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2017 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Hottest Available Players

Now that MLB teams drew first blood in the offseason’s free-agency market, expect the floodgates to soon open.

The Toronto Blue Jays started the party by officially signing Kendrys Morales, a clear sign of them fearing the end of their relationship with star sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The Houston Astros also acted early by signing Josh Reddick, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. They continued to bolster their offense by acquiring catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees.

Two days later, the St. Louis Cardinals set the table for an expensive bullpen market by signing southpaw Brett Cecil to a four-year deal, also first reported by Passan. Upon seeing the early transaction, available closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon probably laughed maniacally and envisioned record-setting paydays for relief pitchers.

In the aftermath of these early moves, the American League East is particularly gearing up to land marquee free agents. Let’s take a look at the latest buzz around the league.


Bidding War for Carlos Beltran?

In a hitter-heavy free-agent crop, a slugger set to turn 40 in April is attracting the most suitors.

According to the Boston Herald‘s Evan Drellich, designated hitter Carlos Beltran has a “more robust” market than Encarnacion, who will command a larger salary after belting 42 home runs in 2016. Beltran, who has played for five teams in the past six seasons, proved he has more power to offer after hitting .295/.337/.513 with 29 long balls for the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers last season.

Drellich said the Bronx Bombers are looking to reacquire the man they dealt in July, but a bitter rival is also eyeing his services. Seen as an ideal David Ortiz replacement, one source identified Beltran to Drellich as the Boston Red Sox’s “top priority” this offseason.

Before setting up another one-on-one battle between the big-market behemoths, the Rangers and Astros are still in play. Although Reddick and McCann give Houston a crowded lineup, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal confirmed Drellich‘s claim that the Astros are not backing out of the Beltran sweepstakes:

Unfortunately for them, the McCann trade makes a Yankees reunion far more realistic. They cleared a bloated contract off the books and reopened up the designated-hitter slot. Loaded with young talent after last year’s deadline haul, a short-term upgrade would work perfectly for the Evil Empire.

The smooth-swinging switch-hitter also took a liking to Yankee Stadium, where he hit .302/.363/.598 with 14 homers in 201 plate appearances last season. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees and Beltran press the reset button and reunite for a one- or two-year contract.

Prediction: Beltran signs two-year deal with Yankees. 


Blue Jays Targeting Dexter Fowler

The Blue Jays already purchased insurance for their worst fears by bringing aboard Morales, who should slide into Encarnacion‘s DH role. An offensive specialist with a .795 OPS, however, will not maintain their lineup’s luster.

If both stars indeed sign elsewhere, Toronto won’t replicate their elite production. Knowing their power will take a major hit, the franchise is looking to instead locate a strong leadoff hitter with keen on-base abilities, per Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi:

If that’s what they want, Dexter Fowler is the perfect candidate. The center fielder, who will turn 31 before Opening Day, notched a .393 on-base percentage atop the Chicago Cubs’ batting order due to a stellar 14.3 walk percentage. Over his career, he has reached base at a .366 clip.

He would also need to move positions with defensive stalwart Kevin Pillar occupying center. The Blue Jays would certainly delight their pitching staff by instead complementing him with Adam Eaton, who accrued 22 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs, after moving from center to right field for the Chicago White Sox.

Although Eaton’s career .357 on-base percentage fits the bill, there’s little reason to believe the White Sox would trade him. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the 27-year-old will make $18.4 million over the next three years before the team can evoke club options in both 2020 and 2021.

Fowler is the more realistic target, but he should draw major interest following a career year. Expect him to get more money from another contender, which may compel the Blue Jays to bring back Michael Saunders instead.

Predictions: Fowler signs four-year deal elsewhere; Eaton stays put.


Yankees Gear Up for Big Moves

Before setting up a Beltran press conference, the Yankees are reportedly also aiming their sights much higher.

According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Yankees are pursuing Encarnacion as well as Beltran following the McCann trade. In an MLB Network Radio interview, ESPN’s Jim Bowden expressed confidence in them attaining either Encarnacion or outfielder Yoenis Cespedes:

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman traded several key pieces last summer, but he’s now open to quickly replenishing the roster rather than patiently restocking. As he told’s Bryan Hoch, he’s willing to explore all avenues:

I’m going to be open-minded to all of it. I’m going to be open-minded to what’s available. We now will pursue bats, but we’ll see if it takes us anywhere. It could be a DH-only situation; obviously the preference always is going to be someone that can provide positional ability so you have more flexibility on your roster. We’ll see where it takes us.

Burned by splashy signings in the past, it seems strange for the Yankees to dip their feet back in the expensive free-agent pool this winter. They finally shed McCann, Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez off the payroll and got significantly younger, so why give another veteran a hefty contract two years before Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw can hit the open market?

It’s a new era in the Big Apple, so expect Cashman and Co. to stay patient and settle for Beltran. If anything, they’ll make a splash by bringing back Chapman or another premier reliever.

As the Yankees gradually build their next superteam, the Red Sox will roll the dice now by signing Encarnacion. Having lost Reddick and facing the possibility of watching Justin Turner leave as well, the Los Angeles Dodgers clear their deep pockets to pry Cespedes from the New York Mets.

Predictions: Encarnacion signs four-year deal with Red Sox; Cespedes joins Dodgers on five-year contract; Chapman goes back to Yankees for four-year deal.

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MLB Rumors: Early Offseason Trade Buzz Surrounding Veteran Hitters

As the Chicago Cubs’ celebration over a century in the making wraps up, MLB has quickly shifted to offseason mode.

All 30 teams will waste no time mapping out their winter blueprints in preparation for 2017. Birds have started chirping about baseball’s hottest free agents, but not everyone has enough cash to spend. Even those who do would still like to pawn off recent signings for newer models.

Two of the league’s wealthiest clubs are each reportedly shopping a veteran hitter. Another team is looking to follow the Cubs’ breakout formula and transform a promising assortment of talent into a title fixture.

More than one week removed from Game 7’s final World Series out, the hot stove is officially flaming. The rumor mill is open for business, so let’s take a look at some early trade chatter percolating around the league.


Astros Targeting Marquee Sluggers

After years of losing, the Houston Astros have built up a contender bolstered by a crop of young position players. With a World Series run now possible, they are open to more rigorous spending.

This should sound familiar, as the Cubs were in a similar spot last year. They fortified their team through free agency, adding Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward to the mix. If Houston can land some key upgrades, it could enjoy a comparable rise to dominance.

Per Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi, ownership senses the opportunity and is now willing to pay for top talent. Along with eyeing a premier free-agent slugger, the Astros also have another All-Star in sight:

Don’t bank on anything happening with Miguel Cabrera, who hit .316/.393/.563 with 38 home runs for the Detroit Tigers. As Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told the Houston Chronicle‘s Jake Kaplan, the speculation has been blown out of proportion.

“I was asked, ‘Would we consider a trade for a Hall of Fame-caliber first baseman,’ and we’re considering everything. I think the media kind of ran with that,” Luhnow said Wednesday. “Whoever started that rumor, it wasn’t us.”

Even if they agreed on a blockbuster, the two-time MVP could exercise his full no-trade clause to block the deal. No matter how improbable, the Astros’ potential interest highlights a willingness to spend big to win now, as the first baseman—who turns 34 next April—has seven years and $212 million remaining on his contract.

Edwin Encarnacion, who has hit 193 home runs over the last five years, would also require a hefty, long-term investment. Look for the Astros to settle on mid-tier targets such as Carlos Beltran, who they are “hot” for, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.


Dodgers Examining Market for Howie Kendrick

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Los Angeles Dodgers are open to moving Howie Kendrick, who would prefer a change of scenery.

Although he racked up 543 plate appearances over 146 games in 2016, the veteran wants a full-time role at a set position. Kendrick, a second baseman for most of his career, spent most of his time in left field in addition to second and first base.

Whether or not the instability affected him at the plate, he delivered substandard offensive production. Having previously never batted below .279, he hit .255 with a career-worst .303 weighted on-base average (wOBA). 

The 33-year-old is due $10 million during the second and final year of his contract. Despite his struggles in 2016, teams will be hard-pressed to locate a more affordable major league starter of his caliber in free agency.

Rosenthal mentioned the Philadelphia Phillies and a Los Angeles Angels reunion as possibilities. His former team especially needs help at second base after its options netted a .268 wOBA in 2016.

Kendrick makes a decent short-term replacement for either squad, especially if the Dodgers deal him at a marked-down price. 


Yankees Exploring Deals for Brian McCann

With the offseason underway, the New York Yankees will resume trade talks regarding Brian McCann.

According to the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman, the Yankees already have offers involving the 32-year-old catcher:

Brian Cashman has deals he can make for Brian McCann right now. But some were from teams the Yankees general manager dismissed because he does not believe the catcher would waive his no-trade clause (think West Coast and/or non-contenders) and others have yet to offer a return that Cashman finds satisfactory.

Sherman cited the Astros, Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves as interested teams. The Astros and Nationals both have holes behind the plate with their starters (Jason Castro for Houston, Wilson Ramos for Washington) on the open market. The Braves, meanwhile, were tied to their old catcher before the summer’s trade deadline.

McCann wields a full no-trade clause, but his agent, B.B. Abbott, told Sherman that his client would consider accepting a move back to Atlanta.

“He calls that home and loves it in the offseason,” Abbott said. “He would look hypothetically at them very seriously if Cash is able to do it. If it is a team a little closer to home that has a chance to contend that fits X, Y and Z, Mac will look at it and determine if it is a fit.”

After Gary Sanchez’s Herculean debut, the Bronx Bombers can afford to trade their pricier veteran and let the newcomer handle the full-time catching duties. They would especially benefit by receiving pitching in any exchange.


All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Contract information courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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MLB MVP 2016: Examining Predictions for AL and NL Award Races

MLB‘s rightful MVPs don’t always receive the hardware.

The writers voting for the recipients are smarter than ever, though. Those tasked with choosing this year’s most valuable performers appreciate analytics more than they did 10 years ago, when Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard won over the more deserving Grady Sizemore and Albert Pujols, respectively.

Back then, batting average, home runs and RBI towered above all other numbers in significance. Now an intelligent baseball observer knows that plate discipline, gap power, baserunning and defense all matter as well.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean the guy with the best WAR will win. Voters are still suckers for a good narrative, which almost always must involve a playoff bid. As a result, the game’s premier superstar may again pay the price for his peers’ failures.

Let’s take a look at who should and who will win the MVP awards in both leagues.


National League

Who Should Win: Kris Bryant

The National League is nice and easy: Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is the clear choice, so let’s not overthink this.

No, this is not getting swept up in Cubs fever. Don’t accuse writers of any such recency bias if he wins, as they submitted their ballots before the postseason. Instead of giving the third baseman bonus points for helping break a 108-year title drought, they’ll award him extra credit for being the NL’s best player on a 103-win squad.

Bryant comfortably led the NL in WAR on both FanGraphs and He also scored an NL-best 121 runs while blasting 39 long balls. Having batted .292/.385/.554 with strong defensive contributions, Bryant has no holes in his portfolio.

Two possible competitors stand in his way.

Daniel Murphy wielded a superior .347/.390/.595 slash line for the NL East-winning Washington Nationals, but he was also a subpar defensive second baseman who played 142 games, 13 less than Bryant.

Corey Seager, an NL Rookie of the Year lock, is an interesting choice. The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 105 runs scored. For all of the talk about the 6’4″ youngster needing to change positions one day, he waved off that concern with stellar defense at a premium position.

Despite Seager‘s excellent first year,’s Jonah Keri argued that Bryant played better across the board:

Bryant’s [bat] was just a little better, even after adjusting for the offensive gap between Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium. Seager helped his team on the basepaths … but Bryant was, by advanced metrics, the third-most valuable baserunner in the entire league, despite swiping a relatively modest eight bases. And while Seager‘s solid defense at short is a major asset, Bryant displaying above-average glovework at third while also playing plus D in left and right field makes him the kind of invaluably versatile player the Cubs crave.

Offensively, the 22-year-old lags behind Bryant, Murphy and a handful of other second-tier candidates on lesser teams (Joey Votto, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt). It’s unfair to penalize him for receiving less run-producing opportunities in the No. 2 slot, but Seager‘s 72 RBI will likely cost him some votes.

There’s no shame in saying a rookie should finish second on the MVP ballot, especially with a second-year stud like Bryant in the top spot.


Who Will Win: Kris Bryant

Bryant offers the best of all worlds. He registered gaudy counting numbers on baseball’s best team while running the bases and fielding well. Every voter will find something to like.

The only possible case to levy against Bryant is this: The Cubs were too good to consider him the most valuable. They won the division by 17.5 games and have another star slugger, Anthony Rizzo, across the diamond, so they conceivably could have still claimed the NL Central with a mediocre third baseman filling Bryant’s shoes.

This is an even bigger reach than punishing a superstar on a subpar team. Bryant was the league’s best player, and he contributed a great deal of value to an amazing club. Why complicate a simple decision?  

Seager doesn’t have enough offensive merits. Murphy’s defense will cost him, although it may have been a different story if he had crushed 36 homers instead of 25.

Had Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not missed more than two months with a back injury, he would have made things interesting. If he had maintained a 1.69 ERA and 15.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 30-plus starts, how could voters not have given him the nod?

Since the Dodgers ace was limited to 21 starts, Bryant will run away with the hardware.


American League

Who Should Win: Mike Trout

Once again, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. If writers didn’t attribute his team’s shortcomings to diminished individual value, the superstar would be in line to win his fifth straight AL MVP trophy.

The 25-year-old has finished every season of his remarkable career first in both FanGraphs‘ and‘s AL WAR calculations. Even in 2016’s crowded field, he handily led the way on both sites:

By Trout’s standards, it was merely another ordinary season. His .550 slugging percentage represents the worst mark of his career, and defensive metrics no longer support his status as a supreme center fielder.

He did, however, hit .315 with a career-high .441 on-base percentage. Only six other players in MLB reached base at a clip of .400 or higher, and the Angels stud can thank an AL-best 17.0 walk percentage that ranked second in the bigs behind Bryce Harper’s 17.2 percent.

Trout is the best player in baseball. This is not up for debate.

Yet writers are too busy conjuring different meanings of “value” to make their jobs easier. Because of this flawed logic, Trout won his only MVP trophy during the worst season of his career.

In September, teammate Tyler Skaggs discussed the perceived correlation between value and team success with’s Jerry Crasnick

If we’re in first place, this guy is literally on the top of everybody’s MVP charts. Very rarely do you see a guy win the MVP who’s on a last-place team that’s 20 games out in the division. But at the same time, would they be 50 games out in the division if he’s not on the team? There’s something to be said about that.

If the Angels had a deeper lineup and any pitching, Trout would receive the recognition he deserves. But they squandered their superstar’s season with a meandering 74-88 record.

At least there’s no Triple Crown winner, like Miguel Cabrera in 2012, blocking his path, but a handful of candidates will make a case for the award.


Who Will Win: Mookie Betts

If not Trout, who? Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado and David Ortiz will all earn votes. That’s not even mentioning Adrian Beltre, Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

Ortiz has an MLB-best 1.021 OPS and the allure of a feel-good sendoff fueling his candidacy, but serving as a designated hitter stymies his overall worth. Lindor would have had a better case if writers submitted their ballots after the postseason, but his case conversely relies too heavily on defense to win the popular vote.

Donaldson matched Machado‘s 37 homers with an OPS that was 77 percentage points higher. That narrows down the final four to Altuve, Betts, Donaldson and Trout, who already has three runner-up finishes.

This year, Trout could settle for No. 3 or 4.

According to Odds Shark, the 5’6″ Altuve stood tall as the AL MVP favorite to start September. He then closed the season by hitting .276/.328/.371, and the Houston Astros fell short of a playoff berth. 

Even an old-school writer should now comprehend the vast universe beyond batting average, so the second baseman’s AL-best .338 clip won’t overcome a rocky finish.

That could leave Donaldson to edge out Trout for the second straight season. The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman notched a higher OPS this season (.953) than in his award-winning 2015 campaign (.939) while scoring an identical 122 runs.

Some other dips, however, may cost him. His batting average fell from .297 to .284, and his RBI count decayed from 123 to 99. While those stats are overrated, many writers who overrate them still have votes. The more analytically inclined scribes will note a decrease in defensive runs saved from 11 to two.

And then there was one.

Betts had a season fantasy baseball gamers can usually only dream about, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 26 stolen bases, 122 runs and 113 RBI. The Gold Glove finalist also accounted for more DRS (32) than anyone in baseball by a wide margin:

He played a pivotal role in the Boston Red Sox’s first-place finish in the AL East with 93 wins. As long as Ortiz doesn’t take too many votes away, Betts looks like the probable choice.


Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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World Series 2016: Cubs vs. Indians Pitching Outlook and Predictions

The Chicago Cubs sent the World Series back to Cleveland with a Game 5 win over the Indians Sunday night. Needing two more victories on the road, the Cubs have a pair of aces waiting to take the mound.

In Tuesday’s must-win Game 6, the Cubs will send out 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. Cleveland will counter with Josh Tomlin, who has followed a shaky season with a spectacular postseason run.

If necessary, two stoic studs will compete in the third Fall Classic Game 7 in six years. Kyle Hendricks—who registered an MLB-best 2.13 ERA this season—is in line to make Chicago’s final start. On the other side, Corey Kluber could cement a fabled October with his third win of the series.

With the World Series shifting back to Progressive Field, let’s break down the upcoming pitching matchups on tap.

Game 6: Jake Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin

Like Game 5, this starting-pitching matchup favors the Cubs. Then again, we said the same before Game 3, before Tomlin kept the NL champions off the board in a 1-0 victory against Hendricks.

After a rusty opening, Arrieta settled down and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his Game 2 start. Yet as ESPN’s Buster Olney noted, he constantly fell behind en route to issuing three walks:

Arrieta, who allowed nine earned runs after 2015’s All-Star break, is on the hook for seven scores this postseason. Nevertheless, this is a hurler who finished the regular season with a 3.10 ERA, which marked major regression from the previous year’s unworldly 1.77 mark.

Believers of momentum will argue this matchup is far closer than the first glance suggests. Although he finished the season with an unremarkable 4.40 ERA, Tomlin has registered a 1.71 ERA since Sept. 1. 

He has watched only one ball leave the park since then—a significant feat given he dished up 35 dingers over 147 prior innings. The likes of Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have not taken him deep during an improbably stout playoff roll:

Of course, this isn’t a one-on-one showdown anyway. Tomlin hasn’t worked six or more innings this postseason, and that shouldn’t change on short rest. Cleveland’s bullpen advantage helps even the score.

For the Cubs to force a Game 7, they must attack Tomlin, silence the partisan home crowd and avoid giving Andrew Miller and Cody Allen the chance to seal the deal. 

Knowing their goal, Cubs fans will look at Tomlin’s splits with encouragement. According to, he allowed more long balls during the first inning (20) than any other frame in his career. Given the 32-year-old’s 7.06 fifth-inning ERA, he shouldn’t stick around too long.

Throwing more curveballs has aided his fall surge, but expect enough ill-timed regression from Tomlin for the Cubs to jump ahead early and tie the series.

Prediction: Cubs 5, Indians 3


Game 7: Kyle Hendricks vs. Corey Kluber

If the Cubs win Game 6, everyone will shout about them wielding all the momentum entering Wednesday’s winner-take-all Game 7.

Then they’ll remember Kluber is starting for the Indians.

Going into this series, the AL champions knew they’d need a legendary showing from their ace. This is a team that won the pennant in a game started by rookie Ryan Merritt, so Indians manager Terry Francona placed all of his hopes on Kluber headlining a three-man rotation in case of a possible Game 7.

Well, here it is. Through five inspiring postseason starts, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner has forfeited three runs over 30.1 innings. He has tossed six strong innings in both World Series victories.

If he follows the same blueprint again, Francona will go directly to Miller and Allen for all the marbles. That’s a deadly trio for the Cubs, as they have combined to relinquish four runs this postseason:

Hendricks is no slouch. Having limited the opposition to four runs or fewer in all 34 starts this year, he’ll give Chicago’s offense a fighting chance in a low-scoring affair. While the 26-year-old has also allowed three runs in the playoffs, he has received a quicker hook from Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs skipper will require another lengthy appearance from Aroldis Chapman, who recorded an eight-out save Sunday. After the longest outing of his career, the closer discussed his mindset heading into the game, per’s Jesse Rogers.

“Joe talked to me this afternoon before the game,” Chapman said through a translator. “He asked if I could be ready possibly to come into the seventh inning, and obviously I told him, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready to go.’ And whatever he needs me to do or how long he needs me to pitch for, I’m ready for it.”

Maddon should also have John Lackey available from the bullpen on three days’ rest. Jon Lester, who started Sunday night, may become an option as well in an all-hands-on-deck scenario.

Cleveland is better off sticking with its relief aces than Trevor Bauer, who has surrendered as many World Series runs (five) as all its other pitchers combined. Francona will want six more from Kluber with his two stud relievers splitting the final nine outs.

Cleveland once again rides Kluber, Miller and Allen to a key October victory, this time securing its first World Series title since 1948 in a low-scoring, tightly contested Game 7 thriller.

Prediction: Indians 3, Cubs 2

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Key World Series Questions Still Needing Answers Before Champion Is Crowned

The Chicago Cubs are still alive.

Down to their last life, the National League champions preserved their title aspirations by defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night. The long-suffering franchise needs two more victories to win its first championship since 1908.

If the Cubs pull off the improbable comeback, they can silence Cleveland fans who won’t stop talking about how the Golden State Warriors fell flat in the same scenario.

The series will return to Ohio on Tuesday, and the Indians will have another chance to shut the door. If the Cubs survive once again, Progressive Field will also host Game 7 Wednesday night.

As both sides prepare for Game 6, let’s take a look at the biggest questions lingering over the World Series.

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Indians vs. Cubs: Keys for Each Team to Win World Series Game 4

Brandishing a 2-1 World Series lead, the Cleveland Indians can jump one step closer to an elusive title with a Game 4 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night.

As Cleveland should know, a 3-1 advantage doesn’t guarantee a title. Yet despite the edge, there’s extra pressure to win with its ace on the mound. 

Cleveland will turn back to Corey Kluber, who tossed six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts and no walks during Game 1’s 6-0 victory. The 30-year-old starter will go on short rest against John Lackey, a well-traveled veteran making his fifth World Series start for his third different team.

Heading into Saturday night’s pivotal Game 4, let’s map out each club’s blueprint to notching an important win at Wrigley Field.


Indians: Follow the Kluber-Miller-Allen Formula

With Kluber on the mound, Cleveland’s road map to victory is simple. It’s the same one the AL champions used in Game 1 of both the American League Championship Series and Fall Classic. 

Get six or seven inning stellar innings from the ace before turning the game over to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Laugh manically as the Cubs grow increasingly defeated with every passing punchout.

On Tuesday night, the superstar trio combined for 15 strikeouts and two walks—both uncharacteristically from Miller, who issued nine free passes all season—during their win. The Cubs made Miller work in his most mortal outing of a spectacular postseason, but the southpaw still submitted six outs without spoiling the shutout.

Kluber has not allowed a run in three of his four postseason starts, and Cleveland’s bullpen kept the shutout intact each time. In two of those outings, manager Terry Francona handed the ball to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen for the final three frames.

For anyone still wondering how Cleveland has survived this long without Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, these three are the answer. They have worked 46.2 of 98 postseason innings with remarkably outstanding results. With anyone else on the mound, things get more interesting:

Leaning on the studs seems simple on paper, but remember that Kluber is working on three days’ rest. The last time he pitched on a short turnaround, he allowed his only two runs over five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. 

After using Miller and Allen in extended roles the previous day, Francona saved him with his squad still boasting a 3-0 ALCS lead. Bryan Shaw and Mike Clevinger relinquished three runs after a scoreless inning from Dan Otero, the group’s unsung hero. 

Slightly tweaking Plan A to include Otero isn’t cause for major concern, but Bryan Shaw threw 31 pitches Friday, and everyone else looks unequipped to handle a thunderous Cubs offense. Salazar was rusty in his Game 2 playoff debut, surrendering two walks over an inning.

Even though he was dealing, Francona limited Kluber to 88 Game 1 pitches with Game 4 in mind. The three-man rotation means Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin (if necessary) will also start on short rest. If using Kluber in that scenario is risky, Cleveland fans especially can’t feel comfortable testing Bauer or Tomlin’s limits.

It’s a tough ask, but the Indians need another strong, lengthy outing from their ace to stay in the driver’s seat.


Cubs: Keep Short Leash on John Lackey

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, meanwhile, faces different circumstances. They have won both of Lackey’s starts this October, but Maddon yanked the 38-year-old after four shaky innings each time.

Maddon‘s last hook particularly irked the veteran, who entered the fifth inning nursing a 5-0 lead. The skipper removed him with a pitch count of 72 for southpaw Mike Montgomery after putting two men on board.

The always animated Lackey was caught uttering, “You’ve got to be (bleeping) kidding me.” Per CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Maddon stood by his choice:

You have to understand I’m dealing with some really highly-charged personalities here, guys that have been there, done that. They’re good and they’re very proud men, so I respect and understand all of that. But at the end of the day, it’s about more than just one person here and what we’re trying to get done.

You have to make some tough decisions and not everybody’s going to like them all the time. But in the moment, I thought it was the right thing to do, and so we did it.

Chicago doesn’t have Miller and Allen, but former starters Montgomery and Travis Wood can provide length if needed. If Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon can shake off some rough appearances, all the better.

Per, Lackey has relinquished a .286/.341/.459 slash line from pitches 76-100. Like most starters, his career efficacy wanes each time passing through the batting order:

Changing locations to Wrigley Field could also force Maddon‘s hand to pinch hit for him early, especially if Kluber stifles Chicago’s offense. Lackey may curse, but the Cubs are concerned with breaking a far more powerful championship spell.


Both Teams: Maximize Defense, Bench

Moving to a National League ballpark created difficult dilemmas for both squads. While Chicago thought better of starting Kyle Schwarber in left field, Cleveland made the bold decision to play Carlos Santana in left field Friday night.

Since Kluber is starting, Francona might have second thoughts about utilizing someone who hadn’t played in the outfield since 2012. Run prevention is the main goal for Game 4, even if it means benching Mike Napoli so Santana can man first base.

Besides, Napoli is batting .153 (20-for-131) since Sept. 1. In Game 3, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a ninth-inning error that would have lived in infamy if the Cubs won. Benching him doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact, as it gives Cleveland a dangerous pinch-hitting power threat.

NL rules also ensure Rajai Davis will get involved. Whether to hit, run or field, he’ll spell Coco Crisp or Tyler Naquin later in the game. Yet given Naquin‘s struggles (4-for-20, 11 strikeouts), Francona should consider starting the veteran despite not having the platoon advantage against the right-handed Lackey.

As for the Cubs, Schwarber suddenly represents a valuable luxury off the bench. An aggressive Maddon will take out Lackey early if he needs the bat, so plenty of opportunities should arise for the returning slugger to continue his comeback tale.

Albert Almora and Chris Coghlan are both hitless this postseason, so Chicago hasn’t received any bench help aside from Miguel Montero’s game-winning grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS over the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was the backup catcher’s early playoff hit.

No designated hitter robs everyone of a Schwarber start, but Maddon must pick his spot carefully to find a high-leverage pinch-hitting opportunity. In a potentially low-scoring affair, one swing could alter the game and series entirely. 

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MLB Teams That Can Pull off Full Offseason Makeovers, Contend in 2017

MLB‘s offseason represents an opportunity for every team to start fresh.

Bloated contracts and payroll limitations often hinder franchises from living out fantasies of total transformations. Others are hamstrung by fear of the status quo.

The key is winning the offseason without being the team obsessed with winning the offseason. Last year, that dubious honor went to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went backward in an eager attempt to contend.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox orchestrated playoff bids with major free-agent signings. None of them needed a complete overhaul, but the upgrades went a long way.

Some organizations need a minor tweak via a signing or trade. Others call for more intense makeovers. No squad will burn the entire roster to the ground; a few noteworthy maneuvers mark major change in the grand scheme of things.

Due to shedding salary or storing an overlooked bounty of talent, these teams have the opportunity to contend after missing the playoffs in 2016. Some are close. Others will need everything to fall in line with brilliant front-office planning and a sprinkle of luck.

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Cubs vs. Indians World Series Game 2: Live Score and Highlights

The Chicago Cubs tied the World Series with a 5-1 Game 2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

In a lengthy four-hour contest moved up due to weather concerns, the Cubs collected nine hits and eight walks. Every starter reached base, including Kyle Schwarber, who continued his highly improbable comeback with two RBI singles.

Despite struggling to throw strikes early, Jake Arrieta took a no-hitter into the sixth. He allowed one run over 5.2 frames to earn his first victory of the postseason.

Trevor Bauer, meanwhile, lasted only 3.2 innings for the Indians. While he experienced no issues with his injured finger, he relinquished six hits, two walks and two runs during his brief start.

The Fall Classic now heads to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1945 at a 1-1 stalemate.

FINAL SCORE: Cubs 5 – 1 Indians

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World Series 2016: Schedule and Predictions for Cubs vs. Indians Fall Classic

The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians have both earned adoration by punching their tickets to the World Series. Only one long-suffering MLB franchise can obtain a happy ending.

Some people might have heard that the Cubs haven’t won a championship in a while. Cleveland can’t match the century-long misery, but it hasn’t captured a title since 1948. 

Both droughts, further illuminated by ESPN’s Buster Olney, explain why so many fans dreamed of this final matchup once the regular season concluded:

While Cleveland has already exceeded expectations by overcoming significant injuries, Chicago comes in as the juggernaut favored all along to win the Fall Classic. But Cubs fans know better than anyone that nothing is a done deal, and Cleveland dubiously receives home-field advantage thanks to the worst rule in sports.

Here’s a look at the World Series schedule along with predictions leading to a championship pick.


Don’t Count on Comebacks

Heading into Tuesday’s opening game, each squad harbors hope of a notable contributor returning from a lengthy absence.

Danny Salazar has not pitched since Sept. 9, and he followed a stellar first half by surrendering 29 runs over 32.2 innings after the All-Star break. Nevertheless, Cleveland can’t feel confident in getting another storybook outing from Ryan Merritt, who baffled the Toronto Blue Jays in his second career start to help clinch the American League pennant.

The team also must be careful with Trevor Bauer, whose bloody finger forced him out of his American League Championship Series start after he recorded two outs. According to’s Jordan Bastian, he is currently slated to pitch either Game 2 or Game 3.

Because of his rotation’s uncertainty, manager Terry Francona will turn to Salazar if he’s ready, which is looking like a realistic possibility. Per Bastian, the 26-year-old righty could make the roster and even start a game depending on the team’s impression of his Sunday simulated outing.

“If Danny pitches and he pitches healthy,” Francona said, “and he’s throwing the ball over the plate, we have a really good pitcher for however amount of innings he’s built up for, which can potentially help us.”

According to Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller, the team attempted to prepare him for a frenzied playoff atmosphere:

Salazar hasn’t lasted six innings in a start since July 19, so don’t anticipate anything more than three or four innings. In those frames, Chicago would wait out the erratic hurler, who issued 4.12 walks per nine this season. The Cubs’ 10.4 walk percentage, per FanGraphs, led the majors

An even bigger long shot to help, the Cubs have surprisingly left the door open for Kyle Schwarber‘s return. The 23-year-old tore his ACL two games into the season, but he took swings in the Arizona Fall League while the Cubs clinched the National League pennant.

Preparing to play as many as four games under AL rules, the Cubs wouldn’t mind retrieving the slugger, who belted five home runs last postseason. Per USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, manager Joe Maddon said the circumstances keep his comeback alive:

It makes sense from a “leave no stone unturned” perspective, but Schwarber hasn’t faced major league pitching since early April. The Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond approached the thought with skepticism:

Chicago has plenty of other options, most notably Jorge Soler. Maddon can keep catcher Willson Contreras in the lineup when David Ross starts with Jon Lester, who will likely take the mound in Game 1 or 2 at Progressive Field.

Predictions: If Salazar is available, Cleveland thinks better of the situation and limits him to a bullpen role with uninspiring results. The Cubs don’t include Schwarber on their World Series roster.


Chicago Cracks Cleveland’s Pitching

Despite facing two prolific lineups in the Boston Red Sox and Blue Jays, Cleveland enters the World Series wielding a 1.77 postseason ERA and 81 strikeouts in 71 innings. Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen should give Francona valuable innings, but the Cubs can mitigate their value by attacking everyone else.

The same Josh Tomlin who allowed 36 home runs over 174 regular-season innings kept Boston and Toronto in the park. Righties registered an .845 OPS against the strike-tossing veteran, and the Cubs have a good one in MVP favorite Kris Bryant.

If healthy, Bauer is a shaky bet because of his 3.32 BB/9. Polar opposites in style, neither Salazar nor Merritt is a comfortable bet for a playoff start against an offense that upended the Los Angeles Dodgers with 23 runs over three straight victories.

“You knew it was going to happen,” Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler said after Game 4’s 10-run outburst, per’s Jenifer Langosch. “It was just a matter of when.”

Observers are well aware of Miller’s playoff brilliance. The dominant reliever has compiled 21 strikeouts over 11.2 scoreless innings. Cleveland won all six of his appearances, all by three runs or fewer.

Even with Francona optimizing his value in high-leverage situations, the Cubs can diminish his impact by jumping out to early leads. Look at Saturday’s victory over the Dodgers, in which Kenley Jansen threw three perfect innings in vain.

Predictions: Cleveland’s pitching staff falls down to earth against a surging Chicago lineup. Kluber, Miller and Allen keep the series interesting, but the Cubs counter with a deeper staff and more offensive firepower. As a result, the Cubs win their first title since 1908 in a six-game series.

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World Series 2016: Full Schedule and Players Who Will Decide MLB Championship

After clinching their first American League pennant in 19 years, the Cleveland Indians must wait to find out their World Series opponent.

Cleveland has gone 7-1 in postseason play with a 1.77 staff ERA despite missing starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. The offense has struggled, mustering a meek .206 batting average and .256 on-base percentage, but hitting 11 homers will suffice for a squad that has allowed 15 runs.

Everything went their way against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. Will they keep rolling against the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers? As the Indians celebrated their AL crown, the Cubs took a 3-2 lead on Thursday night. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will look to fend off elimination in Saturday’s Game 6.

Once the matchup is set, observers will fixate on the stars who must step up during the best-of-seven showdown. Cleveland needs more huge outings from Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Both National League teams standing will counter with marquee sluggers, aces and stellar closers.

The superstars, of course, don’t always decide the World Series. Let’s take a look at some other pivotal players key to securing a championship.


Josh Tomlin, SP, Cleveland Indians

Cleveland’s bullpen—and manager Terry Francona’s aggressive usage of the stellar unit—is the toast of baseball. Miller and Allen have combined to strike out 33 batters over 19.1 shutout innings. Those guys must keep dealing, but a ragtag rotation also must hold the fort down.

With no Carrasco, no Salazar and one out from Trevor Bauer in the American League Championship Series, the Indians still survived. While Kluber is undoubtedly essential to the starting staff, de facto No. 2 starter Josh Tomlin has embodied the Indians’ unlikely October run.

After posting a 4.40 ERA during the season, the 32-year-old limited potent Boston and Toronto offenses to a combined three runs over two starts. Perhaps just as surprising, the man with a career 5.98 strikeouts per nine innings has collected 10 of them over 10.2 frames.

His postseason success isn’t entirely out of nowhere. Tomlin posted a 1.75 ERA through his final four regular-season starts without issuing a single walk. As ESPN’s Buster Olney noted, the veteran righty will attack the strike zone:

Such control led to only 20 walks during the season, but it also caused him to get shelled too often. He relinquished 36 home runs, MLB‘s third-highest tally behind James Shields and Jered Weaver.

Right-handed hitters crushed him to a .299/.323/.522 slash line. The lefty-heavy Dodgers usually torment righties, but Tomlin’s reverse splits could save him from despair. Against the Cubs, NL MVP front-runner Kris Bryant is a prime candidate to go yard.

With rookie Ryan Merritt potentially representing their Game 3 or 4 starter, the Indians need another solid turn or two from Tomlin.


Ben Zobrist, OF, Chicago Cubs

If the Cubs overcome the Dodgers, Ben Zobrist will appear in his second straight World Series. The Cubs will hope he makes as much of an impact for them as he did for the Kansas City Royals.

Playing second base for the AL champions last year, he hit four doubles during five Fall Classic games against the New York Mets. The midseason trade acquisition ended the postseason with an .880 OPS and a championship ring.

He’s not doing so well this October, batting 6-for-33 with one double. The team’s offensive struggles compelled him to bunt out of desperation in Game 4.

Bunting is rarely advisable, especially for a cleanup hitter who can work his way on base otherwise, but it worked. His bunt hit helped sparked a four-run inning in the team’s best offseason showing of the playoffs.

“It felt like that spot in the game was the right time,” Zobrist said, per’s Jesse Rogers. “After we hadn’t gotten any hits up to that point, I was like ‘Well, it’s time. Someone needs to do it.'”

Thursday offered a promising sign. He went hitless in Game 5’s win, but the 34-year-old also drew three walks. Entering Thursday, he had worked only one free pass. 

In order to make and win the World Series, the Cubs will need him to contribute in more conventional ways. He’s positioned high in the order near Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, so it’s especially vital to get his bat going.


Pedro Baez, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers

The bullpen wasn’t a problem for the Dodgers this season. The 3.35 ERA led the majors, but that success has not carried over into the playoffs.

Their relievers—including Kershaw’s National League Division Series save—have relinquished 37 runs over 17 innings. Veteran Joe Blanton, who posted a 2.48 ERA during the season, has already capitulated seven runs. Rookie Grant Dayton, another high-leverage option, is also struggling under the brighter spotlight:

Although his snail-like pace puts everyone to sleep, Pedro Baez was an exception in his recent outings. The 28-year-old righty didn’t allow a run over his first 5.1 innings. Manager Dave Roberts has twice trusted him to work two full frames, which he hadn’t previously done since July 8.

On Wednesday, however, he relinquished a home run to Rizzo. Used the next day despite throwing 27 pitches, he put Game 5 out of reach by surrendering five runs, three of which crossed home plate when Ross Stripling replaced him and gave up a bases-clearing double.

In 10 games, Los Angeles’ starters have gone five or more innings four times. Kershaw accounts for three of those, with Rich Hill lasting six in the other. Someone needs to bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen, and Baez remains one of the most prominent options despite two consecutive poor games.

Having allowed 11 homers in 74 innings this season before Rizzo’s Game 4 blast, Baez also must beware the long ball. Those not yawning through his slow outings will instead bite their nails, but he will have to pitch key late innings if the Dodgers advance.

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