game 6 TV Schedule, Prediction

The dream lived on for the Chicago Cubs, as the team held on for a 3-2 win at Wrigley Field to force a Game 6. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians head back home with two chances to end a drought of their own in the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs finally mustered enough offense to earn a win, but can they build on that to tie this series on Tuesday? They will need to, as the Indians continue to get quality pitching from their rotation and their sensational bullpen.

Let us take a look at the schedule for Game 6, as well as a breakdown and prediction for the critical showdown.

      

Game 6 Preview 

Tuesday's matchup features one of the game's top pitchers against a relative unknown who emerged as a clutch performer in these playoffs.

Jake Arrieta will look to repeat his fantastic Game 2 outing, where he earned the win after going 5.2 innings and allowing two hits and one run. The 2015 Cy Young winner has dealt with inconsistency this postseason, though, as he turned in a similar performance in Game 3 of the National League Divison Series, but he was lit up for four runs in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yet, the 30-year-old is focused on his game with the intention of building on his positive outings of this postseason, per Comcast SportsNet Chicago's JJ Stankevitz.

It's just like any other game where you feel comfortable with the game plan and you go out there to do your best to follow through on the execution. So that's really the only thing that I'll be thinking about as Tuesday approaches, is just trying to be efficient. Trying to be as good as I can about moving the ball in and out, up and down and changing speeds and trying to keep those guys off balance.

Arrieta's stellar play in his previous start is a bit surprising considering he has shaky numbers against many of Cleveland's top batters:

Arrieta's odds of receiving some healthy run support should increase as Chicago slugger Kyle Schwarber is set to return to the team's lineup as a designated hitter. The 23-year-old was electric in the first two games in Cleveland, going 3-for-7 with two RBI and a pair of walks. 

Repeating that type of production will not be easy against Josh Tomlin. The Cleveland starter's been an X-factor for the Indians with an excellent playoff run of his own, and he is also plenty locked-in for Tuesday, per MLB.com:

Tomlin turned in his best game of his postseason career in Game 3, stifling the Cubs for no runs and just two hits in 4.2 innings. However, Schwarber believes Chicago can have more success against the 32-year-old the second time around, per the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan.

"We might have expanded (the strike) zone here and there, but that's an adjustment that can easily be made," Schwarber said of Tomlin. "And that was a bunch of guys first time facing him, too. I'm sure (Tuesday) it'll be a completely different situation and approach."

Schwarber was correct in that the vast majority of his teammates had not previously faced Tomlin, and the Cubs were in a similar situation against another Cleveland starter.

Trevor Bauer had one career start against Chicago prior to the World Series, where he tossed 7.0 scoreless innings in a 2015 win. The second time around, against many of the current Cubs, Bauer was roughed up in Game 2 for six hits and two runs in 3.2 innings, which was followed by another loss where he allowed six hits and three runs in 4.0 innings. 

The Cubs have proved they can rebound against top pitchers, as it bounced back from a dominant Clayton Kershaw performance in Game 2 of the NLCS before breaking the ace in a Game 6 win. Yet, this trend has not held true with Cleveland star Corey Kluber, who is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in this World Series.

Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli is confident his team can finish the job at home, as the Indians' play at Wrigley Field proved the squad is generally playing winning baseball, per the Associated Press (via Fox Sports).

"We're in good position, still," Napoli said. "We're up 3-2 going home. We did what we had to do here. We put ourselves in position to try and win it in a crazy atmosphere. We're happy with what we did here. We're going to get home and play in front of our fans."

The Indians have been far more consistent in this series, which is why they have the edge in Game 6. Chicago's offense has been streaky at best, as the team is averaging a mere two runs per game while being shut out twice. This makes it difficult to rely on the Cubs to produce.

Cleveland is finding a way to create early leads, which utilizes a dominant bullpen led by Andrew Miller. Behind a rowdy home crowd that will be aching to witness the team's first World Series title since 1948, the Indians will follow this strategy once more and hold on to clinch the world title on Tuesday.

Prediction: Cleveland Wins 4-2

   

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com. 

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Indians vs. Cubs Live-Stream Schedule, Odds and Pre-Game 4 Comments

The Cleveland Indians took a critical 2-1 series lead Friday night in the 2016 World Series over the Chicago Cubs, and the road team now has a chance to take a commanding advantage Saturday night in Game 4 at Wrigley Field.

In a tight pitching affair, Josh Tomlin allowed only two hits through 4.2 innings, and the dynamite bullpen combination of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen held down the fort for a 1-0 Cleveland win. Meanwhile, Chicago's streaky offense made its presence felt again, as the team was shut out for the fourth time this postseason.

Here is a look at the full viewing schedule, including live stream, in addition to odds and some notable comments from both teams ahead of Saturday's showdown.

Odds are according to Odds Shark.

Corey Kluber will take the mound Saturday looking to lift Cleveland with a repeat of his dominant Game 1 performance. In a 6-0 win, the Indians ace was nearly flawless in six innings while allowing no runs and four hits.

The movement of his sinker—which is especially difficult for right-handed hitters, as it ties them up at their hands to force easy grounders—was working at full force to frustrate the Chicago lineup. Anthony Rizzo elaborated on the pitch's effectiveness after Game 1, per MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince.

"It just starts at your hip," Rizzo said of the pitch. "And it comes in at you and then he can cut it off of that, too. ... It's just really picking a lane."

There could be more of that sort of frustration coming for Chicago, as Kluber has been locked in during this postseason. In four starts, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner is 3-1 with a microscopic 0.74 ERA. Kluber had never pitched in the playoffs before his current campaign, and he attributes his success so far to elevated focus, per Castrovince.

"Not that there is less importance on a regular-season game," said Kluber, "but it's almost like you have that extra level of intensity or focus and stuff that it's not really something you can replicate."

Chicago proved this postseason it can rebound against top pitchers the second time around.

In the National League Championship Series, Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw owned the Cubs in Game 2 with seven innings of work while allowing no runs, two hits and one walk. In Game 6, Chicago was much better; Kershaw allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings, as the Cubs were able to advance to the World Series.

Can Chicago replicate this success against Kluber? Well, it may need to find a way to get Kyle Schwarber involved. At this point, though, it seems Schwarber will not be available for multiple at-bats in any game at Wrigley Field:

He can make an impact as a pinch hitter and as a presence in the dugout, as Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said the team views his bat and character as his greatest assets, per Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:

His bat and his intangibles are why we drafted him. He’s a complete impact hitter with the bat, but more than that he's the perfect player to have as a franchise player because he can be one of your best players who everybody else wants to follow because of his character. He's a special player and a special person.

Schwarber popped out in his lone pinch-hit effort in Game 3. Chicago's lineup lacked some of the swagger Friday that it had when Schwarber was in the lineup for Games 1 and 2, as it only totaled five hits, so it will need to find another source of offense if Schwarber continues to start on the bench.

The uncertainty around Chicago's offense puts some extra pressure to perform on John Lackey, who will start Game 4 for the Cubs. The 38-year-old has plenty of playoff experience, but his starts this postseason have been very spread out, as he noted Friday, per the Chicago Tribune's Paul Skrbina.

"It has been kind of a crazy schedule for me," Lackey said. "I feel like I'm pitching every two weeks kind of deal. Once you get into the game you kind of fall back on things you've been doing all season, and hopefully you execute."

Lackey has not pitched since Oct. 19, when he tossed four innings with two runs and three hits allowed in a no-decision that resulted in a 10-2 win. His only other start came Oct. 11, when Lackey also went four innings in a no-decision.

However, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is still confident he can get a quality outing out of Lackey in a critical ballgame, per Skrbina:

I just want to believe that he keeps getting stronger. But there is a certain amount of rust element involved. However, I have a lot of faith in John, and I know he's going to be ready. I never worry about him, man. He has been there, done that, and I know he'll be ready for (Saturday).

Lackey's history against the current Cleveland roster suggests he should do fine Saturday, as most of the Indians have struggled against the righty:

Given Lackey's track record this postseason, the Cubs should not expect more than five innings from their starter. This could be troubling considering the fact Chicago has not generated any consistent offense and that it will be going against an ace in Kluber.

The Indians already proved they can win at Wrigley Field, and they should be favored in this one. However, the Cubs cannot be counted out just yet, as the team responded to a two-game scoreless streak against the Dodgers with 23 combined runs in the next three contests. Chicago has the ability to explode offensively; it just remains to be seen if it can do so against Kluber.

    

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com.

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Indians vs. Cubs Live-Stream Schedule, Odds and Pre-Game 4 Comments

The Cleveland Indians took a critical 2-1 series lead Friday night in the 2016 World Series over the Chicago Cubs, and the road team now has a chance to take a commanding advantage Saturday night in Game 4 at Wrigley Field.

In a tight pitching affair, Josh Tomlin allowed only two hits through 4.2 innings, and the dynamite bullpen combination of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen held down the fort for a 1-0 Cleveland win. Meanwhile, Chicago's streaky offense made its presence felt again, as the team was shut out for the fourth time this postseason.

Here is a look at the full viewing schedule, including live stream, in addition to odds and some notable comments from both teams ahead of Saturday's showdown.

Odds are according to Odds Shark.

Corey Kluber will take the mound Saturday looking to lift Cleveland with a repeat of his dominant Game 1 performance. In a 6-0 win, the Indians ace was nearly flawless in six innings while allowing no runs and four hits.

The movement of his sinker—which is especially difficult for right-handed hitters, as it ties them up at their hands to force easy grounders—was working at full force to frustrate the Chicago lineup. Anthony Rizzo elaborated on the pitch's effectiveness after Game 1, per MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince.

"It just starts at your hip," Rizzo said of the pitch. "And it comes in at you and then he can cut it off of that, too. ... It's just really picking a lane."

There could be more of that sort of frustration coming for Chicago, as Kluber has been locked in during this postseason. In four starts, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner is 3-1 with a microscopic 0.74 ERA. Kluber had never pitched in the playoffs before his current campaign, and he attributes his success so far to elevated focus, per Castrovince.

"Not that there is less importance on a regular-season game," said Kluber, "but it's almost like you have that extra level of intensity or focus and stuff that it's not really something you can replicate."

Chicago proved this postseason it can rebound against top pitchers the second time around.

In the National League Championship Series, Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw owned the Cubs in Game 2 with seven innings of work while allowing no runs, two hits and one walk. In Game 6, Chicago was much better; Kershaw allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings, as the Cubs were able to advance to the World Series.

Can Chicago replicate this success against Kluber? Well, it may need to find a way to get Kyle Schwarber involved. At this point, though, it seems Schwarber will not be available for multiple at-bats in any game at Wrigley Field:

He can make an impact as a pinch hitter and as a presence in the dugout, as Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said the team views his bat and character as his greatest assets, per Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:

His bat and his intangibles are why we drafted him. He’s a complete impact hitter with the bat, but more than that he's the perfect player to have as a franchise player because he can be one of your best players who everybody else wants to follow because of his character. He's a special player and a special person.

Schwarber popped out in his lone pinch-hit effort in Game 3. Chicago's lineup lacked some of the swagger Friday that it had when Schwarber was in the lineup for Games 1 and 2, as it only totaled five hits, so it will need to find another source of offense if Schwarber continues to start on the bench.

The uncertainty around Chicago's offense puts some extra pressure to perform on John Lackey, who will start Game 4 for the Cubs. The 38-year-old has plenty of playoff experience, but his starts this postseason have been very spread out, as he noted Friday, per the Chicago Tribune's Paul Skrbina.

"It has been kind of a crazy schedule for me," Lackey said. "I feel like I'm pitching every two weeks kind of deal. Once you get into the game you kind of fall back on things you've been doing all season, and hopefully you execute."

Lackey has not pitched since Oct. 19, when he tossed four innings with two runs and three hits allowed in a no-decision that resulted in a 10-2 win. His only other start came Oct. 11, when Lackey also went four innings in a no-decision.

However, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is still confident he can get a quality outing out of Lackey in a critical ballgame, per Skrbina:

I just want to believe that he keeps getting stronger. But there is a certain amount of rust element involved. However, I have a lot of faith in John, and I know he's going to be ready. I never worry about him, man. He has been there, done that, and I know he'll be ready for (Saturday).

Lackey's history against the current Cleveland roster suggests he should do fine Saturday, as most of the Indians have struggled against the righty:

Given Lackey's track record this postseason, the Cubs should not expect more than five innings from their starter. This could be troubling considering the fact Chicago has not generated any consistent offense and that it will be going against an ace in Kluber.

The Indians already proved they can win at Wrigley Field, and they should be favored in this one. However, the Cubs cannot be counted out just yet, as the team responded to a two-game scoreless streak against the Dodgers with 23 combined runs in the next three contests. Chicago has the ability to explode offensively; it just remains to be seen if it can do so against Kluber.

    

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

World Series Schedule: TV Info and Live Stream for Indians vs. Cubs Game 3

The 2016 World Series became all knotted up Wednesday, as the Chicago Cubs were able to steal a road win over the Cleveland Indians.

After Cleveland shut out Chicago 6-0 in Game 1, the Cubs returned the favor in Game 2 with a 5-1 win behind stout performances from Jake Arrieta and Kyle Schwarber. Now the series shifts for a three-game set in Chicago, as the Cubs have a chance to grab a lead at home.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the television and live-stream schedule for Game 3, in addition to a preview of the critical showdown.

Game 3 Preview

Not only was Game 2 important for the Cubs in terms of tying the series, but it also put the team in position to take advantage of a nice pitching matchup on Friday with a series lead on the line.

Chicago will trot out Kyle Hendricks, who became one of the best pitchers in baseball this season in a loaded Cubs rotation. The 26-year-old led the majors with a 2.13 ERA, and he has been excellent this postseason with just three earned runs allowed in 16.1 innings.

Hendricks was much better at home this season than on the road. He went 9-2 with a sparkling 1.32 ERA at Wrigley Field compared to a 7-6 mark on the road, which was the best in baseball, per CSN Chicago's Christopher Kamka:

However, we don't know how Hendricks will handle Cleveland's lineup, since he has practically no experience against the current roster. He has faced only Marlon Byrd and Coco Crisp, and since Byrd has not been a playoff contributor, the only relevant comparison is with Crisp, who is 0-for-3 against Hendricks.

The Cy Young candidate should have plenty of confidence, as he proved he can win on the big stage in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. With a trip to the World Series on the line, Hendricks was sensational with two hits and no runs allowed in 7.1 innings. That garnered praise from his potential MVP teammate, per ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle.

"That's the best pitching performance I've seen," Kris Bryant said after Game 6. "Just throwing exactly where he wants to. Soft contact. He's certainly the unsung hero of this team."

Cleveland will counter with Josh Tomlin, who was solid this season with a 13-9 record and 4.40 ERA.

With Danny Salazar just coming back from injury and Carlos Carrasco out, Tomlin was thrust into the playoff rotation and has responded well. Though he has only 10.2 innings pitched in two starts, he is 2-0 with a stout 2.53 ERA with only three walks allowed. 

Indians manager Terry Francona seems to have plenty of trust in Tomlin, as the 32-year-old is expected to receive multiple starts in this series, per Bleacher Report's Scott Miller:

Both of those starts will come at Wrigley Field, and as opposed to Hendricks, Tomlin actually performed better on the road this season than in Cleveland. He went 8-4 with a 4.31 ERA on the road compared to 5-5 with a 4.50 ERA at home, per FanGraphs.

Tomlin also has little experience against this current Cubs roster, having faced only Miguel Montero, David Ross and Ben Zobrist. In 19 career at-bats, Zobrist has just two hits off Tomlin.

It looks like the difference in Game 3 will be which team can get runners in scoring position. On the season, Hendricks was excellent in this situation, surrendering just a .178 opposing batting average in 33.2 innings pitched, per FanGraphs. On the other hand, Tomlin struggled with a .287 opposing average in 29.2 innings, per the same source. He also allowed 49 earned runs to Hendricks' 29.

Through two games this series, Chicago has been able to get in this position more often than Cleveland has, but the Cubs are converting at a less efficient rate. They are 4-for-23 combined with runners in scoring position, while the Indians are 2-for-13.

Given that the Cubs are generating more baserunners in scoring position, they should feel good going up against Tomlin. There will also be a ton of energy in Wrigley Field, as Chicago is playing its first World Series game in the stadium since 1945.

This should give Chicago an edge in Game 3, especially if Hendricks continues to pitch well. Cleveland could have a chance to hold off the home team if it can get a lead after about five innings of work from Tomlin, but that may be a lot to ask for.

     

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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World Series 2016 Schedule: Updated TV, Live-Stream Coverage Guide

The Chicago Cubs bounced back from an abysmal Game 1 performance to beat the Cleveland Indians 5-1 on Wednesday, leveling the 2016 World Series 1-1 as it heads to Wrigley Field.

Earning a road win is critical for both teams, as each was among the best in the majors while playing at home. Cleveland was tied for the top home record in the American League with the Texas Rangers at 53-28, while the Cubs led MLB at 57-24. Chicago did its part in stealing a road victory, so now the Indians will have to do the same to stay alive in the Fall Classic.

With two games in the books, let's take a look at the updated television and live-stream schedules for the rest of the 2016 World Series.

After Cleveland took the series opener with great pitching and timely hitting, the roles seemed to reverse Wednesday night. 

Jake Arrieta nearly matched Corey Kluber's performance in the previous game, with the Chicago starter going 5.2 innings while allowing only two hits and one run. Kluber may have been slightly better in Game 1, going 6.0 innings with four hits and no runs allowed, but Arrieta got off to a historic start, per SportsCenter:

The Cubs' bats also woke up. After going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in Game 1 to Cleveland's 2-for-9, Chicago went 3-for-12 Wednesday to the Indians' 0-for-4. This resulted in RBI from four different Cubs in the win.

Another major reason why this series is tied is the re-emergence of Chicago's Kyle Schwarber.

After missing practically the entire regular season with a knee injury, Schwarber battled back in his rehabilitation to make a surprising appearance on Chicago's World Series roster, and the team's faith in the 23-year-old is paying off. Through two games, Schwarber is 3-for-7 with two RBI and a pair of walks, generating two runs in Wednesday's win.

His teammate Kris Bryant, who could be the National League MVP this season, raved about Schwarber's play so far, per CSN Chicago's Cubs Talk:

There is a "plot twist" to this story, though. Per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Schwarber has been cleared thus far only to hit and run the bases but not to play the outfield. He only served as the designated hitter through two games, but the team wants to be cautious about rushing him back into the outfield just six months removed from serious knee surgery. 

Rosenthal reported that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will talk with team doctors Friday, but Epstein said Schwarber will get a chance to impact the game in some capacity during the three-game stretch at Wrigley Field.

"He’s got tremendous strength and flexibility in the knee, as demonstrated by what he’s done out there," Epstein said. "We’ll see. If he does end up playing out there, we’ll make sure he’s smart about it. If he doesn’t, we’ll put him in a big spot (as a pinch hitter) to take one of the most important at-bats of the game."

Having Schwarber in the lineup is critical to helping a Cubs offense that has failed to establish any consistency this postseason. He's been the best hitter for the team through two games this series, and one has to believe Chicago will do everything it can to get him on the field at Wrigley without jeopardizing his future.

For Cleveland, a young star of its own is making some big noise this postseason.

Francisco Lindor continues to be the team's best position player, making an impact at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field. He is hitting 3-for-7 in this series with a double, walk and stolen base, which continues his terrific overall 2016 playoff numbers of a .342 average with four RBI.

The 22-year-old credited his teammates for his success when speaking before Game 2, per Cleveland.com's Paul Hoynes:

I think it has to do with my teammates. Michael Brantley, Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis, Roberto Perez and Jose Ramirez—all of them. 

We've kept that same mentality in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field since day one. I'm just trying to do the exact same thing since day one, just somehow get on base. Just find a good pitch to hit and get on base. If I don't get on base, I just try to find a way to help the team win that day.

Cleveland will need Lindor to pace the offense in Game 3, as the Indians have a difficult matchup.

Kyle Hendricks, who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA in the regular season, will take the hill against Josh Tomlin, which seems to favor the Cubs on paper. Tomlin was a decent 13-9 this season with a 4.40 ERA, and he has been good this postseason with wins in both of his starts for 2.53 ERA in 10.2 innings.

However, Hendricks has been excellent all year. He went 16-8 in the regular season, and through three postseason starts, the 26-year-old has allowed just three runs in 16.1 innings.

Chicago seems to have the edge in pitching in Game 3, but Cleveland has proved people wrong all season as it sits in this position despite dealing with a slew of injuries. Thus, it looks like this could be a close, exciting contest in Wrigley's first World Series game since 1945.

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Cubs vs. Indians Live-Stream Schedule, Odds and Pre-Game 2 Comments

The Cleveland Indians were able to take an early series lead with a 6-0 win in Game 1 of the 2016 World Series, and the Chicago Cubs will look avoid a difficult two-game hole on Wednesday in Game 2.

The Indians used a quick start and some dominant pitching to earn the comfortable victory, as a two-run first inning was all the team needed. Wednesday's contest will also be moved up early due to rain concerns later in the night, per MLB.

Let us take a look at the television and live-stream schedules, the latest odds and some comments from both teams ahead of Game 2.

Jake Arrieta is set to take the hill in Game 2, as he tries to rediscover the dominant form that had him penciled in as the Cy Young favorite at the beginning of the season.

Arrieta was 9-0 with an ERA under 2.00 through May, but he has faltered slightly ever since. The 30-year-old went 9-8 for the rest of the season, but he still finished with a solid 3.10 ERA. 

That slide has continued a bit in these playoffs, where Arrieta has two starts for an 0-1 record and a 4.91 ERA in just 11 innings. The Cubs need their star pitcher to turn it around on Wednesday, but they also need some offense and a strong arm behind the plate. As a result, Chicago manager Joe Maddon is contemplating whether to play Arrieta's preferred catcher, Miguel Montero, or the more skilled Willson Contreras.

"The facts are the facts," Maddon said, per Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune. "They run, and Willson is one of the best young throwers in the game. You have to balance out how comfortable you think Jake's going to be throwing to him versus Miggy."

Of Chicago's three catchers, including David Ross, Contreras led the team by throwing out just over 37 percent of runners attempting to steal, while Montero threw out just under 11 percent and Ross posted roughly a 27 percent success rate. The Indians were fourth in the majors with 134 stolen bases in the regular season, but they have just four in nine games in these playoffs.

Of the two under consideration to start Game 2, Contreras has been far better offensively, hitting .282 in the regular season and .409 in the postseason compared to the .216 and .111 respective marks from Montero.

Adding a surprise bat into the World Series lineup in Kyle Schwarber could also get Arrieta some needed run support. The pitcher is certainly confident, as was relayed by ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers before Game 1:

Chicago president Theo Epstein also expressed assurance in the young Schwarber, praising the 23-year-old's rigorous rehabilitation from an early-season knee injury, per the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan.

"He did unbelievable job as a rehabbing player, and we weren't going to take the opportunity away from him," Epstein said. "He's also a special talent and a special kid, and if anyone can contribute in a World Series environment after only four or five days of live pitching, it's probably him."

Schwarber did not show much rust on Tuesday, going 1-for-3 with a double and a crucial walk off Andrew Miller in the seventh inning to help load the bases.

On the other side, Trevor Bauer will start for the first time since his first-inning exit against the Toronto Blue Jays on Oct. 17. Yet, he does not anticipate his lacerated finger to cause problems again, per ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick:

Bauer will have a tough act to follow, as Corey Kluber was sensational in Game 1, going six innings, allowing no runs and four hits, and setting a franchise record with nine strikeouts in a World Series game, per SportsCenter.

As ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand reported before Game 1, Cleveland manager Terry Francona is hoping he can get quality outings from his first three starters, which also includes Josh Tomlin. This would allow Kluber the opportunity for a possible Game 7 start, but Francona needs his other starters to help.

"It's not just one guy can handle it and maybe come back early," Francona said, per Marchand. "Because once you do that, then the other guys pretty much have to, too, [or] you're really not helping yourself."

While Kluber and the Cleveland bullpen were the catalysts for the win, the team did score six runs behind a breakout performance from catcher Roberto Perez. He went 2-for-4 on Tuesday, including two historic home runs, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale:

Perez's teammates took notice of Perez's play, as Miller noted that the mostly unproven player deserves his current playing time, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

"He should be a star catcher," Miller said. "He's going in that direction. He's that good behind the plate defensively."

Francisco Lindor, who also had a big night by going 3-for-4 with a walk, said that despite Perez's abysmal .183 average this season, the catcher had the potential for this type of outing, per Rosenthal.

"Remember, he went a long time without playing," Lindor said. "He just needed time. If you take away the first 70 to 100 at-bats, he had a good offensive year."

Still, even with the 15 total strikeouts and shaky pitching in Game 1, Ross believes the Cubs can build from this loss and improve against Cleveland's top guys as the series progresses, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian and Carrie Muskat.

"We knew [the Indians' formula] going in," Ross said about facing Kluber, Miller and Cody Allen, "but I think the moral of the story is we got to see those guys on Day 1. Hopefully, that will pay off later." 

Chicago better hope it can bounce back, as its streaky postseason offense once again did the team in. With some uncertainty around how well Arrieta will pitch and which Cubs lineup will appear, it looks like it could be a tough Game 2 for the visitors.

Chicago did show that it can improve against aces when seeing them again, as it solved Clayton Kershaw to clinch the NLCS from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet, the series could be spinning out of control for the Cubs by the time Kluber returns to the mound for Game 4.

   

Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. Game 2 odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

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