Angels flawed, but still could take AL West

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If nothing else, the AL West should be very interesting to follow. There are reasons to be optimistic about each squad, but I couldn’t help but grow more pessimistic with regards to each team as the spring went on. The Rangers may well have the most talent in the division, yet theirs is a squad with the potential to be decimated by injuries and the funds might not be there to bring in replacements. The A’s know that feeling well, so they made increasing their depth a priority over the winter. Unfortunately, while their fallbacks are better, they currently have Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki comprising the heart of their lineup.
The Mariners, for all of their positive moves, still have obvious holes in their rotation and lineup, though if they get a working Erik Bedard back in June and a legitimate DH in July, there’s the chance they could run away with the division. They’re the one team capable of doing so, in my opinion.
The Angels, though, are still the favorites for the moment, even with John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins all having departed. The lineup, while lacking a superstar, is pretty strong throughout and the team has five solid pitchers to fill its rotation. Also, let’s face it… the Angels are pretty much always better than expected. Credit Mike Scioscia and/or the team’s ability to do the “little” things. The Angels typically wins several more games a year than the computers say they should, and it’s not all because of summer acquisitions like Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir.
In 2010, the Angels look worse on paper than they have in several years, perhaps since before their World Series victory in 2002. It’s the rotation that scares me more than anything. While the Angels have their five proven starters, no one in the group is likely to dominate.
As part of my 2010 projections, I had 57 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, including all five Angels starters. Here’s how their ERAs ranked in that group:
Jered Weaver – 14th (3.96)
Joe Saunders – 22nd (4.07)
Scott Kazmir – 32nd (4.20)
Joel Pineiro – 35th (4.25)
Ervin Santana – 53rd (4.65)
It’s a group with some upside, particularly when it comes to Kazmir and Santana. But I’m not overly optimistic in regards to any of them. Plus, there’s no 220-inning workhorse here. Kazmir is a weak bet to make 30 starts, and I also wouldn’t put any money down on Santana doing so. The Pineiro signing was extremely important for the Angels, but I think they’ll come to regret not bringing in a Chad Gaudin-type to function as a swingman. Matt Palmer did the job better than anyone could have imagined last year, but the league clearly caught up to him and he was dreadful this spring. The Angels have no quality alternatives unless prospect Trevor Reckling develops quickly.
Of course, the lack of an extra starter is something that can and probably will be addressed in July. But I worry that Palmer may cost them several games before then.
The Angels will score runs, though not as many as they could if they’d simply commit to Mike Napoli over Jeff Mathis. I think the bullpen will be adequate, in part because I expect Kevin Jepsen to turn into a force in a setup role. The defense is strong, particularly aside from the outfield corners. That’s a big reason why the projections for Weaver and, especially, Saunders are as kind as they are.
My guess is that enough will go right for 86-88 wins and another trip to the postseason. Still, this is a team that could finish under .500 if only a few things go wrong.

The Cubs’ NLCS finish was one for the history books

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Chicago Cubs fans hold a sign after the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Cubs obliterated the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, riding nine shutout innings to their first pennant win since 1945. Here’s what you should know about their historic finish:

  • By virtue of the Cubs’ 71-year World Series drought, Jon Lester and Javier Baez became the club’s first and only postseason MVPs in franchise history. The World Series MVP award was first distributed in 1955, while the NLCS MVP awards have been issued since 1977.
  • Lester and Baez are also the first co-MVPs of the Championship Series since the 1990 Reds celebrated left-hander Randy Myers and right-hander Rob “Nasty Boy” Dibble following the team’s ninth pennant win (per’s Jenifer Langosch).
  • Anthony Rizzo’s fifth inning solo shot in Game 6 tied him with Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez, and Kyle Schwarber for the most postseason homers hit at Wrigley Field, with three (per Comcast SportsNet’s Christopher Kamka).
  • Rizzo and Willson Contreras’ home runs were the first Clayton Kershaw had given up in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS. The twin blasts also accounted for a fifth of the total home runs Kershaw had given up in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Game Score of 33 was not only the lowest the left-hander had put up since the start of the 2015 season, but the lowest the Cubs had seen from an opposing pitcher in the postseason since 1989. During Game 4 of the 1989 NLCS, Giants’ right-hander Scott Garrelts pitched 4 2/3 innings with eight hits, four runs, and two homers en route to a 6-4 loss and a 33 Game Score.
  • By contrast, Kyle Hendricks’ Game Score of 86 was the third-highest among Cubs’ postseason starters, ranking just below Jake Arrieta’s 11-strikeout complete game during the 2015 wild card tiebreaker and Orval Overall’s three-hitter in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series.
  • The last major league season to feature an ERA leader on the Cubs’ roster was 1945, also the last season in which the Cubs rode to the World Series. In 2016, the MLB ERA leader is Game 6 winner Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA); in ‘45, it was left-hander Ray Prim (2.40 ERA), who capped a dominant year with a loss against the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series and blown save in Game 6.
  • Not to be overlooked in the lefty’s gem on Saturday night: Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to face the minimum number of batters, at 27. According to MLB Stat of the Day, only the 1956 Yankees had also faced the minimum batters in a postseason game, though they did it with just a bit more panache.
  • With Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Javier Baez, and Addison Russell penciled into the lineup, the Cubs became the first MLB team to utilize five starters under 25 years old to clinch the NLCS (also via MLB Stat of the Day).
  • If you want to talk postseason drought, the Cubs-Indians World Series will set a precedent for combined championship-less streaks, at 174 years between the two clubs (per ESPN Stats & Info).
  • Speaking of unpleasant streaks, there’s this: with the Dodgers’ loss in the NLCS, they’ve now gone to the postseason four consecutive times without participating in a World Series showdown. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, that’s a first in major league history.


The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder: