First-third awards – NL MVP

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We’ll use VORP
to come up with a list of candidates and go from there. Position
players only. I think Dan Haren should figure into the mix for the
bottom half of the ballot, but the rest of the top 10 will be hitters.

1. Albert Pujols – 37.2
2. Raul Ibanez – 33.4
3. Carlos Beltran – 30.0
4. Hanley Ramirez – 27.9
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 26.5
6. Chase Utley – 26.1
7. Miguel Tejada – 24.7
8. Ryan Zimmerman – 23.4
9. Justin Upton – 23.1
10. Brad Hawpe – 22.4
11. Orlando Hudson – 21.3
12. Ryan Braun – 21.2
13. David Wright – 20.9

That’s everyone over 20.0.

Moving on to OPS:

1. Albert Pujols – 1168 in 53 G
2. Raul Ibanez – 1091 in 52 G
3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1075 in 53 G
4. Brad Hawpe – 1051 in 46 G
5. Carlos Beltran – 1022 in 47 G
6. Justin Upton – 1000 in 50 G
7. Chase Utley – 998 in 50 G
8. Prince Fielder – 979 in 54 G
9. Ryan Braun – 964 in 52 G
10. Hanley Ramirez – 962 in 51 G

Playing time isn’t as much of an issue here as it was in the AL,
where it was tough to figure out where to put Joe Mauer and Jason
Bartlett. The only player in the NL to perform like an MVP candidate
over 30-40 games is Joey Votto, who had a 1091 OPS in 38 games before
landing on the DL.

Finally, the RBI list, since that’s what the real voters will be mostly concerned about:

1. Raul Ibanez – 53
2. Prince Fielder – 52
3. Albert Pujols – 48
4. Ryan Howard – 46
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 43
6. Adam Dunn – 42
7. Brad Hawpe – 41
8. James Loney – 41
9. Brandon Phillips – 40
10. Dan Uggla – 39

I see five legitimate candidates: Pujols, Ibanez, Beltran, Gonzalez
and Utley. Fielder isn’t hitting any better than the top two first
baseman and he’s a weaker defender. As a subpar shortstop, Hanley is
rather overrated by VORP. Also, he hasn’t been as much of a force on
the basepaths as usual, and even though he’s hitting .400 with RISP, he
has just 25 RBI while batting third. That knocks him down to sixth.

Of the top five, two are quality defenders at key positions, two are
quality defenders at first base and one is a below average defender in
left field. Beltran’s candidacy takes a hit because he’s missed five of
the Mets’ 52 games.

As outstanding as Ibanez has been, I don’t see a reason to go away
from Pujols, last year’s MVP. He has the OPS lead, he’s a positive in
the field and on the basepaths and he’s hitting .341 with RISP. Utley
also contributes in more ways than Ibanez.

What Gonzalez has gone is truly remarkable — he’s on pace for more
than 60 homers while playing half of his games at Petco Park — but he
doesn’t have the same kind of average as the other candidates and his
OBP is being inflated by teams working around him with RISP. It’s not
his fault that the Padres can’t protect him, but it has made him less
valuable. He’s hit just .231 with RISP.

First-third NL MVP

1. Pujols
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Gonzalez
5. Beltran
6. Ramirez
7. Haren
8. Fielder
9. Hudson
10. Mike Cameron

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.