Pictured: Francisco Lindor
Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images North America

Chicago White Sox

The safest prediction to make for the White Sox is that 2019 cannot be as miserable as 2018, even if the franchise manages to lose 100 games again.

It couldn’t be. Not after relief pitcher Danny Farquhar nearly died in the dugout with a blood clot on his brain in April. And 2017 top draft pick Jake Burger ruptured his left Achilles tendon in spring training before tearing it a second time in May. And top pitching prospect Michael Kopech was shut down for Tommy John surgery in early September after making four impressive starts in the big leagues. And the team’s aggressive rebuilding push was stalled when other top prospects Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning, Alec Hansen, Micker Adolfo and Luis Robert lost significant development time to injuries. The Sox needed more than a talent infusion — they needed an exorcism.

Add that backdrop to a team that set the major league record for strikeouts and lost 27 of its first 36 games, and the Sox have to be better this season, especially with the additions of Ivan Nova to the starting rotation, Alex Colome to the bullpen, catcher James McCann and first baseman Yonder Alonso.

But the primary improvement must come from the team’s young veterans as well as the touted arrivals from the farm system. 

Cleveland Indians

The Indians will dip their big toe into the uncertain waters of rebuilding this season. It’s not a total rip-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild, but the signs are there. Besides that, they’ll try to do the hardest thing in baseball — win while turning over big chunks of the roster. Thank goodness for the AL Central.

Manager Terry Francona’s team has won three straight division titles and is favored to win a fourth in 2019, but the cast of characters has changed. Free agents Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Donaldson and Rajai Davis are gone. Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yan Gomes and Yandy Diaz were traded so the Indians could reduce the payroll.

What remains is a finely tuned starting rotation led by two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and two of the best young position players in baseball — Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. The bullpen has closer Brad Hand and little else. The outfield is an empty page of players such as Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin coming off injuries and/or life-threatening illnesses. The final story in the green pasture of Progressive Field is a long way from being written.

The Indians have posted six straight winning seasons. In that time they’ve made four postseason appearances, won three division titles, one pennant and reached Game 7 of the World Series. A seventh consecutive winning season is in order, and so is another trip to the postseason, but this is the most vulnerable the Indians have been since they shocked baseball by winning 92 games in 2013 after losing 94 games the previous year. If a hot team emerges from the rubble of the rebuilding AL Central, they’ll have a chance to beat the Indians.

Detroit Tigers

Four years after their last playoff appearance and 20 months after the trade of Justin Verlander signaled a new direction, the Tigers are deep in the throes of a difficult rebuild as the 2019 season approaches, having nearly halved their payroll from the free-spending days of just a couple years ago. Longtime designated hitter Victor Martinez, who retired, is the latest glory-era cornerstone to disappear into the sunset, but the Tigers are still hamstrung by the $55 million — roughly half their projected 2019 payroll — they will pay this year to untradeable veterans Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann. The meager pickups the Tigers made this winter — lefty Matt Moore, shortstop Jordy Mercer, righthander Tyson Ross — are best viewed as stopgaps or potential trade chips in July. On the heels of consecutive 98-loss seasons, this should be another tough year at Comerica Park.

Kansas City Royals

Speed and defense (along with a shutdown bullpen) were at the heart of the Kansas City Royals’ surge, culminating with the 2015 World Series championship. The club hasn’t finished above .500 in the three seasons since, matching the second-most losses in franchise history in 2018 (104). But GM Dayton Moore has made it clear that nothing has changed philosophically for Kansas City, which plays in a relatively cavernous ballpark and still covets athleticism — the fuel for its speed and defensive preference. The Royals largely sat on the sidelines during free agency, but the addition of former Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton — one of the league’s fastest players and best defenders — reinforced Moore’s vision for victory as the rebuild enters its second year.

Minnesota Twins

In almost every way imaginable, 2019 will mark the dawn of a new era in Minnesota. New manager Rocco Baldelli takes over a team missing the on-field and off-field cornerstones of its last half-decade. The front office tandem of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine has a hand-picked skipper, a new-age coaching staff and a roster they’ve begun to reshape in a manner more affirmatively characteristic of their approach to the game. 

Joe Mauer’s retirement and various expiring contracts left the team tremendous payroll flexibility, and they used it to collect players whose price tags made them undesirable to other teams, despite good talent. Betting on talent, in the absence of consistent production, will define 2019 and could set the direction of the franchise in years to come.

Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

Red Sox could set club wins record against Indians

The Boston Red Sox had a shot at clinching the best record in baseball and setting a franchise record for wins on Saturday but fell just short with an extra-innings loss. The Red Sox will try to accomplish both feats again when they visit the Cleveland Indians for the rubber match of a three-game set on Sunday.

Boston, which could see the Indians in a potential American League Championship Series, already clinched the AL East but needs one more victory or Houston loss to ensure that it will finish with the top seed in the AL playoffs. The Red Sox suffered a 5-4 loss on Saturday in 11 innings but did get an encouraging sign for the postseason when the middle relief tandem of Brian Johnson and Joe Kelly combined for four scoreless innings. Cleveland was the first team to clinch its division (AL Central) and is trying to get its bullpen in line for the postseason as well but watched left-hander Brad Hand allow an inherited runner to score while getting knocked around in the eighth inning. Both teams figure to go to the bullpen early when swing starters Hector Velazquez of Boston and Adam Plutko of the Indians square off on Sunday.

TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN

PITCHING MATCHUP: Red Sox RH Hector Velazquez (7-2, 3.18 ERA) vs. Indians RH Adam Plutko (4-5, 5.27)

Velazquez is making his eighth start in his 45th appearance and is 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA in that role. The Mexico native last started at Atlanta on Sept. 5 and allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in four innings without factoring in the decision. Velazquez worked one-third of an inning in relief on Friday for his lone action against Cleveland this season.

Plutko is jumping back into the rotation for a turn as Cleveland spreads out the starters in advance of the playoffs and is hoping for better results. Plutko was ripped for five runs on nine hits – three homers – over 4 2/3 innings at Toronto in his last start on Sept. 8. The 26-year-old, who surrendered three blasts in each of his last two starts, kept the ball in the yard at Boston on Aug. 23 but was knocked around for five runs on as many hits in 4 1/3 innings to suffer a loss.

WALK-OFFS

1. Red Sox RF Mookie Betts (left side) could return to right field on Sunday.

2. Cleveland became the first team in history to have four different pitchers reach 200 strikeouts when RHP Mike Clevinger hit the mark on Saturday.

3. Indians 3B Josh Donaldson is 4-for-10 with a homer and two RBIs in the series.

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Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play.

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Indians at White Sox Preview

The Chicago White Sox just finished off a series win against one powerhouse opponent and will try to make it two in a row when they host the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a four-game series on Monday. The White Sox took two of three from the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park over the weekend and are winners of six of their last 10 games.

Chicago is slowly climbing the standings and owns series wins over both Boston and Milwaukee in the last two weeks, although the current run of success began after it dropped three in a row at Cleveland from May 28-30. The White Sox beat the Red Sox with pitching, allowing a total of six runs in the three games while getting solid starts from Dylan Covey, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez. The Indians totaled 25 runs against Chicago’s staff in last month’s three-game sweep and polished off a series win at the Detroit Tigers over the weekend by bashing their way to 14 hits in Sunday’s 9-2 triumph. The White Sox will try to slow that offense with the struggling Lucas Giolito while Cleveland counters with fellow right-hander Carlos Carrasco.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, SportsTime Ohio (Cleveland), NBCS Chicago

PITCHING MATCHUP: Indians RH Carlos Carrasco (7-4, 4.23 ERA) vs. White Sox RH Lucas Giolito (4-6, 7.08)

Carrasco battled through a rough four-start stretch but snapped out of the funk while allowing one run and striking out 10 in seven innings to get the victory Wednesday against Milwaukee. The 31-year-old Venezuelan was ripped for six runs in 3 2/3 innings at Minnesota in his previous turn on June 1. Carrasco had little trouble in four starts against Chicago in 2017, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.23 ERA.

Giolito is trying to battle out of his own funk and earned a win at Minnesota on Tuesday while surrendering two runs and six hits over six innings. The 23-year-old issued just two walks over 12 innings in his last two starts after handing out 37 free passes across 49 frames over his first 10 starts. Giolito started at Cleveland on May 29 and absorbed the loss while allowing five runs and nine hits in six frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. Indians C Roberto Perez left Sunday’s game after being hit in the hand with a pitch and could be forced to the disabled list.

2. Chicago 1B/3B Matt Davidson is 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts over his last four games.

3. Cleveland SS Francisco Lindor snapped out of a five-game hitless funk by going 3-for-5 on Sunday.

Cubs at Brewers Preview

Milwaukee hasn’t hosted postseason baseball since 2011, but the atmosphere will be about as close as can be expected in June when the Brewers host the Chicago Cubs for a three-game National League Central showdown starting Monday. The first-place Brewers lead the Cubs by a half-game despite dropping seven of eight against Chicago this season.

The Cubs had a four-game winning streak snapped Sunday but have won 11 of 14 to close the gap on the Brewers, who dropped five of their last eight after posting two victories in three contests at Philadelphia over the weekend. The Brewers could have slugger Eric Thames, who has been on the disabled list since April 25 with a torn ligament in his left thumb, back as soon as Monday to provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. The Cubs’ rotation will remain short-handed, though, as manager Joe Maddon told reporters Sunday there is no timetable for right-hander Yu Darvish’s return and it is unclear whether he will pitch before the All-Star break.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, NBCS Chicago Plus, FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs LH Jose Quintana (6-4, 4.20 ERA) vs. Brewers RH Junior Guerra (3-4, 2.83)

Quintana’s performance has been uneven, but he has put together two strong outings in a row. The 29-year-old recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts Wednesday against Philadelphia, allowing two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision. Quintana has been dominant against the Brewers, going 4-1 with a 0.63 ERA in six meetings – including two wins this season in which he has allowed only five hits over 13 scoreless innings.

After a couple of rough outings to begin May, Guerra has gotten back on track with quality starts in four of his last five outings. The 33-year-old allowed three runs over six innings in a tough-luck loss at Cleveland last time out. Guerra is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven games (four starts) against the Cubs, but he was tagged with the loss in a 3-0 defeat April 28 at Chicago despite giving up one run and three hits over six frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. Chicago RF Jason Heyward has recorded an extra-base hit in four straight contests for the first time since a six-game streak in 2015.

2. The Brewers on Sunday added depth by acquiring INF Brad Miller from Tampa Bay in exchange for 1B Ji-Man Choi.

3. Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo has driven in a run in seven straight contests with an at-bat, the longest streak by a Cub since Moises Alou had an RBI in 10 consecutive games in 2004.

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Posted in MLB

What each American League Central team should be hoping for in 2018

Cleveland Indians – “Win the whole f—— thing”

At the outset of spring training, Francisco Lindor refused to characterize his club’s 2017 campaign as a successful season “because we didn’t finish.” It’s hard to disagree with him. After falling one win shy of a World Series triumph in 2016, the Indians waltzed to a second straight division title, riding a historically dominant pitching staff to a 102-60 finish and home-field advantage in the American League Division Series only to be ousted by the New York Yankees in five games. Disappointing, to be sure, but it’s not like there’s somebody to blame for the Indians’ early postseason exit, or for their close-but-no-cigar finish the year before; even if they were the majors’ best team in 2016 or 2017, after all, the correlation between regular-season dominance and postseason success is tenuous in baseball, as randomness has lots of room to maneuver in a best-of-seven series. Often, in fact, the best team doesn’t win.

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Still, at this point, there is no solace in a division title. Merely winning the AL Central won’t cut it anymore, and a pennant won’t suffice either, frankly. They have to win it all. For this group, that’s all that remains. In all likelihood, the Indians already squandered their best chance of a championship in their current competitive window – without Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, both of whom left via free agency this winter, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland being better in 2018 than they were the two seasons prior – but they’ll still nab a third successive AL Central title relatively effortlessly this year, at least. Come October, they’ll be there again; they just have to finish this time.

Minnesota Twins – Deuces wild

Following a disastrous 59-win season in 2016 that cast a pall over the viability of their rebuild, the Twins were vindicated last year, clawing their way to a wild-card berth on the back of breakout performances from burgeoning stars like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano (with considerable contributions from veterans Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer).

And now, based on the offseason they just had, the Twins expect to be a regular contender in 2018 and beyond, having augmented their increasingly impressive core – comprised of the five players mentioned above, plus 25-year-old Max Kepler and newly suspended shortstop Jorge Polanco – with a glut of useful free agents, including Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn, and Addison Reed, as well as Jake Odorrizi, whom they acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay. Anything less than a second straight trip to the wild-card game would surely be a disappointment, then, not only because the Twins are appreciably better, talent-wise, than they were last year, but because the shrinking middle class in the American League has trimmed the list of legitimate wild-card contenders down to four teams, at most.

Chicago White Sox – Baby steps

The White Sox aren’t ready to compete just yet, but their roster is increasingly upside-laden these days, as highly touted youngsters like Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito – both of whom debuted with Chicago late last year – are poised to become everyday contributors in 2018, with the likes of Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen, and Dylan Cease not far behind. As exciting as it is, however, to see the club’s rebuild start to bear fruit, it’s important to remember this is still a development year for the White Sox, notwithstanding the fact that certain service-time clocks have started ticking.

Clearly, the White Sox expect to at least be on the fringes of the postseason picture by next summer, having elected not to trade either Avisail Garcia or Jose Abreu this offseason (they’ll both be eligible for free agency following the 2019 season), but it was only eight months ago, after all, that the club traded away Jose Quintana, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to further bolster their farm system. Pump the brakes, in other words; the White Sox are firmly in the growing-pains stage of their renaissance. And, with that in mind, a successful 2018 season would see continued growth not only from the shiny, new additions to the big-league club and the soon-to-be studs working their way up the minor-league ladder, but also from the already-established youngsters on Chicago’s active roster, like Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson, who took steps backward last year.

Detroit Tigers – Unload Miggy

After the venerable-but-increasingly-unplayable Albert Pujols, no player in the majors has a more unmovable contract than Miguel Cabrera, the soon-to-be 35-year-old who put up a .728 OPS in 2017 and still has six years and $184 million left on his deal, not to mention complete no-trade rights. For the Tigers, who ceded halfway through the 2017 campaign and decided to rebuild, that’s a huge problem. More than anything, with their competitive window currently closed and their farm system in dire straits, the Tigers desperately need the 11-time All-Star to rebound this season so they can at least try to liquidate him, converting the money still owed into some prospect capital (they don’t have any consensus top-50 prospects, and didn’t have any position players crack the recent top-100 lists at FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus).

In the rapidly evolving baseball economy, it should be noted, wherein bat-only players in their mid-30s wield little value, Cabrera’s contract looks especially bloated – even if the Tigers eat all the money left on his deal, they won’t get a particularly noteworthy return – but they’re on the hook for the money, regardless, and there’s really no compelling reason to hang onto him. By the time the Tigers are ready to contend again, after all, Cabrera will be dangerously close to 40, with an annual salary that could impede the front office’s ability to augment the core of young talent that, ideally, they will have graduated through their minor-league system. Cabrera, for what it’s worth, said he played hurt last year, so perhaps restored health in 2018 can help the two-time MVP at least approximate the version of himself that averaged 5.3 WAR per season over the previous decade. If he can, the Tigers should do everything in their power to move him, because merely unburdening themselves from that albatross of a contract will make their 2018 season a success.

Kansas City Royals – Lose

Make no mistake: the Royals didn’t re-sign Mike Moustakas because they hope to be competitive in 2018. They brought him back so they can swap him for a prospect or two at the trade deadline, and same goes for newcomers Lucas Duda and Jon Jay. They’re investing in their future, in other words, and it makes sense, because their present is … yeesh.

Ravaged by the losses of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas to free agency, the denuded Royals may well be the worst team in the American League in 2018, and with their farm system floundering, too – their prospect reserve was gutted over the past few seasons to help bolster the big-league club – the best thing Kansas City can do this season is lose. A lot. The compensatory draft picks they’ll receive for losing Hosmer and Cain will help expedite the process of revitalizing their farm system, but a last-place finish in 2018 – and the resulting first overall pick in the 2019 draft – would be a massive boon for a club without a single prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 list. And, in the meantime, if they can get something of value at the trade deadline for any of the aforementioned one-year placeholders – who cost the Royals a grand total of $13 million, mind you, considerably less than the value of the qualifying offer they gave Moustakas in November – that’s gravy.

Posted in MLB

MLB Opening Day Daily Fantasy Lineup

The day is finally here. The major league baseball season is now officially upon us, so Fanpicks is here to present to you our MLB Opening Day Daily Fantasy Lineup.

As everyone is starting off fresh, field players range between the $4800 and $2000 range. Mike Trout is the only exception to the rule at $5000.

Of course, pitchers are the gold mine of the sport ranging anywhere from Clayton Kershaw‘s $11000 cap hit, to Wily Paralta‘s $4300.

I opted for a slightly cheaper David Price instead of big-money Kershaw. The Red Sox new ace has a nice matchup against the not-so potent Cleveland Indians at 1 pm, so I’m looking to start off the season with a bang from my most expensive peice.

Take a look at the rest of my MLB Opening Day Daily Fantasy Lineup.

mlbopeningday

Bryce Harper is the “highest-paid” bat in my lineup. With a steady dose of up-and-comers, I needed to balance the risk of inconsistency out with a star veteran.

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto was also selected for the same reasons, and a strong spring leads me to believe he may start this season off with a bang.

While he may not have a ton of power, Jason Heyward should be a nice fantasy option this season. He is expected to bat second on Opening Day,  and should remain behind Dexter Fowler, and in front of some combination of Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant, so expect him to score a lot of runs this year.

Posted in MLB

Fantasy Baseball Value Picks

Luck of the draw on Pitchers

This weekends fantasy MLB action was defined by some unexpected results from the mound. The pitcher position is the most consistent position in MLB Daily Fantasy since high priced pitchers typically hit their value and low priced pitchers often leave you in the hole (although obviously there are outliers). This weekend however showed much different results as the performance of pitchers appears to be completely independent of their set salary.

The Blue Chips

Let’s start with the high priced pitchers who did what they were supposed to do, brought value to your fantasy lineup as a reward for spending such a premium. On Saturday, Jake Arrieta continued to bring pitching dominance to the Cubs young roster. He pitched 8 innings with 7 strikeouts, allowing no runs and only 4 hits. He may have continued into the 9th for the complete game shutout but he had already thrown 116 pitches up to that point. His Bullpen however was able to finish the job for a 2-0 win over the DBacks. Arrieta finished the day with 52.5 fantasy points under Fanpicks scoring.

On Sunday, Dallas Keuchel scored 57.5 fantasy points in 8 innings as well, but he did it in a much different fashion. He allowed the Twins 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs but he also pitched 12 strikeouts. The Astros won 8-5 giving Keuchel the win bonus.

The Chokers

Almost more important to look at is the high valued pitchers that choked this weekend. If you spend $10000+ on a pitcher and they come up short, you can all but guarantee your lineup is in trouble. The worst pitcher pick of the weekend was Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians. In Saturday’s game against Detroit, he was pulled after only 3.2 innings after he allowed 8 hits and 6 earned runs. He ended the day with -4.5 fantasy points and doomed your chances of cashing in in any MLB Daily Fantasy Tournament.

Another pitcher who failed to hit his value was Chris Archer of the Rays. What was interesting here is that he was able to shut the Yankees out for 5 innings allowing only one hit, but when things went bad for him, they went bad. With two on base in the 5th, Brian Mccann hit one out of the park. The very next pitch, ARod hit a homer for himself putting the Yankees ahead 4-3. Archer ended the day with 20.5 fantasy points (far below his value) and the Rays lost 4-6.

Value Picks

The key to winning MLB Daily Fantasy Contests however is picking low priced pitchers who end up having big results. These are the value picks and there were a couple great ones this weekend. Ervin Santana of the Twins actually had the highest fantasy total of any pitcher of the weekend and he was only priced a meer $5000 on most daily fantasy sites. He totaled 60.5 fantasy points in the Twins win over Houston accumulating 11 strikeouts over 8 innings and allowing 6 hits and 1 run.

Also with a big performance this weekend was Wade Miley of the Red Sox. He pitched a complete game against the Phillies allowing 5 hits and 2 runs, but pitching 8 strikeouts. If you haven’t noticed yet, strikeouts are huge in creating fantasy value. The hitters did their job as well and the Red Sox won 9-2 over the Phillies. He totaled 52.5 points, the same as Jake Arrieta, but he came at about half of the salary.

Posted in MLB