Pictured: Christian Yelich
Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images North America

Chicago Cubs

Though still loaded with team-controlled talent and star-caliber names, the Cubs enter 2019 looking to rinse out the sour taste of a brutal end to their 2018 campaign. Though Javier Baez has emerged as a terrific, dynamic complement to the steady slugging of Anthony Rizzo, and though the anchors of the starting rotation are as sturdy and established as any in the National League, huge questions hang over the team. They’re still banking on development and improved offensive consistency from catcher Willson Contreras, outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. and utility man Ian Happ, and their success will hinge in some meaningful part on the health and effectiveness of Kris Bryant, who was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2018. No longer a budding dynasty, the Cubs are now an expensive team trying to reclaim its place atop the NL Central.

Cincinnati Reds

The year 2019 marks the sesquicentennial of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional (i.e., salaried) team in baseball history. In celebration, Reds players will wear commemorative patches on their jerseys and caps throughout the 2019 season. The team will also feature 15 throwback uniforms on various home dates. The 1869 Red Stockings, playing amateur teams from coast to coast, went 67–0.

Ironically, the Reds are coming off a season in which they exactly matched the 1869 team’s total of 67 wins. Unfortunately, the 2018 edition played 95 other games, finishing last in the National League Central for the fourth straight year.

The offseason focus has been to improve a perennially weak pitching staff that has, more than the offense, kept the team in the cellar. A blockbuster trade sending prospects and the disappointing Homer Bailey to the Dodgers for Alex Wood, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig strengthens the team, though probably not enough to avert another losing season. But with a new manager and young arms moving up the farm system, better days could lie ahead.

Milwaukee Brewers

What was expected to be a long organizational rebuild by the Milwaukee Brewers quickly shifted into overdrive late last January when, in a 24-hour span, they traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain to the largest free agent contract in team history. The moves couldn’t have worked out better. Both were named to the All-Star Team, and behind a huge second half that had him flirting with a triple crown up to the season’s final day, Yelich was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

Their performances, coupled with breakout seasons from first baseman Jesus Aguilar, righthander Jhoulys Chacin and relievers Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress helped set the stage for Milwaukee’s unexpected late-season successes. The Brewers beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Game 163 to win their first Central Division title since 2011 and then fell just a game shy of advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1982.

All of that has set the bar even higher for 2019. Can Yelich somehow improve upon one of the best individual performances in recent memory? Can Aguilar and Hader continue to ascend? Will the team once again utilize the bullpen-centric approach to pitching that worked so well down the stretch?

Salary-cap considerations led the Brewers to play the offseason conservatively. They made minor trades for reliever Alex Claudio and outfielder Ben Gamel and signed second baseman Cory Spangenberg — not exactly matching the major moves made by division foes St. Louis (Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller) and Cincinnati (Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood).

St. Louis Cardinals

For years, the Cardinals have been guided by past championships that set expectations for future contention. A new force steered them into the coming season: the present — and its demand to win. “We realize the importance of 2019,” says John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “I’ve always been one for the longer-term decision making. But we’re trying to win now.”

The Cardinals landed their desired blockbuster hitter in a trade for Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. The six-time All-Star has one year remaining on his contract, as does cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna, last winter’s big-bat addition. Include Matt Carpenter’s team option for 2020, and the Cardinals’ top three hitters could all walk by season’s end. Franchise favorites Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright near the end of their contracts as well, adding to the Cardinals’ emphasis on immediacy and a sprint for the division title. The push is on to punctuate this era with a return to October.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates hope to build on the momentum of the final three months of the 2018 season to contend in 2019. General manager Neal Huntington believes that he helped paved the way for better days last July when he traded for Tampa Bay righthander Chris Archer and Texas reliever Keone Kela. The Pirates wound up finishing 82–79, better than expected following the winter trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

It was only the franchise’s fourth winning record in 26 years, and it was still only good enough for a fourth-place finish in the National League Central behind the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals. All three teams look strong again in 2019 — and the Reds will be improved as well — meaning the Pirates will have their work cut out, though the team believes that it is on the rise.

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

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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Royals at Rangers Preview

The Texas Rangers racked up the runs during a confidence-building series against the New York Yankees and look to continue the production when they open a four-game series versus the visiting Kansas City Royals on Thursday. Texas belted seven homers and produced 23 runs while winning two of three from New York, including Wednesday’s 12-10 triumph.

Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman each homered and were among four Rangers – Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jurickson Profar were the others – to drive in three runs in Wednesday’s slugfest. Guzman went deep in each game of the series, going 5-for-10 overall in the set, while Profar has collected six RBIs over his last two contests. Kansas City posted a 5-2, 10-inning victory on Wednesday to take two of three from St. Louis and win a road series for the first time this season. “We needed that,” Royals catcher Sal Butera told reporters after delivering the tiebreaking two-run single in the 10th. “We fought hard all three games and guys did a great job on both ends, and our bullpen did a great job.”

TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, FS Kansas City, FS Southwest (Texas)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Royals LH Danny Duffy (1-6, 6.88 ERA) vs. Rangers RH Austin Bibens-Dirkx (2017: 5-2, 4.67)

Duffy is having a poor season, and things really have unraveled over his last two starts as he has given up 14 runs and 15 hits – four homers – while issuing eight walks in just 7 1/3 innings. The 29-year-old already has served up 14 homers in just 51 frames after allowing a total of 13 over 146 1/3 innings last season. Duffy is 1-2 with a 3.25 ERA in six career starts against the Rangers.

Bibens-Dirkx is being recalled to make his seventh career start in the rotation spot typically filled by Matt Moore, who went on the disabled list with a knee injury. The 33-year-old was 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in eight turns for Triple-A Round Rock, registering 32 strikeouts against eight walks over 38 2/3 innings. Bibens-Dirkx, who didn’t face the Royals last season – his first in the majors, recorded a porous 5.97 ERA over 12 home appearances (three starts) in 2017.

WALK-OFFS

1. The Rangers served up 12 homers in the series against the Yankees.

2. Texas 3B Adrian Beltre (hamstring) took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since being injured on May 13 but remains unlikely to return until early June.

3. Kansas City C Salvador Perez started at first base for the first time since 2013 in Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals and belted his eighth homer of the campaign.

Mets at Brewers Preview

Off to the best 50-game start in club history, the Milwaukee Brewers look to keep rolling when they open a four-game series against the visiting New York Mets on Thursday. Milwaukee surged to the top of the National League Central by winning 10 of 13 contests and opened its 10-game homestand with a three-game sweep of Arizona.

The Brewers, who outscored the Diamondbacks 14-4 and are poised to welcome back 17-game winner Kyle Davies and outfielder Ryan Braun from the disabled list on Thursday, are trying not to get too far ahead of themselves. “This is the Cubs’ division until someone says otherwise,” Milwaukee third baseman Travis Shaw told reporters. “But we feel like we’re in a good spot now. We’re playing good. We’ll try to keep it going this weekend.” New York, which had ripped off four straight victories before dropping its last two to Miami, won two of three from the Brewers last month as part of its 12-2 start to the season. Thursday’s matchup marks the start of a rugged eight-game road trip for the Mets, who will play four each at division leaders Milwaukee and Atlanta – the teams with the two best records in the NL.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, SNY (New York), FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Mets LH Steven Matz (1-3, 4.42 ERA) vs. Brewers RH Zach Davies (2-3, 4.24)

After putting together back-to-back solid outings, Matz turned in a clunker last time out versus Arizona as he lasted only four innings while giving up four runs and six hits – including two homers. He allowed one run in each of his previous two turns, including a 2-0 loss to Colorado in which he worked a season-high six frames. Matz defeated Davies and Milwaukee on April 13 despite yielding four runs in 5 1/3 innings.

Davies has been out since April 29 due to rotator cuff inflammation but was pitching well at the time of his injury, surrendering four runs over 18 innings in a span of three starts. He was rocked in two of his first three turns to open the season, including a 4 1/3-inning outing against the Mets in which he was tagged for five runs and two homers. Asdrubal Cabrera is 5-for-9 versus Davies, but Jay Bruce has recorded just one hit in 15 at-bats.

WALK-OFFS

1. Brewers 1B Jesús Aguilar drove in three runs on Wednesday, giving him nine RBIs in his last five games.

2. Mets RHP Jeurys Familia suffered his fourth blown save on Wednesday.

3. Braun (back), who has been out since May 13, was in a 3-for-29 rut at the time of his injury.

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Posted in MLB

5 new faces key to the National League Central race

Yu Darvish, SP, Chicago Cubs

Cubs’ projected record (FanGraphs): 93-69
Cubs’ projected record (PECOTA): 91-71
Darvish’s projected 2018 WAR (Steamer): 3.9

Unwilling to cede their position as the unequivocal favorite in the NL Central, the Cubs replaced Jake Arrieta this offseason with a younger, bat-missing-er stud in Darvish, giving the four-time All-Star $126 million to prevent their potential dynasty from derailing. Now, barring injury, the Cubs are poised to be an elite run-prevention team again in 2018 following a perfectly-fine-but-not-quite-spectacular performance from their rotation a year ago. Seeing as they’re also going to score a lot of runs in 2018it’s fair to presume that the Cubs will win a lot of games this season. Like, a lot. Darvish wasn’t quite as dominant last year in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery (and, for the record, his World Series struggles have been way overblown), but the 31-year-old is still a top-end starter, having finished 18th in the majors in WAR (3.5) in 2017 despite allowing more hard contact with a drop-off in strikeout rate, too. His velocity didn’t degrade at all from 2016, either – over 17 starts, Darvish managed a 3.09 FIP – and his bloated homer-to-fly-ball rate suggests there’s room for positive regression. Ultimately, though, even if Darvish’s 2017 numbers (3.86 ERA; 3.83 FIP) are indicative of a new performance baseline, the Cubs are going to be fine. Better, even.

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Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers’ projected record (FanGraphs): 78-84
Brewers’ projected record (PECOTA): 84-78
Yelich’s projected 2018 WAR (Steamer): 3.9

Following an unexpectedly competitive 2017 season, the Brewers – who finished one game back of the second wild-card spot – took major steps this winter to expedite their rebuild, none more significant than the January trade in which they sent top prospect Lewis Brinson, an ostensible centerpiece of their future, to Miami for Yelich. They’re still not quite good enough to challenge the Cubs for the division title, but it’s clear that the future is now (or at least rapidly approaching) for the Brewers given that they’re expending prospect capital to improve their 25-man roster and signing free agents on the wrong side of 30 (more on that later). As such, expect the Brewers to be in the thick of the wild-card race again in 2018, as Yelich – who boasts a career 120 OPS+ – should help offset regression from the likes of Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, and Domingo Santana, keeping Milwaukee firmly in maybe-good-but-definitely-not-great territory. Yelich, after all, has quietly been one of the game’s most valuable players over the past few seasons, accruing 15.9 WAR since 2014 while slashing .290/.368/.436 with an average of 14 homers, 34 doubles, and 16 stolen bases per season.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals’ projected record (FanGraphs): 86-76
Cardinals’ projected record (PECOTA): 85-77
Ozuna’s projected 2018 WAR (Steamer): 3.8

One of the first teams to take advantage of the Marlins’ dismantling, the Cardinals – undeterred by their surplus of outfielders – shipped a pair of middling prospects and two more non-prospects to Miami in December for Ozuna, a power-hitting left fielder who likely improves their roster more than any free-agent position player could have. Though the 27-year-old may not be able to replicate his numbers from last year, when he set career highs in WAR (4.8), OPS (.924), home runs (37), and defensive runs saved (10), Ozuna still raises the floor significantly. He’s been worth at last 2.5 WAR in three of the last four seasons, and his arrival in St. Louis had ancillary benefits, too; Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk were rendered superfluous, and enabled the Cardinals to trade both outfielders for help on the farm and in the bullpen. Frankly, the Cardinals should’veearned a wild-card berth last year – at 83-79, they finished four wins shy of their expected (Pythag) record – and they didn’t lose any key contributors this winter, so even if the upgrade that Ozuna offers is marginal, they’re still going to be competitive. If he does continue to perform at his 2017 level, though, it’s conceivable that they’re fighting for the division come September.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers’ projected record (FanGraphs): 78-84
Brewers’ projected record (PECOTA): 84-78
Cain’s projected 2018 WAR (Steamer): 2.8

Mere moments after landing Yelich back in January, their increasing glut of everyday outfielders notwithstanding, the Brewers finalized a deal to reunite with Cain, handing their former 17th-round pick the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history (5 years, $80 million). Unlike the Yelich trade, however, which has both immediate and long-term value, the Cain deal is – despite its term – a short-term move, a surprisingly aggressive salvo that reinforces the Brewers’ plan to compete in 2018. Cain, after all, turns 32 a couple weeks after Opening Day, and diminishing returns should be expected within the next few seasons given his speed-centric profile. For now, at least, the Brewers have a bona fide stud in center field – a major upgrade over Keon Broxton – as Cain has been the fifth-most valuable outfielder in the majors since his breakout 2014 campaign, combining elite defense and baserunning with an above-average bat. As evidenced by the projections above, the Brewers’ 2018 campaign has a fairly wide range of outcomes, but with Cain holding it down in center, Milwaukee’s less-established players don’t necessarily have to realize their 90-percentile projections for the club to earn a wild-card berth.

Brandon Morrow, RP, Chicago Cubs

Cubs’ projected record (FanGraphs): 93-69
Cubs’ projected record (PECOTA): 91-71
Morrow’s projected 2018 WAR (Steamer): 0.7

Instead of picking up a proven closer to replace Wade Davis, who landed a mammoth $52-million deal with the Rockies, the Cubs opted for the value play in Morrow, the resurgent right-hander who dominated out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen last year following a largely unsuccessful and injury-marred seven-year run as a starter. Armed with an 98-mph four-seamer and a nasty slider, Morrow crafted a 2.06 ERA with an 0.92 WHIP over 45 appearances, tossing 43 2/3 innings without allowing a home run while also managing the fifth-lowest expected wOBA(.211) in the majors (his postseason, incidentally, was a different story). Still, believing in a breakout season from a relief pitcher and building a bullpen around that guy are two entirely different things. Relievers are notoriously volatile, after all – only a handful can be relied upon to dominate year after year – and Morrow, who turns 34 in July, has been a good one for roughly 3 1/2 months. If he turns back into a pumpkin, or if he’s simply unable to stay healthy, the ninth inning could be a real problem for the Cubs, as each of Morrow’s potential replacements has some kind of red flag: C.J. Edwards struggles to throw strikes; Pedro Strop’s strikeout rate dropped significantly last year; and Steve Cishek can’t really get lefties out.

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Posted in MLB

Milwaukee Brewers Preview Fantasy Baseball

FanPicks has your Milwaukee Brewers Preview for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Get ready from the first pitch to the last strike, as we will cover every team and provide a full array of MLB contest this summer.

Milwaukee Brewers Preview

It’s been a busy winter for the Brew Crew. They’ve overhauled the team from the front office to the dugout. This team is entering 2016 with some fresh blood and a new start. They’ve started rebuilding from the top, replacing former GM Doug Melvin with David Stearns. Stearns is the youngest current GM in the MLB. He was a Houston Astros assistant GM before taking the Brewers front office job. A lot of changes were made by Stearns over the offseason, so-much-so that 12 players with varying levels of major league experience were traded since last July in exchange for almost exclusively younger, controllable talent.

Three players to watch for:

  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Orlando Arcia
  • Chris Carter

Lucroy is regarded as a top-tier catcher and a prime candidate to bounce back from a difficult 2015 season. Lucroy is also just 29 and under team control for two more years at a reasonable price, leaving Milwaukee in a strong position.

The Brewers cleared the way for Orlando Arcia at shortstop by trading Jean Segura. But Arcia is ticketed to start the season at Class AAA Colorado Springs. It won’t be long before we see the Venuzualan make his MLB debut.

Carter, a prototypical all-or-nothing slugger, signed a one-year deal in early January and will man first base. His power should play well at hitter-friendly Miller Park, as his 90 homers over the last three years rank eighth in the major leagues.

The Milwaukee Brewers are deep into rebuilding mode, so not much will be expected out of them this year. Brewers fan will need to be patient for another year and see who can lead this team down the road.

Posted in MLB