MLB Playoffs 2014: Previews and Predictions for Thursday’s Games

American League baseball fans may have finally caught their breath after Tuesday's extra-inning thriller between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics, but it's time for more playoff baseball Thursday.

In fact, fans will be treated to a doubleheader of action as the Division Series kick off with a pair of Game 1s. Here is a look at the schedule and broadcast information for each contest before delving into some previews and predictions.

 

Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles have home-field advantage and finished with six more wins than the Detroit Tigers, but it is hard to see Detroit as an underdog in this series.

After all, the Tigers will send the past three American League Cy Young Award winners to the mound in the first three games (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price). All it takes is three wins to move on to the next round.

Scherzer will start the proceedings in Game 1 with his 18-5 record and 3.15 ERA against the Orioles' Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA). Orioles manager Buck Showalter discussed the pitching matchups leading up to the series.

"I think we all know what it looks like on paper," Showalter said, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "But there's a lot of things that look a certain way on paper for us that we were able to overcome."

The Tigers are looking to reach their fourth consecutive AL Championship Series and knocked off Baltimore in five of the six regular-season contests. If nothing else, experience could play a role.

The Orioles are also decimated by injuries, as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are both out while Chris Davis is suspended. Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones will be asked to carry the load against the Tigers pitching staff while Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will look to do the same for Detroit against Baltimore's hurlers.

If the Orioles have one major advantage, it is the bullpen thanks to Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter.

Still, starting pitching and experience will help the Tigers continue their dominance of Baltimore in Game 1. Look for Scherzer to control the game from the outset, as the Orioles' late-inning stars won't get a chance to shut the door Thursday.

Prediction: Tigers 4, Orioles 2

 

Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels

Somehow, the Kansas City Royals need to find a way to recover quickly from their dramatic 12-inning comeback in the Wild Card Game and get ready for the Division Series.

The Royals and Los Angeles Angels split their six regular-season games this year, so fans could be in for a tightly contested series. Kansas City hasn't been to the playoffs since 1985 while the Angels return for the first time since 2009. 

The Angels will send ace Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59 ERA) to the hill to face Kansas City's Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71 ERA) in a showdown between former college teammates. Interestingly enough, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times noted that the two are particularly close, which adds another dynamic to Thursday's game:

Offensively, Los Angeles has the trio of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton (who returns after missing 21 of 22 games), but it is Trout who the Royals have to worry about the most. He led the majors in RBI, runs and extra-base hits and could be the key to the entire series.

Kansas City can't match the Angels in terms of star power, but it will look to win with the same small-ball approach of steals, contact, bunts and solid defense that helped it beat Oakland in the Wild Card Game.

The thought here is that the Royals eventually win the series because of their dominant bullpen and the fact that Los Angeles only has one fully healthy and consistent starter. The Royals were actually 65-4 when leading after six innings this season largely thanks to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland (who had a combined 1.28 ERA this year).

However, Weaver will prove his worth as that one consistent and fully healthy Angels starter Thursday and will dominate the small-ball lineup that Kansas City sends to the table. Starting pitching will prevail in both Game 1s. 

Prediction: Angels 5, Royals 2

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Bracket 2014: Breaking Down the Road to the World Series

While the MLB season and playoffs are littered with ups and downs, it is really all about the World Series.

After all, that is where teams and players etch their names in the history books forever with legendary performances and championship victories. It is a source of lifelong joy for fans of the New York Yankees and a source of lifelong suffering for Chicago Cubs supporters.

The 2014 Fall Classic will likely reward baseball fans with another memorable series, but we have to get there first. With that in mind, here is a look at the playoff bracket, courtesy of Cork Gaines of Business Insider, before we dig into something of a road map for each team.

 

Road to the World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers 

The Los Angeles Dodgers start their playoffs by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cardinals just so happen to be the team that eliminated the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last year.

Facing the Cardinals could be an issue because they may be the one team in baseball that proves Clayton Kershaw is human every now and again. In fact, Kershaw is only 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA against the Cardinals in the past two years.

Plus, Adam Wainwright is a star of his own for St. Louis.

If the Dodgers get past the Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers will have home-field advantage in a rivalry showdown that could shut down the whole West Coast.

If the Nationals and the Dodgers both win, Los Angeles will have to travel to Washington for Game 1 of the NLCS, as the Nationals are the No. 1 seed.

 

St. Louis Cardinals 

As I mentioned, St. Louis starts its playoffs with an NLCS rematch against the Dodgers.

If you are a fan of pitching, make sure to tune in to this series. Kershaw and his 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA and .196 batting average against will be anchoring the Dodgers, while Wainwright and his 5-0 September record and Pitcher of the Month award will be leading the way for the Cardinals.

Zack Greinke (2.72 ERA), Lance Lynn (2.74 ERA) and a number of other hurlers will also have something to say about the outcome.

Matt Carpenter discussed facing Kershaw, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

He’s the kind of guy — and I hate saying this because we’re about to play him — but you’re not going to get a lot to hit. You can very easily have a game where you can go up three times and he’ll make all his pitches and there is nothing you can do about it. At the same time, I also believe that for 11 pitches he did that and I found a way to survive and he finally made a mistake. It took 11 pitches and for most guys, including me, every other at-bat felt over way sooner.

Much like the Dodgers, St. Louis would have to travel to Washington to face the Nationals in a potential NLCS but would enjoy home-field advantage against the wild-card Giants.

 

Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are the top seed in the National League and will have home-field advantage regardless of their opponent on the entire road to the World Series.

They start with the Giants, who have some momentum of their own after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Round on Wednesday. Still, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner can only go once in this best-of-five series because he pitched against Pittsburgh, which could give Washington the upper hand. 

Either the Cardinals or the Dodgers will have to go to Washington to open the series in the NLCS if Washington eliminates San Francisco.

 

San Francisco Giants

The Giants are the wild-card team, so they are going to do battle on the road for much of the path to the World Series. The three other National League teams remaining would all have home-field advantage in any series.

The Giants struggled down the stretch and went 13-12 in September and 51-54 since June 1 leading up to the playoffs. Leadoff hitter Angel Pagan is also out for the remainder of the year. 

Whether the win over Pittsburgh is enough to get momentum back on San Francisco’s side remains to be seen, but if the Giants do get past the Nationals to set up a showdown with the Dodgers, baseball fans will be in for a real treat.

 

Kansas City Royals

The country caught Royals fever Tuesday night when Kansas City small-balled its way to a 12-inning victory in the Wild Card Round over the Oakland Athletics.

Now, the Royals have to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Angels and their litany of household names, including Mike Trout. Trout led the Major Leagues in RBI, runs and extra-base hits and is arguably the best player in the playoffs this side of Kershaw

If Kansas City does manage to get past the Angles, both the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles would have home-field advantage in the American League Championship Series.

 

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels are the American League’s top seed, so they get home-field for the entire path to the World Series.

However, the guess here is that the Royals will upset Los Angeles in the division series because Jered Weaver is the Angels' only healthy and consistent starting pitcher at this point of the season. Weaver may win a game or two, but Kansas City’s dominant bullpen, which is led by Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, will control the late innings. 

The Royals finished an astounding 65-4 when leading after six innings this year.

 

Detroit Tigers

The Baltimore Orioles have home-field advantage in the first-round showdown with the Tigers, but if Detroit wins, it will have home-field advantage against the division rival Royals. A showdown with the Angels would mean Detroit would have to hit the road.

Location may not matter at all for Detroit if the path to the World Series comes down to starting pitching, though.

The Tigers boast the past three American League Cy Young winners in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price. That will make them incredibly difficult to beat in a short series. The Tigers could reach their fourth consecutive ALCS with a win over the Orioles.

 

Baltimore Orioles 

The Orioles have to deal with all that pitching in the division series against Detroit, but they may have the cure, as Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun pointed out:

Baltimore will need Nelson Cruz to produce, as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are both out with injuries and Chris Davis is suspended. Like the Royals, the Orioles’ biggest advantage is likely in the bullpen thanks to Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter. 

The Orioles have home-field advantage against the Tigers or Royals, but they would have to hit the road if they played the Angels.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

NLDS Schedule 2014: TV Info, Previews and More for Both Series

The San Francisco Giants ended "Buctober" and set up a thrilling National League Division Series all in the process of one game Wednesday in the Wild Card Round.

Now, baseball fans will be treated to a best-of-five showdown between the Giants and the Washington Nationals in one series and the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers in the other series.

Here is a look at the schedule and broadcast information for both National League series.

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

It will be business as usual for the Cardinals and Dodgers, as the two teams will meet in the postseason for the second straight year.

While the Cardinals dispatched of the Dodgers in six games in 2013’s National League Championship Series, the two squads have actually split their last 20 meetings. If nothing else, fans could be in for a thrilling, back-and-forth showdown.

Offensively, 2014 was not a banner year for St. Louis. After leading the league in runs scored in 2013, the Cardinals tied for ninth in the National League in the same category, thanks largely to a .254 batting average with runners in scoring position (it was a ridiculous .330 last year). St. Louis also finished last in the National League in home runs.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, averaged an impressive 6.24 runs a game in September, as Carl Crawford hit .448 in the final month and Matt Kemp led the National League with 17 home runs after the All Star break.

Adrian Gonzalez led the MLB with 116 RBI, and superstar Yasiel Puig can change the game at a moment’s notice with his bat, glove or arm.

The hitting is one thing, but the pitching may be the main attraction here. Clayton Kershaw anchors the Dodgers rotation after turning in an MVP-worthy campaign with a 1.77 ERA, 21-3 record and .196 batting average against. Zack Greinke was pretty good himself with a 17-8 record, 2.72 ERA and a 4-0 September mark. 

The Cardinals counter with an ace of their own in Adam Wainwright, who went 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA in September. Lance Lynn was also great this season with a 2.74 ERA, and Stan McNeal of Fox Sports Midwest gave fans a glimpse at the full rotation:

It is incredible that you could almost call the starting pitching a draw even though the Dodgers have Kershaw, who may or may not be an actual machine built for the sole purpose of pitching baseballs.

The Cardinals have actually found some success recently against the southpaw considering Kershaw is 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts against St. Louis the past two years.

While so much of playoff baseball boils down to who has the better pitching, it will be the Dodgers offense that carries the day in this series, along with home-field advantage. Los Angeles has simply been red-hot recently at the plate, and the Cardinals will not be able to put up enough runs to keep up. 

Even if the Cardinals have proven Kershaw to be mortal the past two years, the Dodgers simply have too much offense in this one.

Prediction: Dodgers in four

 

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

The Giants set up this series thanks to Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout and Brandon Crawford’s dramatic grand slam Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.

They will have to turn over a new leaf quickly, though, because Stephen Strasburg will be waiting in Game 1 for the Washington Nationals. Interestingly, Strasburg idolized Jake Peavy growing up, and that will likely be the pitching matchup in the first game of this series.

Remember, Strasburg was controversially shut down in 2012 when the Nationals reached the playoffs, but manager Matt Williams seemed to think it paid dividends, according to Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press, via ABC News, "Without passing any judgment one way or the other, it's probably a really important reason why he's here right now."

Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez will likely follow Strasburg in the rotation, while Tim Hudson, Bumgarner and Yusmeiro Petit will probably follow Peavy for the Giants.

It is certainly somewhat of a disadvantage for San Francisco that it already used its ace, Bumgarner, in the Wild Card Round and will only trot him out once in the series. Fortunately for the Giants, Hudson is 18-5 with a 2.35 ERA in his career against the Nationals.

Washington did go 5-2 against the Giants this year and should have the momentum in this series because San Francisco went 13-12 in September and 51-54 since June 1. It doesn’t help that leadoff hitter Angel Pagan is out for the year.

The fact that the Giants will only be able to send Bumgarner to the mound once is absolutely critical in our prediction. Yes, Hudson has been impressive against Washington in his career, but much of that came in his prime. He finished with a 4.73 ERA in the second half of the season and isn’t quite the same pitcher he was in past years.

San Francisco may have picked up the critical win Wednesday, but it struggled down the stretch. The Nationals have turned in an incredible season and will be ready to go at home. 

Prediction: Nationals in five

 

*Stats used for the Dodgers and Cardinals series courtesy of McNeal of Fox Sports Midwest.

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Rumors: Latest Rumblings on Brian Cashman, Jon Niese and More

The Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics kicked off the MLB postseason in grand style Tuesday, but there are far more teams that have already shifted their attention toward the offseason. 

There will be plenty of rumors and speculation that pop up between now and the Winter Meetings regarding free agents, the trade block and potential retiring players. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the early rumors floating around the league.

 

Brian Cashman Staying With Yankees?

Buster Olney of ESPN.com noted that the New York Yankees will likely keep general manager Brian Cashman around for the immediate future. As Olney wrote, “The New York Yankees have begun the process of constructing a new contract for longtime general manager Brian Cashman, sources close to the situation said.”

Cashman’s current contract expires on Oct. 31, and it is only natural to at least question the direction of the team after it missed the postseason for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93.

Still, it’s hard to hold much of this season’s disappointment against Cashman, considering the rash of injuries that struck the team. CC Sabathia missed the majority of the year, Ivan Nova had Tommy John surgery, Michael Pineda missed most of the year and Masahiro Tanaka missed a significant portion of the season.

That is a lot of attrition among the pitching staff alone. 

Olney also pointed out that Cashman has a solid relationship with the Steinbrenner family, which will likely play a role in any contract discussions.

 

Jon Niese on the Block?

Marc Craig of Newsday provided an update on Jon Niese and his future with the New York Mets:

Niese turned in a solid season and finished with a 3.40 ERA in 187.2 innings pitched. However, he is owed $16 million over the next two seasons.

For those wondering why the Mets may want to move Niese, starting pitching was far from the problem this year. New York finished ninth in the majors in ERA and seventh in quality starts in 2014, while the offense placed 28th in batting average, 27th in slugging percentage, 21st in runs and 22nd in on-base percentage.

It may be time to focus on the offense in Queens.

Matt Harvey will theoretically be back in the rotation as well, so there could be an opportunity to move Niese. He is only 27 years old and a left-handed pitcher, so there should be a thriving market for him. 

The Mets are probably not going to get back a complete superstar for Niese, but they could get some solid pieces to improve a middling offense.

 

Life After Baseball for David Ross

Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com provided an update on Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross:

Ross struggled mightily at the dish this season and finished with a .184 average, seven home runs, 15 RBI and a .629 on-base plus slugging. He is also 37 years old and was riddled with injuries for much of the season.

Ross commented on his future earlier in the year, via Tim Britton of The Providence Journal:

I definitely want to play next year. It’s been in my mind. I don’t know how many more I’ve got left in me. I had a lot of fun last year. This year hasn’t been probably the way we planned it, or even near close to as fun. But I’d like to get back on the winning side of things and try to go out one more time and win. I don’t see myself playing too many more, but at least one to two more.

Clearly, his age, recent injury history and lack of offensive production in 2014 are all deterrents for the Red Sox or any other team that could possibly pursue him, but there is something to be said about having depth at the catcher position. It is a physically grueling spot that often sees its share of attrition, so having Ross as a backup who could occasionally fill in or play designated hitter could work for some teams.

That being said, it is nice for Ross’ sake that there appears to be plenty of opportunities waiting should he choose to retire. He actually did some work for ESPN after Boston's season ended, too. 

Regardless of whether it is on the field or in some other capacity, Ross will likely be around the sport of baseball next year.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

NL Wild Card Schedule 2014: Viewing Info and Preview for Pirates vs. Giants

It may seem somewhat strange and even unfair that an entire 162-game schedule can come down to one evening in the MLB playoffs, but that is part of the excitement with the Wild Card Round.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants will do battle Wednesday for the right to play the No. 1 seed Washington Nationals in the Division Series. Here is a look at the viewing information and a preview for the nerve-wracking contest.

 

Viewing Info

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 1

Time: 8:07 p.m. ET 

TV/Live Stream: ESPN/Watch ESPN

 

Preview

This should be business as usual for the Pirates, who will host the National League Wild Card Game for the second straight year. The hope on their side is the result is the same as last year’s victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Pittsburgh got here with a scorching finish to the season (17 wins in the last 23 games), so it is only appropriate that it is sending a red-hot pitcher to the mound in Edinson Volquez.

Volquez finished with a 3.04 ERA and a team-high 31 starts and 192.2 innings pitched, but it was his performance in the second half of the year that helped the Pirates reach the postseason again. In fact, Volquez sports a 1.78 ERA in his last 12 starts and hasn’t allowed a run in 18 innings.

His 1.08 September ERA is second best in the entire National League, and he has only allowed four earned runs in his last five home starts.

With Volquez on the mound, the Giants are going to need an impressive pitching performance of their own from Madison Bumgarner. Fortunately for them, he could have been a borderline Cy Young candidate behind his 2.98 ERA were it not for Clayton Kershaw.

Bumgarner is also comfortable on the road, as evidenced by his 11-4 record away from AT&T Park this year.

Bumgarner discussed the moment, via Henry Schulman of SFGate.com:

This is the most exciting game. The whole year comes down to one game. If you don’t want to pitch in a game like that, something’s wrong with you, or you’re in the wrong business. This is what you work for. I’m sure there’s plenty of other guys who would love to be out there and have the chance to do that.

While it is easy to point to the two pitchers and say this will be a low-scoring game, there are actually some positive signs for the Pirates offense.

Bumgarner worked at least six full innings in each of his final 15 starts except one, which just so happened to be his start against Pittsburgh. The Pirates tagged him for five runs on six hits and two walks in four innings on July 28, which should give the home team some confidence during Wednesday’s contest.

Much of the focus will understandably be on star Andrew McCutchen, but it will be less-heralded guys who shine Wednesday. Leadoff man Josh Harrison is 4-for-5 with a home run against Bumgarner in his career, and Starling Marte destroyed lefties with a .303 batting average this season.

Marte also hit .348 in the second half of the year with eight homers and will look to carry that momentum over into the postseason against the southpaw Bumgarner

San Francisco’s offense, on the other hand, limped to the finish and scored 44 runs in the last 15 games. Perhaps Bumgarner can help that on Wednesday, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

If we look beyond just the pitching matchup, Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com said the Pittsburgh crowd could play a major role, like it did last year at PNC Park:

Last year's NL wild-card game was memorable not so much for the game itself, but for the never-ending "Cuuueeettttooo! Cuuueeetttooo!" chants from the Pirates fans that obviously rattled Johnny Cueto. Bumgarner's lucky his name isn't easily tauntable (Maaadison, Maaadison?), but, either way, expect the crowd to be a factor based on last postseason.

Things seem to be lining up for the Pirates at home in this one. Volquez has been lights-out recently and is facing a struggling offense, and Pittsburgh already got to Bumgarner once this year. Look for the Pirates to get on the board first and the raucous crowd to take them the rest of the way in this contest. 

Prediction: Pirates 3, Giants 2

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Bracket 2014: Complete Postseason Schedule and Wild Card Predictions

The MLB playoff bracket may not unify the nation for three weeks like the NCAA tournament bracket does in March, but it still represents one of the most exciting times on the entire sports calendar. 

After a grueling 162-game schedule, we finally get to see rally towels in the upper deck, late-inning showdowns between bullpen specialists and superstar hitters, and visible proof of the deep breaths players take in the pressure-packed moments, thanks to the crisp October air.

Here is a look at the postseason bracket, courtesy of Cork Gaines of Business Insider:

Here is the entire 2014 playoff schedule, courtesy of MLB.com, followed by a breakdown of the Wild Card Games.

 

Wild Card Round Predictions

Fans may instantly recognize superstars like Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Alex Gordon and Josh Donaldson from the four wild-card rosters, but it is all about the pitching in these single-elimination, loser-goes-home playoff games.

 

National League

The San Francisco Giants will hit the road to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Round. Both teams finished with identical records, but the game is in Pittsburgh because the Pirates beat the Giants in four of their six head-to-head games.

Pittsburgh may just be the hottest team in baseball with 17 wins in its last 23 contests.

A large reason why the Pirates have been so hot is the pitching of Edinson Volquez, who has completely dominated since June. In fact, he sports a 1.78 ERA in his last 12 starts and hasn’t given up a run in 18 innings. He knocked his 5.71 ERA from last year down to 3.04 this season and led his team with 31 starts and 192.2 innings pitched.

He has also only given up four earned runs in his last five starts at home.

Volquez won’t be the only impressive pitcher on the mound Wednesday. Madison Bumgarner will take the hill for the Giants, and all he did this year was set a career high in wins with 18 and strikeouts with 219. He also finished with a formidable 2.98 ERA and went 11-4 on the road.

Even if Bumgarner is lights-out, the problem for the Giants may be the offense. San Francisco only scored 44 runs in the final 15 games of the season, which is not exactly the formula for success in the playoffs.

Volquez is red hot on the mound against a struggling Giants lineup. Those patterns will continue in a low-scoring affair. 

Prediction: Pirates 3, Giants 2

 

American League

The Kansas City Royals host the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Round in another contest that will be dominated by two of the best pitchers in the MLB.

James Shields, who has postseason experience from his days in Tampa Bay, will take the ball for the Royals with his 2.31 September ERA. He discussed the team and situation, according to Dave Skretta of The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports:

I've only been here for two years, but when I got traded over here, I knew the magnitude of what this organization was headed for. And when I got here, walking around the city and talking to the fans and really relishing the 29 years, it's a special moment.

It is a special moment that is a long time in the making, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

Oakland, on the other hand, made the playoffs for the third straight year and will send a postseason-tested veteran to the mound Tuesday. In fact, playoff baseball is the entire reason the Athletics traded for Jon Lester in the first place, and he will take his 6-4 career record and 2.11 ERA in 11 playoff starts to the mound with him. 

The MLB and Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post pointed out why Lester could be a problem for the Royals:

Lester went 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in last year’s World Series, so he certainly isn’t going to be intimidated by the moment in the Wild Card Round. It will mark his 12th career start in the postseason, which is in stark contrast to the inexperience on the Kansas City side.

Lester went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA against the Royals this season and will be the perfect answer to a raucous Kansas City crowd.

The prediction here is based on the matchup more so than any experience edge. Lester has been a postseason wizard in the past, and he is going up against a lineup that he absolutely dominated in 2014.

There is no reason to expect anything differently this time around. 

Prediction: Athletics 4, Royals 1

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Playoff Format 2014: Explaining Wild Card, Divisional Series and More

Baseball may be the game of summer, but the real excitement comes when the fall air gets crisper and the pressure of every single pitch is magnified.

The long and grueling 162-game slate of the MLB season leads to the playoffs, and ever since the sport instituted an additional wild-card team for each league, there is even more postseason baseball to enjoy.

Here is a look at the entire 2014 playoff schedule, courtesy of MLB.com., followed by a breakdown of the formats for the early rounds.

*Denotes the game may not be necessary.

 

Wild Card Round 

In the recent past, the three division winners from each league and the team with the best record that didn’t win its division made the playoffs. It meant there were four teams on the American League side of the bracket and four teams on the National League side.

However, MLB added a second wild-card team to each league in 2012, and the two wild-card teams from each league play each other in a single-elimination contest. Whichever team wins advances to the Divisional Series against the No. 1 seed from the respective league.

No pressure or anything.

This season, the Oakland Athletics will travel to Kansas City to take on the Royals, and the San Francisco Giants travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. The American League game is in Kansas City because the Royals finished with a better record than the Athletics, and the National League game is in Pittsburgh because the Pirates beat the Giants in four of their six head-to-head matchups this year.

Interestingly, former Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones was against the new wild-card format in 2012 in comments via David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

I think it’s stupid, to be honest with you. But Major League Baseball wants a bunch of teams in the playoffs. There’s nothing like cut-throat baseball for the fans. And people love that 163rd regular-season game. They’ve loved it in the past. I’m sure that’s probably what’s promoted a second wild-card team.

You say to yourself, we could possibly have the second- or third-best record in the National League when the season’s over and we have to play a one-game playoff just to get in. That doesn’t seem fair because anything can happen [in one game]. Now if you were to say the two wild-card teams will play a best two-out-of-three [series], I’d be OK with that. We play three-game series all the time, and we concentrate on winning those series all the time. I think it’s more fair from a standpoint that anything can happen in one game – a blown call by an umpire, a bad day at the office … at least in a two-of-three-game series you have some sort of leeway.

While Jones’ opinion was certainly influenced by where the Atlanta Braves were in the standings at the time, he certainly has a valid point. Baseball has a much longer regular season than the NHL, NBA, NFL and major college football and basketball, yet the top wild-card team could be sent home in a single three-hour evening. 

All it would take is one bad break or one incredible pitching outing, and those 162 games basically wash away in one night.

 

Divisional Series

The winner of each wild-card game advances to the Divisional Series to face the No. 1 seed from the respective leagues. The other Divisional Series takes place between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, which are both division winners themselves.

The Divisional Series is a best-of-five affair, and the team with the better seed hosts Games 1, 2 and 5. The top seed in the National League awaiting either the Pirates or Giants is the Washington Nationals, while the top seed in the American League is the Los Angeles Angels.

 

Quick Look Ahead

Pitching takes center stage in every postseason, especially in the wild-card scenarios where it is a one-game, winner-take-all situation. 

Oakland will send Jon Lester to the mound (16-11), while the Royals will counter with James Shields (14-8). The MLB pointed out why that matchup could be a problem for Kansas City from a statistical standpoint, while Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post noted that the Royals have enjoyed the upper hand in this matchup unless Lester pitches:

In the National League game, the Pirates will send Edinson Volquez (13-7) to the dish to face Madison Bumgarner of the Giants (18-10). Volquez has been absolutely dominant in the second half of the season and has not allowed a run in 18 innings. In fact, his ERA is 1.85 in his past 17 starts, which dates back to June.

Regardless of who wins in the Wild Card Round, it will be a tall order going against the top-seeded Nationals and Angels. That is especially the case because the wild-card winner will have already used one of its best pitchers previously, which could be problematic in a short, five-game series in the Divisional Series.   

Look for pitching depth to play a major role in the early going and throughout the postseason.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2015 MLB Free Agents: Under-the-Radar Players Available This Winter

Not every team will have the luxury of signing superstars like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Hanley Ramirez during the 2015 offseason, which is why it is worth looking at some under-the-radar options who will be on the market.

The good news is, these guys come for much cheaper than the top-notch talent and could still be productive next season if put in the right situation. Look for some smaller market clubs trying to contend to take some low-risk, high-reward chances on these players.

Here is a list of all the available 2015 free agents, courtesy of Spotrac.

 

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie may end up staying put in Oakland thanks to the Athletics' mid-season trade with the Chicago Cubs.

After all, that deal sent shortstop of the future Addison Russell to the North Side in exchange for some quality pitching. That means Oakland could very well end up keeping Lowrie around for another couple of years as it tries to climb the American League mountaintop.

That may seem like Lowrie has more of the leverage, but there has been a dip in his production this year. In fact, he is only hitting .245 with six home runs, 46 RBI and an OPS of .670 compared to his 2013 numbers of 15 home runs, 75 RBI, a .790 OPS and a .290 batting average.

He’s not a gold glover at shortstop, but he is certainly solid defensively. He only has 13 errors this season and was actually fourth in the National League in range factor per game for shortstops in 2012. He covers ground and catches the ball when he gets to it.

Don’t read too much in Lowrie’s disappointing numbers because they are largely a factor of an abysmal two-month stretch in May and June. 

Lowrie proved last year that he is a solid option with the bat and still theoretically has a couple years of production left in the tank (he will be 30 on opening day). Look for someone (likely the Athletics) to grab him for relatively cheap after a down year.

 

Michael Cuddyer

Michael Cuddyer has spent his entire career playing for the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies. If he played in a bigger market, he would not be such an under-the-radar player because his numbers are impressive.

Cuddyer was the 2013 National League batting champ and has mashed the ball in limited action this year. He sports a .335 batting average, 10 home runs, 31 RBI and a .969 OPS in 48 games, which is a solid follow-up effort to such an impressive 2013. 

He proved just how effective he can be at the plate recently, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

There are a few concerns that will likely drive his market price down in the offseason. For one, he will be 36 years old on Opening Day and has missed considerable time with injuries. It is just difficult to see Cuddyer playing every day in 2015, which means a contender can pick him up to bolster its depth. 

Cuddyer has to be considered one of the more intriguing players on the entire market this offseason.

 

Kendrys Morales

Kendrys Morales is the perfect example of a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for teams looking to improve in free agency.

He was an absolute superstar in 2009 with a .306 average, 34 home runs, 108 RBI and a .924 OPS. Morales also hit 45 combined home runs in 2012 and 2013.

However, he has struggled mightily thus far in 2014 for the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners with a .218 average, seven home runs and 41 RBI. Perhaps he shouldn’t have rejected Seattle’s qualifying offer this past offseason that would have rewarded him with $14.1 million this year.

For what it’s worth, Morales seems to want to stay in Seattle in comments made to Bob Dutton of The New Tribune:

If it got to the point where we could work something out before I got to free agency. I’d have interest in staying. I’m comfortable with the players. I’m comfortable with the direction of the team.

Yes, I’d love to stay here. 

The Mariners may just get a past star on the cheap this offseason. If Morales could tap into that prior production, it would be a major steal.

 

Follow on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Royals Clinch 2014 Playoff Berth: Highlights, Twitter Reaction to Celebration

There will be an air of royalty to the 2014 MLB playoffs. 

The Kansas City Royals clinched a spot in the postseason with a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. Jeremy Guthrie was brilliant on the mound, and the three runs the offense pushed across in the top of the first inning were enough to carry the team to victory.

The MLB offered its congratulations to the squad:

The team’s official Twitter account had a highlight of the first run, courtesy of Nori Aoki’s early triple:

It was the pitching that was the big storyline Friday, though. Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star pointed out how dependable Guthrie has been this season:

The Royals gave fans a glimpse at his final stat line in the clinching game:

As with any postseason-clinching victory, it was time to party in the immediate aftermath. Thankfully for the Royals, it appeared their fans came to the Windy City to do just that, via Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports Kansas City:

It wasn’t just the Kansas City fans in Chicago who were ready to party, as the Kansas City Police pointed out:

The team provided a look at the celebratory tools, while Chris Fickett of The Kansas City Star captured the team running onto the field after the final out:

ESPN Stats & Info and Sports Illustrated pointed out how long the celebration has been in the making:

Fickett, the Royals and MLB continued to give a look at the celebration after the victory:

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the game and the celebration afterward was the presence of visiting Royals fans in the crowd. Here is a look at the cheering after the game, from the MLB and the Royals themselves:

This picture from the Royals captured the excitement for the fans who made the trip to Chicago:

The playoffs are next for Kansas City, but it remains to be seen whether the Royals will be a wild-card team or the American League Central champion. Manager Ned Yost seemed pleased just to have the postseason opportunity, via Daniel Kramer of MLB.com:

The most important thing is, teams have won the World Series from the Wild Card round. So you've got to get in. Everybody else is going home. If it's a one-game playoff, we'll take the one-game playoff. Whatever gives us the opportunity to continue on is important. It's opportunity, is what it is. It's not consolation.

While Royals fans are certainly fired up for the upcoming playoffs, Friday was a night for celebration.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Cy Young 2014: Breaking Down Leading Candidates for Prestigious Award

The race for the American League and National League Cy Young Awards this season are absolutely fascinating heading down the home stretch.

On one side we have the National League, which has a dominant front-runner who has basically locked up the award. On the other is the American League, where two contenders have separated themselves from the pack and are now in a dead heat.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the respective candidates.

Honorable mentions: Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

*All stats and explanation of advanced stats can be found at baseball-reference.com unless otherwise mentioned.

 

National League

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Statistics rarely ever tell the whole story, but they do in the case of Clayton Kershaw. There is really no debate for this award at all actually.

Kershaw leads the MLB in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for pitchers, earned-run average (ERA), wins, win-loss percentage, walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP), strikeouts per nine innings pitched, complete games, adjusted-ERA plus, fielding-independent pitching, adjusted-pitching runs and adjusted-pitching wins.

That’s the entire MLB, not just the National League.

Kershaw is also set to become the first pitcher to lead the MLB in ERA for four straight seasons, which is an incredible feat. What’s more, he missed the entire month of April with injury and has still put together one of the most impressive individual seasons in recent memory. His excellent pitching is a large reason why the Los Angeles Dodgers are playoff bound. 

Kershaw also plays some defense, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out. ESPN Stats & Info also noted that Kershaw made some history this year:

The actual debate here is whether Kershaw will win the MVP award. Only 10 pitchers have won it since 1956, including Justin Verlander in 2011.

Adrian Gonzalez certainly thinks Kershaw deserves the MVP, via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times: “If someone even tries to mention someone else, they’re an idiot.”

Gonzalez may have put it rather bluntly, but there is a case to be made. Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post made that case exactly and noted that at the time of his writing, the Dodgers held a .846 winning percentage in games Kershaw started and a .511 winning percentage in games when he didn’t. 

It’s hard to argue with that.

 

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

We included Adam Wainwright here just so there is some competition for Kershaw, but it’s not fair to simply minimize his accomplishments for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wainwright ranks seventh in the MLB in WAR for pitchers, fifth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, seventh in hits per nine innings pitched, fifth in innings pitched, second in complete games, tied for first in shutouts, second in home runs per nine innings pitched, sixth in adjusted ERA-plus, fourth in adjusted-pitching runs and third in adjusted-pitching wins.

He also joined Kershaw in the 20-win club and has been critical in helping the Cardinals reach the playoffs. 

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk noted that Wainwright deserves some recognition, even if it won’t come in the form of the Cy Young:

He is one of the greatest pitchers to never win a Cy Young award. In an era where 20-game winners are a lot more rare than they used to be, Wainwright has won 19 or 20 games in four of his last five seasons. That’s made all the more special given that those seasons wrap around a year lost to Tommy John surgery. No, wins aren’t everything. But when you get enough of them, consistently over time, it does tell you something. 

Winning 20 games and posting a lights-out 2.38 ERA is normally a surefire way to win the Cy Young. It just so happens that Wainwright is going up against an absolute pitching machine in Kershaw.

 

American League

Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians and Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

We are lumping Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez together because the American League Cy Young is a two-man race.

Kluber is the strikeout machine who became the first player to strike out at least 14 in back-to-back starts since Randy Johnson in 2004. Kluber has also struck out at least 10 batters in 10 different games this year.

Kluber leads the American League in WAR for pitchers and is fourth in ERA, second in wins, seventh in WHIP, second in strikeouts, tied for second in complete games, fourth in adjusted ERA-plus, first in Fielding Independent Pitching, third in adjusted-pitching runs and third in adjusted-pitching wins.

As for the workhorse Hernandez, he is second in the American League in WAR for pitchers, second in ERA, first in WHIP, second in hits per nine innings pitched, second in total innings pitched, fourth in strikeouts, third in adjusted ERA-plus, fourth in Fielding Independent Pitching, first in adjusted-pitching runs and first in adjusted-pitching wins.

These two pitchers have just dominated the American League.

You can basically cherry-pick whichever stat seems to give the edge to one or the other, depending on the argument you want to make. It is also worth noting that the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians have remained in the playoff chase all year, even if some didn’t expect that from either squad.

The thing that jumps out about this race is the fact that Hernandez seemingly had this award locked up in the first half of the season.

In fact, from May 18 to August 11, he didn’t throw fewer than seven innings or allow more than two runs in a single start. It was an absolutely astonishing stretch of baseball that put him far ahead of anyone else in terms of a Cy Young competition.

Perhaps that is what makes Kluber’s emergence all the more impressive. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs noted that Hernandez’s WAR in the first half was five compared to Kluber’s 3.3, but Kluber’s checks in at 3.7 in the second half compared to Hernandez’s 1.2.

Sullivan broke it down even further:

Kluber has more wins, and more losses. Since the break, while Felix has gone 3-3, Kluber has gone 8-3. For voters who care about ERA, Felix still has the advantage, but he’s pitched in front of a far superior defense, and in more pitcher-friendly environments. Kluber’s been supported by perhaps the worst team defense in baseball. For voters who look beyond ERA and wins and losses, Kluber’s not only even with Felix — he might be a hair ahead. 

You really cannot go wrong with either option. Hernandez got off to a blazing start, but Kluber has made up significant ground, which means this will be a nail-biter of a vote.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Dodgers Clinch 2014 NL West Title: Highlights, Twitter Reaction and More

The Los Angeles Dodgers are heading to the playoffs after clinching the National League West title by knocking off the archrival San Francisco Giants, 9-1, Wednesday evening. 

The team’s official Twitter page celebrated the accomplishment, and Fox Sports MLB noted that it was the second straight division title for the Dodgers. The team even got some new shirts to commemorate the feat:

Here is a look at the final out that clinched the division:

Clayton Kershaw fittingly picked up the win in Wednesday’s game to move to an astounding 21-3. He is the runaway favorite for the National League Cy Young Award and could even take home the National League MVP trophy. ESPN Stats & Info noted just how historic Kershaw’s season has been, while SportsCenter compiled some of the head-turning numbers on the year:

SportsCenter also pointed out just how impressive the Dodgers have been in overcoming considerable deficits the past two years:

No division title is complete without a little on-field celebration. It’s even better when it carries over into the locker room and there is champagne involved. The team’s official Twitter account gave an inside glimpse to fans of both celebrations in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s game:

As many baseball fans who have come to enjoy Yasiel Puig’s youthful approach to the game would expect, the outfielder had a little fun during the celebration. He certainly deserved to after hitting a home run in the clinching victory:

The Dodgers ganged up on Kershaw as well:

Manager Don Mattingly discussed the prospects of winning the division after his team clinched a spot in the playoffs earlier in the season, via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

“If you're able to do that, you've at least given yourself a chance to play when there's only going to be 10 teams left. If that's your only way, you're good with it. But you feel like winning the division is really what you're here to accomplish."

Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson got in on the celebration through social media, too, and was understandably thrilled with everyone involved with the organization who made this possible:

Next up for the Dodgers are the playoffs, and with Kershaw on the mound and the likes of Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Co. at the plate, there is no ceiling for this team. While fans are certainly looking forward to October, Wednesday was a night for celebrating.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yasiel Puig Unleashes Perfect Throw to Nail Brandon Belt at the Plate in Extras

With playoff positioning and the top spot in the NL West still up for grabs, Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Yasiel Puig kept the San Francisco Giants from scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th inning during Monday night's game.

He maintained the 2-2 tie by gunning down Brandon Belt at the plate after a Brandon Crawford single with a perfect throw from center field, thrilling the fans along the way.

Ultimately, Puig's heroics weren't enough, as the Giants won 5-2. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Hanley Ramirez Injury: Updates on Dodgers Star’s Elbow and Return

Updates from Wednesday, Sept. 17

The Dodgers confirmed that Hanley Ramirez will not play in Wednesday's game:

Don Mattingly spoke on Ramirez's condition prior to the game (via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times):

 

Original Text

Health becomes even more important as the MLB season enters the stretch run, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez are finding that out the hard way.     

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com filled fans in on the details regarding Ramirez’s latest ailment:

Although Ramirez would eventually make an appearance in the top of the 6th inning as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register points out: 

Ramirez would strike out. 

The Dodgers are four games up on the San Francisco Giants in the National League West race and could certainly use Ramirez’s bat in the lineup. He is hitting .278 on the 2014 campaign with 13 home runs, 69 RBI and 14 stolen bases.

He is hitting .340 in September and has bounced back from a rather lackluster July. If Ramirez continues to hit at an impressive clip, it makes an already dangerous Dodgers lineup all the more formidable entering the postseason.  

He has to stay healthy first, though.   

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Chase Headley Injury: Updates on Yankees 3B’s Face and Return

Updates from Friday, Sept. 12

MLB.com's Bryan Hoch provides an update on Headley's status:

Hoch has more on Headley:

 

Original Text

The New York Yankees are still battling for postseason position as the 2014 season enters the stretch run, but baseball was the least of anyone’s concern for a few moments Thursday evening. 

Yankees designated hitter Chase Headley was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the ninth inning in a scary moment. Lance McAlister of 700 WLW in Cincinnati described the proceedings:

MLB.com provides video of the incident:

It was definitely a relief to everyone in attendance when Headley got up and actually left under his own power. Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks certainly had Headley in his thoughts after the play:

The other silver lining from the Yankees’ perspective outside of the fact that Headley walked off was the rally it set up. New York trailed the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth, but Chris Young drilled a game-winning three-run home run to win the game in walk-off style.

While Headley’s health is clearly the most important thing here, it was nice for the Yankees to pick up the critical 5-4 win.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cliff Lee Injury: Updates on Phillies SP’s Elbow and Recovery

The Philadelphia Phillies have been out of contention in the National League East for a large portion of the 2014 season, but their 2015 outlook improved Wednesday.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is confident that star pitcher Cliff Lee will return for the 2015 season.

Lee suffered a strained flexor-pronator tendon back in May and missed two months. He then tried to return but was lost for the remainder of the season when he reaggravated the same injury on July 31.

For the season, Lee finished with a 4-5 record, 3.65 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, but he also sported a .304 batting average against.

Lee was examined by team physician Michael Ciccotti Monday and has been seen by James Andrews and David Altchek. Salisbury noted that the pitcher is currently resting his elbow at home but was treated with a platelet-rich injection and will start throwing in November.

Ideally, he will be ready to go by spring training if there are no complications.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Josh Hamilton Injury: Updates on Angels Star’s Shoulder and Return

Updates from Friday, Sept. 5

Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County-Register has the latest on Hamilton:

MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez had more on Hamilton:

 

Original Text

The Los Angeles Angels are in a battle with the Oakland Athletics for first place in the American League West, but that was of secondary importance for a moment Thursday. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com provided some of the details regarding the health of outfielder Josh Hamilton:

Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register had more from Hamilton after the game:

Hamilton said he will miss at least one more game with a sore AC joint that has been bothering him since Tuesday.

Hamilton said he got a cortisone shot after leaving Thursday’s game in the eighth inning. That will prevent him from playing Friday.

“It’s sore, real sore,” Hamilton said. “We’ll give it a day.”

Hamilton said it affects him hitting, playing defense and even running. When he made a quick throw back into the infield after taking a ball off the wall in the second, it particularly bothered him.

It is probably smart for Hamilton to take a couple days off considering the Angels were five games clear of Oakland as of Thursday evening. They will need him at full strength entering the stretch run of the season and in the playoffs more so than the rest of the week.

Hamilton sports a .263 batting average with 10 home runs, 44 RBI and a .746 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. It hasn’t been the type of monster year baseball fans saw from Hamilton when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, but he did miss the entire month of May and a large portion of April.

Still, he hit only .222 in August and was 1-for-8 in the early going in September. Perhaps a couple days off with this latest ailment will help him regain his form before the postseason.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Adams Injury: Updates on Cardinals Star’s Oblique and Return

Updates from Friday, Sept. 5

MLB Lineups reports the latest on Adams' status for Friday's game:

 

Original Text

The St. Louis Cardinals are trying to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central down the stretch, but they received some unfortunate news Thursday. Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com filled fans in on the details regarding Matt Adams:

Adams is having a very productive 2014 campaign for St. Louis at first base. He sports a .292 batting average with 13 home runs, 57 RBI and a .781 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Despite the solid numbers though, Adams only hit .238 in August and was 1-for-11 at the plate in the early going in September. Perhaps a few days off will help him re-establish the swing that made him such an integral part of the lineup in the early part of the season.

The Cardinals may be in first place, but they rank a lowly 27th in the MLB in total runs scored. A healthy Adams could certainly help that number improve and keep the other division contenders at bay.

For now though, he will rest his oblique.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jorge De La Rosa and Rockies Agree on New Contract: Latest Details, Reaction

It has been a season to forget for the last-place Colorado Rockies and their fans, but there was a bit of positive news Wednesday, as the team announced a contract extension for starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports provided details of the deal:

De La Rosa has turned in a solid 2014 campaign, even as the squad has struggled as a whole. He sports a 13-10 record with a 4.26 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and .240 batting average against. De La Rosa has also notched 119 strikeouts in 160.2 innings and leads the Rockies rotation in WHIP, ERA, strikeouts and wins.

It's not a stretch to call De La Rosa Colorado's best starting pitcher this season.

The timing of the extension is interesting considering De La Rosa is 33 years old. He likely has a couple of seasons remaining of prime production at his age, which coincides perfectly with Colorado's contract extension. Ideally, he would be a critical component of a team that contends in 2015 or 2016 with Troy Tulowitzki and company.

What's more, De La Rosa has been a dominant force in starts at home, which is particularly difficult considering home is Coors Field. The ballpark is notorious for home runs and inflated offensive numbers, but De La Rosa is 9-2 in Colorado with a 3.19 ERA and .232 batting average against.

Pitching coach Jim Wright discussed that performance after De La Rosa's most recent home win, via Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post.

"Jorge is tough, tougher than some people might think," Wright said. "He knows how to get through an outing, and he knows how to win a ballgame. Plus, he's not intimidated by this place. He thinks he can outlast the other pitcher."

He will now be outlasting other pitchers as a member of the Rockies for two additional years.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Coco Crisp Injury: Updates on A’s Star’s Neck and Return After Wall Collision

Coco Crisp almost made a spectacular catch to rob Chris Iannetta of a home run Friday, but the fact that the ball went over the wall was the least of the Oakland Athletics’ concerns. Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and Brodie Brazil of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area filled fans in on the details:

Crisp left the game before the next pitch was thrown.

The Athletics need a healthy Crisp going forward, especially in this critical series against the Los Angeles Angels. Oakland is staring up at the Angels in the American League West as we enter the stretch run of the season, and a division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs are on the line. 

What’s more, Crisp has been a productive member of the lineup and in the field this season. He is hitting .254 with nine home runs, 45 RBI and 16 stolen bases. It is his speed that helps him change the game by disrupting pitchers while on the basepaths and covering plenty of ground in the outfield.

Stay tuned for updates as they develop.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com