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25 Biggest Questions in MLB’s Final Month

From sorting out the Matt Harvey drama in New York to wondering if the Texas Rangers can complete their season turnaround, many questions remain to be answered in the MLB‘s final month. 

For many teams, uncertainty looms as they get ready for the postseason—whether they actually make the playoffs, what their roster will look like come October and who needs to player better by then. 

And for those teams already out of contention, burning questions center on what this final month means in regard to their offseason plans. 

Our rankings depend on which issues are the most immediate and necessary to be addressed while also taking into account the questions surrounding relevant, contending clubs.

We’ll sort it all out and try to bring some clarity to the biggest questions yet to be answered with the end of the MLB season nearing.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: How the Final Month Will Shake Up Postseason Picture

Throughout much of the MLB season, two teams have dominated the competition in their respective leagues. The St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals may be heading into the final month of the regular season as the hottest clubs in baseball, but there’s much to be sorted out in the divisional and wild-card races before the postseason gets underway in October. 

In predicting how the postseason picture will shape up with a month to go, three primary factors were taken into consideration: 

  • Current standings
  • Key series to watch
  • Key players in each race

The focus here is to realistically forecast how each team’s play in September will affect its playoff chances. We examine each divisional and wild-card race in both the National and American leagues. 

After laying out all the details, one bold prediction for each race will be made.

Let us know if you agree or disagree with how one writer sees things ending up in 2015. 

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MLB Waiver Wire 2015: Perfect Move for Every Team in the Playoff Picture

As the August 31 waiver trade deadline fast approaches, it will force some movement of talent in the MLB in the coming week. 

Contenders are looking to improve their playoff-bound rosters, while other clubs simply want to unload contracts of players they don’t feel are key pieces of the future.

It’s a two-way street, and teams that hope to compete deep into October desperately want to snag those one or two players who could spell the difference between a first-round exit and a World Series title.

We’re going to examine the moves some playoff contenders should make—or whether they’re better off standing pat.

Since there have been some trades already in the month following the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, we’ll make those clear before diving into any other possible moves.

Those will also factor into whether or not a team still needs to address its roster before the waiver deadline.   

Either way, the rich will get richer by the end of the month.  

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MLB Playoffs: How Week of August 17 Will Shake Up the Postseason Picture

Major League Baseball’s next two weeks can tell a lot about a team. Postseason hopefuls try to prove they’re for real while others quietly fade away into mediocrity. 

The August 31 waiver trade deadline forces teams to competitively show their hand before the final month of the season. This week offers some notable series matchups around the league that could determine the playoff fate of several teams. 

The San Francisco Giants face a road trip against two playoff-caliber clubs from the National League Central, as they hope to play their way into October baseball. 

Meanwhile, a few American League clubs are looking to play their way to a Wild Card Game berth.

When putting together this list, we considered each team’s postseason probability, according to Baseball Prospectus, record over the last six-to-10 games, remaining regular-season schedule and the desperation factor. 

This factor translates differently for each club: A first-place team (see Cardinals) doesn’t need wins as desperately as that fringe wild-card club (see Angels). 

It’s make-or-break time for many MLB teams, and the week of August 17 brings some exciting baseball drama. 


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St. Louis Cardinals Boast 1 of History’s Best Pitching Staffs

When Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon in April, the St. Louis Cardinals were left without their true acelet alone one of baseball’s top pitchersfor most of the season. Despite the setback, the National League powerhouse has relied on a pitching staff on pace to challenge MLB record books.

At 73-41, St. Louis owns the majors’ best record in 2015—at least five games ahead of any other team and six in front of a tough NL Central that might produce three playoff teams.

Yet the Cardinals have done so not by scoring runssorry, Bill James apologists—but rather by preventing them.

St. Louis pitchers have allowed 2.93 runs per game this seasonthe best in the league by more than 0.5 runswhile scoring just 3.97 (21st in the league).

But it’s the 2.93 per game that could go down as one of the best marks ever when considering it’s 29.2 percent lower than the league average of 4.14.

The St. Louis pitching staff is one of the best of the past 20 yearsa span that includes both the height of MLB’s “steroid era” and today’s “dead-ball era.”

Its dominance blows away the average MLB team at a rate that’s almost unheard of.

A study by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal pointed out the Cardinals arms corps is one of MLB’s best of the past century: “Only one team since 1900, the 1906 Chicago Cubs, performed better, allowing 2.46 runs a game compared with a league average of 3.62—a difference of 32 percent.”

Even without Wainwright, who went 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts before his injury, for much of the season, Cardinals starters own a collective 2.77 ERA so far this season.

If it holds up, that would be the lowest ERA by a starting rotation in 30 yearsthe 1985 Dodgers accumulated a 2.71 mark.

Paul Casella of Sports on Earth noted the unusual path the St. Louis starters have taken, though: “The Cardinals have seemed to collectively master run prevention, all without a single pitcher ranking within the top 15 in strikeouts, WHIP or strikeout-to-walk ratio.”

Either way, all five starting pitchers, from the 36-year-old John Lackey to the 23-year-old Carlos Martinez, sit below a 3.00 ERA at the moment.

Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh pointed out the St. Louis pitching staff strands baserunners at a rate no other team in history can match.

Some of the contributions might come from a resilient starting rotation. But the Cardinals employ a bullpen that isn’t shabby, either.

The relievers’ 2.26 ERA is the best since that of the 1972 Pittsburgh Piratesthe only bullpen better since the league lowered the mound in 1969.

More interesting are the members of the Cardinals pen.

There’s the starter-turned-closer, Trevor Rosenthal, who’s tied for the league lead with 35 saves. There’s Randy Choate, a 39-year-old workhorse, and Kevin Siegrist, a 26-year-old setup specialist. Then you have two recent additions in veterans Jonathan Broxton and Steve Cishekformer dominant closers who are now role players.

No matter the name or story, each reliever is capable of entering a game in a jam and shutting down opposing offenses.

The statistics show that Cardinals pitchers, as an entire unit, get more dominant once runners reach base, per

St. Louis pitchers allow a .257 batting average when the bases are empty23rd in MLB and 10 points worse than the league average this season.

When runners get on or, even worse, get in scoring position, they turn into monsters and allow batters to hit just .212 and .194, respectively, in those situationsboth marks rank first in the majors by a wide margin.

Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci credited catcher Yadier Molina for his game management behind the plate:

No other club is close to the Cardinals when it comes to the key moments of run prevention: when the opponent has scoring chances. Credit has to go not only to the pitchers, but also to veteran catcher Yadier Molina, whose skills at framing and calling pitchers are most valuable in those pressure situations.

Baseball’s new-age thinking based in analytics claims that scoring runs ultimately leads to winning ballgames. Yet the Cardinals are dispelling that notion in 2015. 

Even the offensive stars in St. Louis have bought in. Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said the following:

We’ve played in close ballgames before. Just scoring runs is not a good plan over the course of the season. You have to play good defense. You have to pitch. That’s how you win close games. That’s how you lead the league in wins, in my opinion.

A team that struggles with creating runs, as St. Louis does, needs to excel in run preventionsomething the Cardinals do.

“I honestly think this is how you win in the playoffs,” outfielder Jason Heyward told Goold, “so we’re going to have a lot of experience built up.”

The Cardinals may be without their bona fide ace, but they have more than made up for the loss. 

Their pitching has them on pace for a 99-win season, according to FanGraphs’ projections, and one of the best overall performances by a staff in MLB history.

It’s safe to say, no matter how many runs the Cardinals score in a given game, they’ll be darned if they don’t allow fewer.


You can follow Dan on Twitter. He’s still bitter the 2011 Phillies and their four-headed monster of aces didn’t pan out as hoped.

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MLB All-Star Game 2015: Latest News and Notes for Midsummer Classic

The 86th annual All-Star game will take place at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The festivities, though, got started off with a few bangs on Monday night with baseball’s Home Run Derby.  

Todd Frazier seemed all too comfortable in his home park as he did something he’d done 15 times before in 2015: hit a ball into the red-shirted screaming fans beyond the outfield wall.

The only difference? This dinger would win this year’s All-Star Home Run Derby and propel the Reds‘ third baseman into a hometown hero. 

Frazier homered in the waning seconds of the four-minute championship round to tie Pederson. He promptly won it just one pitch into his 30-second bonus round (for hitting two homers greater than 425 feet)-giving him 15 home runs in the final round. 

In a sport famous for not using a clock, it was timed rounds that made the annual competition more a dramatic spectacle than in years past. 

Frazier, who has 25 homers on the season, benefited from an energetic home crowd to capture the Derby crown over Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson and kick off the All-Star festivities in an exciting way.

After the competition, he mentioned how much of an effect the Cincinnati crowd had on his 39-home run performance, via ESPN’s Jayson Stark

“Big-time impact. Just hearing the crowd roar, call my name, adrenaline. And those last minutes of each round, [they] really picked me up and [helped] drive the ball out of the park a lot more.”


The new format proved vital to the 29-year-old, who credited the pressure and clock via Steve Gardner of USA TODAY Sports:

“You swing at everything once you’re down, no matter how much time you’ve got,” Frazier said. “When you get the opportunity, you just have to hit it out no matter where the ball’s pitched. I felt like a little kid out there in the backyard swinging at everything.”

Check out Frazier’s walk-off blast: 

He became just the second player ever to win a Home Run Derby in his home stadium, via ESPN Stats & Information

Frazier takes his Derby win into Tuesday’s All-Star Game where he starts at third base and bats second for the National League. Its his second appearance in the Midsummer Classic and first as a starter.


Rain Delay?

Unfortunately, the weather forecast does not look too promising for Tuesday night. Here’s the latest from the National Weather Service:  

Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly before 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 66. Northwest wind 7 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

There was concern that rain would affect Monday’s Derby, but the sky stayed clear and no postponement or delay (besides modified timing rules to quicken the pace) was necessary. 

Tonight, though, may be a different story. 

Ultimately, it’ll come down to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision. 


Arms Race

Dodgers’ ace Zack Greinke starts on the mound for the NL with the Houston Astros‘ Dallas Keuchel opposing him for the American League

Greinke’s league-leading 1.39 ERA should prove a tough test for AL hitters. The former Cy Young-winner takes a 35.2-inning scoreless streak over his last five starts into the game. 

Greinke was named the NL’s starter after Washington Nationals‘ right-hander Max Scherzer pitched on Sunday. 

Keuchel has been no slouch himself, though, while going relatively unknown. In a league-high 137.1 innings, he has a 2.23 ERA and hasn’t allowed an earned run in seven of his 19 starts on the season. 


Youth Movement

After injury replacements and the Final Vote winners were announced, a record 20 All-Stars are 25 years old or younger, according to ESPN Stats & Info

Nats outfielder Bryce Harper, at age 22, is the youngest. He’ll appear in his third All-Star game-just the 10th player to do so before the age of 23. 

Harper will start in the outfield and hit third for the NL-a reward for his MVP-worthy first half which saw him hit .339 with a league-leading 1.168 OPS and already career-highs in home runs (26) and RBI (61). 

Harper along with five other players 25-years-old or younger will start in the Mid-Summer Classic-Pederson and Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the NL and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez in the AL. 


There’s a First Time for Everything

ESPN Stats & Info also pointed out something that’s never occurred before in an All-Star Game. 

That’s right. No Yankees or Red Sox in tonight’s starting lineups. 

Three Yankees were selected to the roster: reliever Dellin Betances, outfielder Brett Gardner and first baseman Mark Teixeira. 

Brock Holt is the lone Boston player to be chosen. 

The biggest Yankee omission might be Alex Rodriguez, who was beat out by fellow designated hitters Nelson Cruz and Prince Fielder in the AL. 

A-Rod, who turns 40 later this month, is hitting .278 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI as the three-hole hitter for the first-place Yankees. 


Home Field on the Line

As with every All-Star Game, home-field advantage is granted in the World Series for the winning league. 

Although the NL leads the all-time series 43-40-2, the AL has come out ahead as of late. The league has won the last two Midsummer Classics and 14 of the last 18. 

Coverage of baseball’s 86th All-Star Game at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park begins at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on FOX. 

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