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MLB Playoff Picture: Biggest Worry for Each Division Leader

Heading into the final weeks of the MLB season, about half of the division races are all but wrapped up. The Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals are the three division leaders with a sub-five-game lead.

In this slideshow, we’ll discuss each division leader’s biggest concern for either the rest of the season, or the postseason. Even if its lead is seemingly infallible, each team has a concern moving forward.

Be sure to leave your thoughts on each division leader’s biggest concern in the comments section.

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MLB Playoff Picture: Why Joey Gallo Could Make a Difference

September is here, and with it comes pennant-chase baseball and prospect call-ups. Not many prospects are gifted with the opportunity to immediately step in and take on a prominent role with a team competing for the postseason, so we’ve highlighted one player with the best opportunity to do that: Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers.

Gallo was already called up earlier this season and turned in a mostly mediocre performance. Regarded as one of the top prospects in all of baseball because of his otherworldly power, Gallo also features an otherworldly strikeout rate.

During his first tenure with the Rangers, Gallo mostly filled in for injured third baseman Adrian Beltre and injured left fielder Josh Hamilton. Gallo provided some pop, homering in each of his first two games, but was sent to Triple-A when the roster got healthy.

Gallo was up for almost the entire month of June, giving us a decent enough time to dissect what he did at the big league level.

The numbers aren’t particularly good: just two games with multiple hits, five home runs, a .218 batting average and 43 strikeouts in just 87 at-bats.

So why is Gallo a player who could make a difference? Here are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, we already mentioned his enormous potential.

According to MLB Pipeline, which ranks and discusses prospects, Gallo is the sixth-best prospect in baseball. He’s ranked so highly because on the 20-80 scouting scale, Gallo’s power rates as an 80.

But he has other discernible skills as well.

While Gallo’s fielding rates as a below-average 40, his arm is a 70, making him a decent option, or at least not a liability, at the hot corner defensively. He’s certainly not going to win any Gold Gloves, but he can handle his own.

At the plate, we’ve seen Gallo’s tremendous raw power on display, and we’ve seen his horrible plate-discipline as well.

Taking away the power rating of 80, Gallo’s overall hit tool rates as a 45, which is slightly below average to average.

A player with Gallo’s potential can always be a possible difference-maker if he has one thing: opportunity.

That’s the second reason why Gallo could make an impact on the Rangers’ playoff chances. To put that into name form, Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton is one of the more injury-prone players in baseball, and Gallo has already been featured in left field to spell Hamilton earlier this season. Even if Hamilton were to remain healthy, Gallo’s ability to play corner infield and outfield, as well as the chance to have his power as a pinch hitter, could make him at least a valuable bench player.

All it takes is a hot streak, and in the minors at least, Gallo has shown the ability to mash, hitting 127 home runs in just 383 games.

Gallo’s power certainly makes him an interesting potential threat. He tends to either strike out or homer, two of the most exciting plays in baseball, so at the very least, he could be fun to watch.

All stats and info are courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Aaron Brand on Twitter @AaronBrand47.

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MLB Playoff Picture: 5 Surprising Teams That Could Steal the Show in October

Since Major League Baseball added the wild card to the playoffs in 1995, 12 teams have advanced from Wild Card Weekend to World Series. Six of those teams went from Wild Card to world champions, proving that all you need is a chip and a chair.

Both World Series teams last season advanced to the Fall Classic via the wild card, and that’s what this list is all about. September is about to play out in front of our eyes, and October lies just on the other side.

The five teams on this list are currently in contention to make the postseason, and if they do, each one has the potential to become the seventh wild card world champ.

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Fantasy Baseball 2015: 1 Breakout Player at Each Position for the 2nd Half

The 2015 All-Star break may be baseball’s midway point, but in fantasy baseball, it means you have about one month-and-a-half left to make a push for the postseason.

First-half standouts can easily become second-half duds. Conversely, the post-All-Star break portion of the season may be when the underperforming early draft pick finally proves his worth.

Chances are your lineup has at least one or two holes in it, so let’s take a look at 10 players (one per position plus a utility bat) who should give your lineup that extra something it needs.

Some positions are obviously more valuable than others, and there are often stark differences between points league rankings and roto rankings. To make this article as all-inclusive as possible, we discuss a little bit of everything.

Each player is the most likely candidate to break out and provide your team with a difference-maker. The cost to acquire him and expected return on your investment are why these players made the list.

Let’s get to the list.

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MLB Trade Talk: Latest Social Buzz Surrounding Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is wasting away in Philadelphia. Just as importantly, the Philadelphia Phillies may be wasting away their opportunity to sell high on the former World Series MVP.

Much has been made about how long Philly has waited to trade Hamels and what its price for the ace may be. The price the Phillies ask for and the payment they receive, however, could vary drastically or not much at all.

The Phillies have major factors working in their favor and major factors working against them in trade scenarios. Which of those factors carries the most weight depends on the team involved and is honestly anybody’s guess.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest factors in Hamels trade scenarios and the two best fits for a blockbuster Hamels deal.


Factors working for the Phillies


The first thing working in Philadelphia’s favor is that, with the extra playoff spot in each league, 22 out of 29 teams (excluding the Phillies, obviously) are within 5.5 games of a wild-card spot. That’s three-fourths of the league.

The plethora of playoff contenders means more teams potentially willing to mortgage the future to win now.

There are even teams several games under .500 that are within striking distance of a playoff berth. This is the kind of trade environment Philadelphia had to be hoping for when it neglected to trade its ace in the offseason.


The Dodgers

The Yankees of the west have been tied to Hamels for a while now. With more money to throw at anything they want and seemingly more middle infielders than roster spots, the Dodgers could potentially add multiple starters.

As Scott Gelman of the SB Nation blog, MLB Daily Dish, wrote, the Dodgers are interested in acquiring a pair of middle-of-the-rotation starters. While two aces seems an unlikely route, the Dodgers’ overabundance of infielders has shown that they couldn’t care less about overfilling the cookie jar at a specific position.

They certainly have the financial muscle and prospects to entertain landing at least one ace and could go after more.

Plus, a starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hamels, Johnny Cueto and anyone else in the fifth spot just wouldn’t be fair. You could go ahead and pencil them in as world champs.

At the very least, the Phillies could use the Dodgers to help drive up the price on Hamels. The Dodgers could realistically be a factor in just about every trade scenario out there, so many teams may name-drop L.A. in trade talks to help boost the price.


Hamels’ contract

Team control is probably the largest overlooked factor when discussing trade scenarios. Compare the statistics of Reds front-line starter Cueto with those of Hamels.

Cole Hamels 113.1 93 38 35 119 12 5 3.02 1.13
Johnny Cueto 104.2 76 33 20 100 10 5 2.84 0.92

Cueto has a better ERA and WHIP, but Hamels has something that just doesn’t show up in box scores: a contract running through at least 2018.

Cueto will be a free agent after this season, making him quite possibly just a two- to three-month rental. Hamels, on the other hand, offers flexibility. 

He’s under contract through 2018 with a team option for 2019. Meaning, if a team going for it decides next season that they’re sellers, they can ship Hamels off to help recoup some of their loss from acquiring him this season.


Factors working against the Phillies

Hamels’ contract

How can his contract be both a good things and a bad thing? Well, as David Gilmour of Pink Floyd would say, “Money, money, money, money. Money!”

All that team control is wonderful, if you can afford it. Most teams can’t blow their noses with cash like the Dodgers, meaning the financial burden of $23.5 million a season is like an elephant sitting on the garden hose while you’re trying to wash your car.

Trading away multiple cost-efficient young players for one contract can be a risky proposition. Money aside, young talent is hard to come by despite the huge number of young prospects making an impact this year.

According to Spotrac, only nine players are making more money than Hamels this year. That’s a tough pill to swallow for almost any team.

Although there is this little tidbit:


Hamels’ workload and age

The longer the Phillies wait, the older Hamels becomes. He’s already on the wrong side of 30, and all those playoff runs the Phillies made during his prime years have put some serious innings on that golden left arm.

Hamels has pitched at least 204.2 innings in seven consecutive seasons. 

As we’ve seen with two of the other Phillies’ “four aces,” Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the downward slope of heavy usage comes fast, and it comes hard. With the rash of injuries to starting pitchers these last few years, older starters may go the way of NFL running backs in recent years, where quantity and youth trumps quality and experience.


Other pitchers available and free agency

Hamels may be the biggest fish in the pond, but he’s not the only trophy swimming in the depths. Jeff Samardzija and Cueto are two other big names waiting to be reeled in, and they will likely require less bait.

Take the appropriately nicknamed Shark for example. This season has not gone how the White Sox expected, and there’s little chance Samardzija re-signs with the middle-of-the-road-spending South Siders.

The Phillies have held onto Hamels this long in hopes of finding the best deal. Pitchers like Shark and Cueto are almost certainly going to cost less, although they are likely only months-long rentals.

But that’s the way of the MLB trade-deadline world. You take a perceived risk and go for it. Plus, who’s to say that offering up more young prospects for an aging left arm is riskier than parting ways with fewer prospects for a short-term lottery ticket on that same arm?


Teams with the best chance to land Hamels

So, all of those factors mean what exactly? Which teams would benefit most and have less to lose in a potential Hamels deal? Many teams have been linked with Hamels, but few have the talent and/or payroll flexibility to land him.


Los Angeles Dodgers

Proposed deal

Dodgers receive: Cole Hamels

Phillies receive: Alex Guerrero and Zach Lee

The top option for a trade has to be the Dodgers. They have the most money, they have questions about the back end of their rotation and they have a bevy of prospects and excess middle infielders.

And Hamels is a Southern California native (born in San Diego). Although Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia reports that Hamels would consider waiving his no-trade clause for any destination, he’d likely be more amiable toward a move back home to a title contender.

There’s also been sports-radio-worthy speculation about a Yasiel Puig-for-Hamels swap and that L.A. could potentially be looking to part ways with its super-talented-headache of a right fielder. Don’t count on that one coming to fruition.


Chicago Cubs

Proposed deal

Cubs receive: Cole Hamels

Phillies receive: Javier Baez and Junior Lake

The Cubs get their legitimate ace, and the Phillies acquire a boom-or-bust middle infield prospect with name recognition and a super utility player.

Although the Cubs’ recent offensive struggles have been a problem, they are, at least according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, looking for starting pitching help.

Jon Lester hasn’t quite been the ace Chicago was looking for this year, and behind him is a stable of mediocre-to-good rotation options. A Hamels deal would make sense because it would give the Cubs two potential aces and because his long-term team control would fit nicely with the Cubs’ perceived playoff window.

As seen in the tweet above, CSN Chicago’s David Kaplan has reported that the Cubbies would be willing to add to their payroll should Theo Epstein be able to acquire talent. And the Cubs, despite the recent call-ups of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and others, still have a farm system chock-full of studs.

Another potential tie-in: The Cubs were linked to Hamels last year, and even claimed him on waivers after the non-waiver trade deadline, according to Carrie Muskat of The Cubs and Phillies obviously never consummated a deal, but Chicago may be more willing to part ways with top talent now that its window is seemingly open.


Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Aaron Brand on Twitter @AaronBrand47

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Miami Marlins at Chicago Cubs Live Blog: Instant Reaction and Analysis

Coming into Friday’s series opener, the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins were each coming off series sweeps. Both, however, had questions on offense.

The Cubs had scored 20 runs in their past 10 games, going 5-5, thanks to a series against the even-more-hapless Mets. The Marlins were still somehow scoring runs despite the loss of slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

On Friday, those questions came to a head.

Miami started things quickly with a solo shot by Christian Yelich in the top of the first. The Cubs answered in the bottom half of the inning, when Miguel Montero singled home Kris Bryant, who doubled.

Then the pitchers took control. Or, the bats fell silent again.

Chicago starter Jason Hammel sat down 14-straight Marlins after a leadoff single in the second before Justin Bour hit his fourth home run in as many games. That was the only other run for either team.

Miami starter Tom Koehler earned the win, going six innings, allowing five hits, one walk and one run while striking out four. Hammel wasn’t much worse, taking a tough-luck loss after a seven-inning, four-hit, one-walk, two-run, five-strikeout performance.

The Marlins left seven men on base and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The weren’t much better, going just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and leaving eight men on base.

Chicago lost just its second game all season when allowing two or fewer runs. They’re now 26-2 in such contests.

All stats and info courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

Follow Aaron Brand on Twitter @AaronBrand47

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Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Live Blog: Instant Reaction and Analysis

The Atlanta Braves nearly made it three months of being in contention, but on the last day of June a loss to the Washington Nationals pushed them to seven games out of first place in the National League East.

In the series opener that was billed as a pitchers’ duel, the Nationals got to Atlanta ace Shelby Miller early. Just two batters into the game, Washington scored the opening run, eventually plating four in the opening stanza.

The lead was more than enough for Jordan Zimmermann, who was fresh off an eight-inning, six-hit, scoreless performance in his last start, which also came against the Braves. On Tuesday, Zimmermann went 7.2 innings, allowing just six hits and a hit batter while striking out six to earn his sixth win of the season.

After the first inning, Miller gave up just one run on four hits and three walks, while striking out a season-high 10 batters. But a struggling Braves’ offense failed to provide any support, as they’ve now scored just 22 runs in the 11 games Freddie Freeman has missed due to injury, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The story of the night was the debut of two Atlanta relievers, Jake Brigham and Ryan Kelly. Both pitchers each spent nine years in the minor leagues before making their MLB debuts together on Tuesday. They combined to pitch four innings, allowing three hits, one walk and one run, while striking out five.

The series continues Wednesday with Washington starter Doug Fister (3-3, 4.15 ERA) opposing Braves’ rookie Matt Wisler (1-1, 3.75 ERA). The game is schedule to begin at 7:10 p.m.

Follow Aaron Brand on Twitter @AaronBrand47

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