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2018 Season Preview: NL Central

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Very similar to its counterpart in the American League, the National League Central Division’s outlook for 2018 figures to be pretty similar to last season. There was a fair amount of offseason activity in the Central, but not much figures to change. Here’s what we expect from the NL’s mideast in 2018.

Chicago Cubs

There’s no reason to believe the Cubs aren’t poised for a third straight NL Central Championship. Almost all of their big guns return and Joe Maddon once again has a super talented roster to work with. Making matters even better is that the Theo Epstein filled his biggest hole over the winter with an equally good candidate.

Biggest asset: Talent, talent everywhere

Image result for kris bryant 2017

USA Today.

It’s very tough to deny that the Chicago Cubs have one of the best-built lineups in baseball. Anchored by franchise cornerstone Anthony Rizzo and MVP Kris Bryant, the Cubs also boast Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.

On the pitching side, the Cubbies are also stacked. The aforementioned Epstein replaced departing ace Jake Arrieta with Yu Darvish, who could easily fill the role. Fellow veteran Jon Lester continues to be solid even with his advancing age. Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks round out what is undoubtedly one of the NL’s best rotations. However, one departure that the team didn’t address could be a problem.

Biggest weakness: Lack of a true stopper

The Lovable Losers’ bullpen suffered two big blows this offseason when closer Wade Davis and setup man Hector Rondon both walked away in free agency.  According to The Chicago Tribune, 33-year-old Brandon Morrow is slated to be the team’s new stopper. Morrow spent time with the Dodgers last season as well as their Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. He became only the second pitcher to appear in all seven games of a World Series last October but could not help Los Angeles overcome Houston.

Lack of a true closer could hurt a team that won the World Series two years ago thanks in large part to its bullpen. If the enigmatic Morrow struggles in the ninth, Carl Edwards Jr. could be pushed to the role, but that would create another hole in itself.  Despite all this, the 2018 Cubs should still rule in the Central.

2018 prediction: NL Central champs.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee came so close to making the playoffs last season for the first time since 2011. Despite a lack of consistent pitching, Craig Counsell’s squad missed out on the second NL Wild Card spot by just a game. Some marquee offseason acquisitions bolster the club’s chances in 2018, however.

Biggest asset: Upgraded offense

Low key, the Brewers had one of the better winters in MLB this offseason. They made a big sacrifice in trading away top prospect Lewis Brinson to Miami along with others, but it brought back still-nascent superstar Christian Yelich in return. The 26-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance so far in his career but has never been able to quite sustain it. A far better opportunity to win in Milwaukee could help change that. The Brew Crew also made a big splash in signing familiar face Lorenzo Cain to a multi-year deal. Cain was drafted by the Brewers and played with them in 2010 before being traded to the Royals for Zack Greinke. Now a proven talent, Cain has the tools to bolster his old team even more.

Image result for christian yelich brewers

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The acquisitions of Yelich and Cain figure to pay big dividends at Miller Park. The bats of the two should take pressure off 2017 Breakout Player of the Year Travis Shaw and allow him to continue to cement himself as the team’s MVP. Cornerstone Ryan Braun will also benefit from the upgrades as he transitions back to first base for the first time since his rookie year.

Biggest weakness: Still no true pitching

Though Brewers GM David Stearns did a terrific job with Cain and Yelich, he could have made more of an effort to purse a pitching upgrade.  It is unknown how much the team attempted to court top free agent hurlers Arrieta and Darvish, but entering 2018 Milwaukee has the same B- pitching staff that it had in 2017.

Don’t get me wrong, the team didn’t pretty well with that staff last year all things considered, but they could have possibly slipped into the playoffs had they gotten more wins and less runs-against. Chase Anderson receives the honor of starting Opening Day, displaying the hopes Counsell and co. have for him. This team needs an ace.

Despite this, the Brewers could very well return to October for the first time in seven years.

2018 predicition: second in NL Central- Wild Card winner.

St.Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals also made a big upgrade by way of a refugee from Miami. Like Milwaukee, St. Louis invested quite a bit in the move, trading away numerous high-end prospects to acquire Marcell Ozuna. It’s a good move for a team that was competitive in 2017 but fell off at the end of the season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year after five straight appearances. Which is why-

Biggest asset: Marcel Ozuna

Image result for marcell ozuna

St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

No coincidence. Like Yelich, Ozuna was a standout with Miami despite all the issues that team had during his time and will have no problem shining even brighter on a far better team. The 27-year-old’s presence redefines Busch Stadium’s outfield after Jeremy Hazelbaker and Randal Grichuk were waived and traded respectively. Though this is his first season with them, Ozuna may already be the new face of the Red Birds.

Biggest weakness: Fading promise

Though Ozuna’s arrival is big for St. Louis and could reinvigorate Mike Matheny’s team, St. Louis still has a big problem with once-promising stars starting to fade. You can’t consider Adam Wainwright an example because, like Molina, he’s just getting old. This can be said for Michael Wacha, however.  Though 2017 wasn’t an awful season for him, the kid who came out of nowhere in 2013 and almost single-handedly carried St. Louis to a World Series title has been MIA the last two years. Kolten Wong also had a decent 2017 but is capable of far more. The Cards have consistently been one of the NL’s top teams in recent years but need big performances from multiple players to avoid falling back into irrelevancy.

2018 prediction: Third in NL Central.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds and their fans continue to be let down by their executives. Cincinnati once again made no big efforts this offseason to upgrade in any way, and as result 2018 figures to be another bleak season in Southern Ohio.

Biggest asset: Joey Votto

Image result for joey votto 2017

Cincinnati Enquirer.

His age continues to grow but Joey Votto has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, his age 33 2017 season may have been even better than his age 26 2010 NL MVP season. Votto put up the best all-around final line in the MLB last year and (in my opinion at least) deserved MVP more than Giancarlo Stanton. Unfortunately for him, the Reds have proven that one man can’t do it alone and the Canadian superstar’s herculean efforts have gone all for naught.

Biggest weakness: Uncommitted front office

As I already said, Cincy’s biggest issue is that the team’s ownership and front office have not done any ostensible work at making the once-dominant team any better. They’ve made no efforts to build around stars Votto and Adam Duvall and lack depth in a big way. Whether you see it as ignoring the call for a rebuild or simply not wanting to spend at all, the Reds won’t improve until some kind of investment is put in this team. But, its leadership has shown that this is unlikely.

2018 prediction: fourth in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The winds of change have officially blown through the Steel City, at least as far as baseball is concerned. Pittsburgh traded away ace Gerrit Cole and franchise icon Andrew McCutchen this winter to officially kick off their rebuild. The Pirates’ thoughts are now set on making the team great again (Trump pun in no way intended).

Biggest asset: Josh Harrison

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NBC.

Harrison has proven himself by now to be the Brock Holt of the National League. You can put this guy literally anywhere on the field and he will excel. With Cole and McCutchen gone and Starling Marte not yet recovered from his steroid bust, Harrison is easily his team’s best player and could see himself traded at some point as well. It doesn’t matter where on the field he goes, this guy will give you 100%. That’s why he’s so valuable.

Biggest weakness: Everything else about this team

I don’t mean to rag on the Bucs but they’ve fallen almost as quickly as they rose in the early 2010s. This team used to be so magical and so fun to watch, where did it go? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. Pittsburgh is definitely over the hill in that it realized it was time to reset. You have to laud the team’s commitment to it too because we all know how mutual the love was between the Pirates and McCutchen (if you don’t, watch his E60). This team is headed back in the right direction, but the road ahead is quite the lengthy one.

2018 prediction: last in the NL Central.

Let us know what you think and, more importantly, don’t miss any Opening Day action. BASEBALL IS BACK!

American League

2019 Trade Deadline Highlights

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In a shocking, last-minute deal, Zack Greinke has a new home (CBS Sports).

This year’s Trade Deadline in the MLB wasn’t as boisterous as previous seasons and might rank as one of the less-exciting ones in history. There was still a good number of high-profile moves, however, and a few big names went on to new homes. Here’s a look at the more notable acquisitions of July 31, 2019 and how they will impact the teams that got the big returns.

Blue Jays trade RHP Marcus Stroman to Mets in exchange for RHP Anthony Kay, RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson

The move that unofficially kicked off trading season was a bit of a head scratcher. It had long been rumored that Toronto was shopping ace Marcus Stroman, but the team he ended up with isn’t exactly a contender. The Mets are currently four games under .500 and may not be vying for the postseason in 2019. The move is likely another part of the Mets rebuilding process, and since Noah Syndergaard stayed put, New York may have a formidable rotation next season.

Indians acquire LHP Scott Moss, OF Yasiel Puig from Reds and OF Franmil Reyes, LHP Logan Allen and IF Victor Nova from Padres, Padres acquire OF Taylor Trammell from Reds, Indians acquire Reds acquire RHP Trevor Bauer from Indians

The literal biggest trade of the day was a this three-team blockbuster. Trevor Bauer firing the ball over the center field wall on Sunday after he was pulled in the fifth inning ended up being the last pitch he threw in an Indians uniform. A day later the Tribe rid itself of his petulance and pulled off a massive trade with intrastate rival Cincinnati as well as San Diego that saw Bauer go to the Reds and Reds top prospect Taylor Tramell go to the Friars. Cleveland received a host of players from both teams, most namely Yasiel Puig, who is ironically also known as a prima donna.

Though Bauer is undeniably talented when he keeps his act together and bolsters the Reds attempts to trend upward, San Diego may have won the trade with Tramell, MLB’s no. 30 overall prospect.

Rays acquire 1B Jesus Aguilar from Brewers in exchange for RHP Jacob Faria

Milwaukee was certainly brewing before the Deadline and made a commendable effort to improve its pitching. GM David Stearns’ most notable move was a straight swap with the Rays that brought back righty Jacob Faria in exchange for power hitting 1B Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar is having a down year but has proven many times that he can be deadly. He gives the Rays the big bat they’ve been seeking in their hunt for a Wild Card berth.

It’s a good move for both sides because it clears Milwaukee’s infield logjam and gives the team another quality starter. Faria never quite broke out in Tampa Bay but a change of scenery always has potential to pay dividends. After having already gotten Jordan Lyles from Pittsburgh on Monday, the Brewers made another move and got Drew Pomeranz from San Fransisco later on Wednesday. Though none of the returns are big name guys, Milwaukee is serious about making another run after coming so close last year.

Cubs acquire OF Nicholas Castellanos from Tigers in exchange for RHP Alex Lange and RHP Paul Richan.

The Cubs made their chances of taking the NL Central back even better with this move. Nicholas Castellanos has been one of the MLB’s more underrated players in recent years, largely because he was on the Tigers after the team’s glory days of the early 2010s ended. Adding him to a lineup that already includes Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez gives the Cubbies even more firepower, especially given Castellanos success vs. lefty pitchers. It’s also a great move for him personally as he gets to join a contending team at last. The Cubs are vying to appear in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, and their chances look pretty good.

Astros acquire RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Corbin Martin, RHP JB Bukauskas, IF Josh Rojas and IF Seth Beer

If Houston was scary good before this trade, they’re terrifyingly good now. The Astros just added Zack Greinke to a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in a last-minute deal that wasn’t announced until after the deadline officially passed. Arizona received a package of four minor leaguers in return as the team is now officially in the rebuilding process.

Like Verlander, Greinke is in the second half of his thirties but has not declined at all and owned a 10-4 record with a 2.90 on a sub-par Diamondbacks team at the time of his departure. The six-time All-Star’s presence gives Houston the best rotation in baseball by far and should get the knees of any upcoming opponent knocking. The MLB said it best on Instagram today, “Facing Houston? You have a problem.”

Notable non-moves:

  • After being heavily rumored as top targets, Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard and Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner are still members of their longtime teams.
  • The Boston Red Sox, whose bullpen has blown 18 saves, made no moves to improve its relief core, to the amazement of the team’s fanbase.
  • The New York Yankees were thought to be Syndergaard’s top suitor, but the team did not acquire any starting pitching to aid Aaron Boone’s struggling rotation.

What was the biggest move of the deadline this year? Be sure to let us know on Twitter @HomeRunDaily.

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Atlanta Braves

Braves Steal Keuchel From Yankees

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Seemingly destined for the Bronx, Dallas Keuchel is instead headed to Hotlanta (CBS Sports).

Though it seemed almost a forgone conclusion that free agent LHP Dallas Keuchel would be joining the New York Yankees, a shocking twist that came from seemingly out of nowhere proved otherwise.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported late Thursday night that the Atlanta Braves had signed the 2015 American League Cy Young winner to a one-year deal pending a physical. The Braves have yet to confirm this but Feinsand went on to report that Keuchel is slated to pitch for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday.

Rumors had been abundant all week that General Manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees were in deep on Keuchel and that his signing was only a matter of time. After all, it made perfect sense for New York to bring in the two-time All-Star to help fill the void left by Luis Severino’s absence. Braves GM Alex Anthopolous had other ideas and snatched up Keuchel from his team’s storied World Series rival. Keuchel’s deal is reportedly for $13 million.

For Atlanta, the signing is a wise one. Keuchel’s presence will take pressure off Mike Foltynewicz as he attempts to regain his 2018 form and will aid Julio Teheran, who has done a solid job carrying the weight of the rotation. The Braves have struggled at times throughout the season but have kept pace with National League East leading Philadelphia and are only two games back as of 6/6.

Can Atlanta’s big acquisition help them regain ground on Bryce Harper and the Phillies, or is it being given too much credit? As always, let us know on Twitter at @HomeRunDaily.

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American League

Finally: Where Will Keuchel & Kimbrel Sign?

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(Sporting News) Where will the MLB's two biggest remaining free agents wind up on Monday?

The 2019 MLB Draft will take place from tomorrow June 3 to Wednesday June 5. In addition to many teams drafting players that will go on to become superstars, it will be notable because the two most high-profile free agents from this past offseason may finally sign.

Former Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel and two-time Reliever of the Year Craig Kimbrel have been free agents since last season ended and are still without homes as the 2019 season gets closer and closer to the midway point. No team was willing to accept either man’s asking price after both turned down $17.9 million qualifying offers from their former teams (Houston and Boston, respectively).

Tomorrow will be the turning point for both men. Starting on the first day of draft proceedings, the team that signs either of them will not have to forego a compensatory draft pick. And since many teams could use the services of either/or, there’s no reason to believe both will not sign quickly.

Keuchel, 31, was the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner with the Astros after leading the the league with 20 wins and a 1.02 WHIP and placing second with a 2.48 ERA. 2018 wasn’t the best season of the lefty’s career but still solid overall (12-11, 3.74 ERA). The team that could use him the most at this point is the New York Yankees.

Duking it out with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East, the Yankees have gotten a monumental and unexpected pitching lift from the previously unknown Domingo German, who might just be the AL Cy Young winner if it was awarded today. However, Aaron Boone’s rotation still lacks both depth and reliability with the absence of Luis Severino.

Keuchel could fill that void and then some. CBS Sports reports that the Bombers are in on Keuchel and that the two-time All-Star is willing to sign a one-year deal. Will Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman make the move and give his manager a big boost?

The Rays could too be a logical landing spot for Keuchel. Though far less talented on paper than Eastern rivals New York and Boston, Tampa Bay has been one of the best teams in baseball this year and are right in the thick of it with the Yankees. Adding Keuchel might make even more sense for Rays GM Erik Neander.

25-year-old Tyler Glasnow got off to a terrific start this season but was placed on the DL with a forearm strain on May 11 and isn’t expected back until July. 35-year-old Charlie Morton has carried the slack admirably alongside ace Blake Snell, but they both would benefit from having their loads reduced. Keuchel’s agent Scott Boras confirmed that his client has been throwing simulated games every fifth day, so it may not take him very long to get game ready.

As for Kimbrel, also 31, the team that he walked away from appears to be his most-likely destination. The Boston Red Sox’ bullpen has been better than most people thought it would be this season, with journeyman Marcus Walden of all people being the biggest standout. However, it has still struggled, especially of late. Neither Ryan Brasier nor Matt Barnes have proven capable of truly shouldering the closer’s role.

Though he was still a large piece of Boston’s fourth World Championship since 2004, Kimbrel didn’t look his best at times throughout 2018, which is likely why Boston didn’t even consider the five-year deal he was asking for. The seven-time All-Star has reportedly acquiesced on that, however, and is now seeking three-years. Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski would be wise to accept this and bring his stud closer back. The Sox are 29-29 as of today and may struggle to keep pace with Tampa and New York if its relief core doesn’t improve.

Another former home of Kimbrel’s, Atlanta, has also been long rumored as a destination. The Braves were the surprise of the year in the MLB last season and earned Brian Snitker Manager of the Year honors, but the young team hasn’t been able to keep pace with rival Philadelphia after the latter’s offseason spending spree. If GM Alex Anthopolous were to bring the team’s 2011 Rookie of the Year back, it would give fans an instantly recognizable face and shore up a bullpen that, like Boston, has been rocky. It looks as if Kimbrel may have a reunion with a former team either way, but where does he end up?

Think Keuchel and Kimbrel will end up some place different? Be sure to let us know on Twitter at @HomeRunDaily!

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