Pictured: Nolan Arenado
Source: Justin Edmonds / Getty Images North America

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks face the daunting task of replacing franchise icon and perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt as well as free agents Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock. Although many in the industry believed the Goldschmidt trade to St. Louis signaled an immediate tear-down, the D-backs held on to their other movable assets, including righthander Zack Greinke. They believe that a return to health from Jake Lamb and Steven Souza Jr. will help compensate for the loss of Goldschmidt, the only NL player to make each of the previous six All-Star rosters.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies won 91 games last season. They’re coming off consecutive appearances in the postseason for the first time in the team’s 26-year history. While they are clearly on the rise, the Rockies, swept by the Brewers in the Division Series last year, are looking to go deeper into October this year and very well might — if the offense improves.

They set franchise lows last year with their .256 average overall and .225 mark on the road. They had a .322 on-base percentage, the second lowest in franchise history, and a plus-35 run differential, the worst of any of the teams in the postseason. GM Jeff Bridich said the offseason priority was to improve the offense. To that end, the Rockies signed Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million deal and will have him play first base. Murphy will add a veteran presence to both the lineup and clubhouse and has been very successful in the postseason. His arrival will free up versatile Ian Desmond to move from first base to, in all probability, center field, where he has ample experience. The lineup will revolve around third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story, who provide middle-of-the-lineup power and exceptional defense.

Young starters Kyle Freeland and German Marquez made huge strides last season and will anchor a rotation that should be more formidable if talented Jon Gray, who has power stuff, can be more consistent. The bullpen will be better if Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw rebound from poor seasons. Regardless, Scott Oberg and Seunghwan Oh, key parts of the relief corps last season, will help weather the loss of free agent Adam Ottavino.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have had a great run of success — and there is no sign of it ending soon. Despite suffering a World Series hangover that had them 10 games under .500 in mid-May and second in the National League West deep into September, they won their sixth consecutive division title, made their third consecutive NL Championship Series and second consecutive World Series. The 287 games they have won in Dave Roberts’ three years as manager are tied for the fourth most any manager has ever won in his first three seasons, and they have averaged 94 wins per season during this six-year run.

But it hasn’t been good enough.

Each of the past two seasons, baseball’s World Series champion has celebrated on the field at Dodger Stadium — and it hasn’t been the home team. In 2017, the Houston Astros beat the Dodgers in a seven-game series that could have gone either way. The Dodgers pledged to get back in 2018, vowing that it would be different this time. It was. The Boston Red Sox needed just five games to claim the crown.

The World Series drought in L.A. has now reached 30 years, and a fan base spoiled by the annual division titles and deep playoff runs will accept nothing less than a championship as a success.

San Diego Padres

They did it. The Padres made the big move that their fans have been clamoring for — they signed free agent Manny Machado to a staggering 10-year, $300 million dollar contract that gives the team a proven bat in the middle in the lineup and, more important, shows that the franchise is serious about fielding a winning team. The turnaround might not be immediate, but the arrival of Machado combined with a loaded farm system — headlined by top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. — puts the Padres in great shape to be relevant over the next decade.

San Francisco Giants

After two seasons of desperately trying to patch holes around an accomplished but aging core, the Giants are embracing a fresh perspective with new leadership. They lured away former Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi with a five-year contract and a club president title that gives him full authority over all roster decisions, as executive vice president Brian Sabean steps aside into an advisory role. Sabean and deposed GM Bobby Evans gave it one last shot in 2018 by acquiring Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, but injuries overwhelmed every area of the club, and the Giants were unable to build momentum. Now they are seeking a reboot, if not a full rebuild.

Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

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

Pictured: Jacob deGrom
Source: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images North America

Miami Marlins

Let the process continue. After 24 rookie-eligible players saw time in 2018 for the Marlins in the first year of a rebuild, Miami aims to see progress from its core in ’19. CEO Derek Jeter has preached building a sustainable winner by infusing young talent into all levels of the organization. Some — like former top prospect Lewis Brinson — are hoping for bounce-back seasons, all while rocking a new look. The Marlins have ditched the former ownership’s rainbow color scheme for a more Miami feel.

But what matters most is what happens on the field. The Marlins avoided a 100-loss season by going 63–98. In the process, they saw Brian Anderson blossom into a National League Rookie of the Year candidate. Starting pitchers Trevor Richards and Pablo Lopez showed promise after being called up. Time will tell whether they take the next step in their development.

Atlanta Braves

Anyone who has ever done a long highway drive has had that moment. You realize that, somehow, you have driven 20 miles from where you last remember being, but you have no recollection of how you got there. It felt like that in Atlanta. The Braves, who were coming off three consecutive 90-loss seasons, are suddenly good again, winning 90 games in 2018, and it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. The Braves enter 2019 as not only one of the best teams in the National League, but also the veterans of a surprise playoff appearance last fall.

The problem with “prospects” (and Atlanta has plenty of them) is that they are like bread in an old toaster. You’re pretty sure that they’ll eventually pop up, but sometimes they don’t, and even when they do, you’re not entirely sure what the results will be. Fortunately for the Braves, there was a lot of good toast to go around at SunTrust Park, and there’s likely to be more popping up soon.

New York Mets

The Mets went looking for a new general manager last season, and some candidates recommended a roster teardown. That’s not what the Wilpon family wanted to hear, so they hired Brodie Van Wagenen, a charismatic agent who promised he could make the Mets a winner, both now and for years to come. We’ll have to see it to believe it with this offense, but the Mets’ pitching talent, that includes 2018 Cy Young recipient Jacob deGrom, at least gives them a shot.

Philadelphia Phillies

Despite an inconsistent offense and the worst defense in the majors, the Phillies put together four good months — followed by two horrendous months — and improved by 14 wins in 2018.

Management promised a busy offseason as it looked to take the next step in 2019, but vaulting from 80 wins into the playoff picture will depend largely on the improvement of a returning core that surrounds a few newcomers. The Phillies do have a star in right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola and a couple of potential stars in Rhys Hoskins and Seranthony Dominguez. But unless they add another one before Opening Day, the Phils are probably a middle-of-the-pack club in the National League East.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals thought they needed big changes after their 97–65 first-place finish in 2017, firing manager Dusty Baker following the NLDS flameout and replacing him with Dave Martinez. But after the Nats finished 15 games worse in 2018 and lost their stranglehold on the NL East, we can definitively say the manager wasn’t the problem.

This offseason was focused on a central question, with a corollary: Could the Nationals afford to keep Bryce Harper? And did they really want him? Even as those questions were playing out, GM Mike Rizzo continued building a roster meant to contend again in 2019, with or without Harper. And with a rotation headed by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and newcomer Patrick Corbin, they’re a good bet to do so. 

Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

MLB Wild Card Games

Twins vs Yankees Preview

The New York Yankees have traditionally dominated the Minnesota Twins in the postseason and hope to continue that trend when the teams meet Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) in the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium. Want to be part of this wild card game, go to FanPicks and enter this contest!!!

New York defeated Minnesota in the AL Division Series in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, claiming 12 of 14 contests in that span.  This encounter will be the first taste of October for the Yankees’ “Baby Bombers,” putting MVP candidate Aaron Judge – who led the AL in homers (52) and walks (127) – on a big stage in the Bronx that has played host to many legends.

The Twins authored one of the great turnarounds in baseball history by going from 59 victories in 2016 to 85 this year, but must overcome the pressure of past postseason failures, having lost 12 straight playoff games and 19 of their last 21 dating to the 2002 ALCS. Ervin Santana, who is 0-5 with a 6.43 ERA in six career starts at Yankee Stadium, gets the start for Minnesota opposite New York ace Luis Severino.

PITCHING MATCHUP:

Twins RH Ervin Santana (16-8, 3.28 ERA) vs. Yankees RH Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98)

Minnesota Twins

Santana tied Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, the AL Cy Young Award favorite, for most shutouts (three) and complete games (five) in the AL in an All-Star campaign in which he posted the second-lowest ERA of his 13-year-career. The 34-year-old finished the regular season with three straight road starts, including a tough loss at Yankee Stadium on September 18 in which he allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. Judge went deep in that one against Santana, who owns a 5.66 ERA in 20 career starts versus New York — his highest mark against an AL team.

New York Yankees

Severino finished his breakout regular season by going 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in five September starts, during which he allowed 15 hits and struck out 38 in 30 dominant innings. The one outliner in that stretch was a three-inning, three-run outing against Minnesota on September 20, when the 23-year-old was pulled following a 46-pitch third inning. That was the only career meeting with the Twins for Severino, who was 8-5 with a 3.71 ERA at home this year.

Rockies vs Diamondbacks Preview

Two teams make their long-awaited return to the postseason when the Colorado Rockies visit the Arizona Diamondbacks for a battle of National League West rivals in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET on TBS). If you want to make your mark during mlb post-season action, enter this wild card game contest featured at FanPicks.com.

The Diamondbacks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and had an 11-8 record this year against the Rockies, who make their first postseason appearance since 2009. Arizona went 52-29 at Chase Field this year and boast a powerful middle of the lineup as J.D. Martinez launched 29 homers in 62 games after being acquired from Detroit while Paul Goldschmidt knocked in 120 runs, but the first baseman finished the regular season by going 0-for-17.

Colorado had to battle its way into the playoffs, edging Milwaukee by one game for the final spot, but led the NL in runs (824) while featuring the NL batting champ Charlie Blackmon (.331), the major league runner up in RBIs Nolan Arenado (130) and a red-hot Carlos Gonzalez, who was 9-for-15 in his last four games with five extra-base hits. Arizona’s starting pitcher Zack Greinke has given up five home runs in 42 at-bats to Gonzalez in his career but is 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA at home in 2017, while the Rockies will go with fellow hard-throwing righty Jon Gray, who finished the season with four straight wins – one of them against the Diamondbacks.

PITCHING MATCHUP:

Rockies RH Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) vs. Diamondbacks RH Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20)

Colorado Rockies

Gray became a key part of the rotation after the All-Star break while going 8-4 with a 3.65 ERA over 15 starts, and allowed seven runs across 30 innings in his last five outings. The 25-year-old Oklahoma native also struck out 10 to win at Arizona on June 30 and is 2-2 with a 4.75 ERA lifetime versus the Diamondbacks. Martinez is 2-for-6 with a pair of homers and David Peralta 6-for-13 with a triple against Gray, who has 112 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings in 2017.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Greinke reached 17 victories for the third time in four seasons, but struggled in his last home start against Miami on September 22 when he permitted eight runs over four innings. The 33-year-old Orlando native, who ended the regular season by limiting Kansas City to two runs over four innings Friday, is 9-5 lifetime against Colorado after going 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in five outings this season. Mark Reynolds and Trevor Story have homered four times apiece against Greinke.

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Posted in MLB

MLB 2017 Season Preview

National League Central

FanPicks examines the National League Central division for the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Get ready for fantasy baseball.

Chicago Cubs

Last season, the Cubs had one of the best defenses in baseball history, blending dominance of the strike zone with excellent fielding across the diamond. They’ll allow more runs in 2017, but with a healthy season from Kyle Schwarber and continued development from other young hitters, they might also score more. Few teams are bulletproof, and fewer still immune to the vagaries of baseball’s long season and the thin margins that decide most games. Still, there’s no reason to predict anything other than a second straight NL Central title for this group.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds would be happy to get back over .500. That’s going to depend largely on the bullpen, which was so bad early last year that the team was out of it by May. The hope is righthanders Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen. They are converted starters with top-shelf stuff and they can fix the pen. The club goes to spring training with no defined closer, although Iglesias saved six games in eight tries down the stretch. The rotation has some depth if the young pitchers step up. The Reds have added quantity. They’ve traded for nine starters since the deadline in 2014. They need some quality to compete this year. The offense was eighth in the National League in runs last year, so with better pitching, the record should improve. Still, there are far too many ifs to expect the Reds to contend.

Milwaukee Brewers

With the Central Division-rival Cubs expected to run roughshod for the foreseeable future, the Brewers’ plan to rebuild from the ground up comes at a good time. As a small-market team, their best chance for sustained success is stockpiling as many young high-ceiling players as possible, letting them develop and then rolling them out in the major leagues. It’s an approach that takes remarkable patience, but one that can bear real fruit if done correctly.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates seemingly have little chance of overtaking the Cubs in the NL Central this season, though they plan to give it a shot. However, if they fall too far behind in the standings, they are likely to shift into rebuilding mode and sort out which young players — especially starting pitchers — fit into their long-term plans and try to add more prospects by trading outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

St. Louis Cardinals

After a decade as a regular resident and sometimes king of October, the Cardinals are no longer the organization within their division that others aspire to be. This team still has stars like third baseman Matt Carpenter and is banking on a style better suited for their ballpark to prove that 2016 was a brief eclipse. Overcoming top prospect Alex Reyes season-ending injury will be tough, but the Cardinals are still intent on showing the rest of the league, especially a certain team in the Windy City, that the sun hasn’t set on their empire.

Posted in MLB

National League Division Series

Giants vs Cubs Game 1

The Chicago Cubs led the majors with 103 regular-season victories but that doesn’t guarantee them rare postseason success when they open the National League Division Series on Friday against the visiting San Francisco Giants (Enter Contests). Chicago was swept out of the playoffs last season in the NL Championship Series by the New York Mets and hasn’t won the World Series since 1908.

About the Cubs

Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44) will throw the first pitch in the series for Chicago. The 32-year-old was superb at home this season with a 10-2 mark and 1.74 ERA and that helped make him an easy Game 1 choice for the Cubs. Lester, who is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five career starts against the Giants, dropped both turns last postseason for the Cubs but is 6-6 with a 2.85 ERA in 16 career appearances (14 starts).

The Cubs are led by budding superstar third baseman Kris Bryant, the probable NL MVP after having 39 homers and 102 RBIs in his second big-league season. Despite that, Bryant (6-for-34, two home runs) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo (6-for-32, two homers) struggled in the 2015 postseason. The Cubs won four of the seven regular-season meetings with two of their defeats coming against Giants ace LH Madison Bumgarner.

About the Giants

Giants starter Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79) went 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA over his final four outings to reach the third-highest victory total of his nine-year career. The 30-year-old is 2-3 with a 5.35 ERA in seven career postseason starts and struggled badly in his first three outings in last year’s postseason with Kansas City before coming up big in Game 2 of the World Series with a complete-game two-hitter in a 7-1 victory over the New York Mets. Cueto is 9-8 with a 3.24 ERA in 24 career starts against the Cubs and is 5-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 15 outings at Wrigley Field.

San Francisco won three World Series crowns this decade and earned the trip to Chicago by blanking the Mets 3-0 in Wednesday’s NL wild-card game. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez (hamstring) isn’t ready to return, so wild-card game hero Conor Gillaspie (decisive three-run homer) is expected to start.

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Fantasy Baseball Money Picks Miami Marlins vs New York Mets

Dominate your competition with our Fantasy Baseball Money Picks, create the winning lineup at Fanpicks.com. After playing the waiting game since Opening Day 2016, Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart and Mets lefty Steven Matz are finally ready to take the mound. Both will make their season debuts  at 7:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field.Fantasy Baseball

Until now, the two starters had to display patience, because they could have been used in a variety of roles. Cosart, for instance, was scheduled to pitch on Sunday versus the Nationals. But because of Saturday’s game being pushed back due to bad weather, the Marlins decided to pencil the right-hander in the following day. So instead of closing out one road series, Cosart gets the ball in the series opener in the Big Apple, replacing Wei-Yin Chen, who is now slated to start Wednesday. Two-time All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon, who’s also the defending NL batting champion, enjoyed tremendous success when opposed to the Mets in 2015. In 19 games facing the 2015 NL champs, Gordon batted for .427 (35-for-82), his highest hitting average vs. any opponent.

During the Mets’ opening series, Matz was made available out of the bullpen during last Tuesday’s game in Kansas City. But ultimately, his services were not required on that day. The lefty, who was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA last season, is one of the promising rookies in the National League. Matz has retained his rookie eligibility after throwing just 35 2/3 regular-season innings last year, putting him alongside the Dodgers’ Corey Seager as a early favorite for the National League award. Yoenis Cespedes did his share of damage when challenging the Marlins last year, belting three home runs while driving in nine runs in nine meetings.

Top Fantasy Picks

OF Christian Yelich (MIA)

OF Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)

OF Michael Conforto (NYM)

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