A flop in Boston, Brad Penny thriving back in NL

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After pitching for the Giants in the second half last season Brad Penny shut out his former teammates for seven innings last night, improving to 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA on the year.
Penny looks to be the latest in a long line of veteran starters who turned things around and had more success than ever before under Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, with Joel Pineiro and Kyle Lohse providing the most recent examples.
Of course, Penny’s resurgence actually dates back to last year, before hooking up with Duncan in St. Louis. He pitched his way out of the Dodgers’ plans by going 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 2008 and then flopped in Boston with a 5.61 ERA in 24 starts, at which point the Red Sox released him.
Penny signed on with the Giants and went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts down the stretch, which was enough for the Cardinals to give him $7.5 million in guaranteed money this offseason. Suddenly that looks like a bargain, because Penny is now 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA in his last 10 starts, walking just 12 batters in 70.1 innings. Penny had plenty of success for the Marlins and Dodgers before falling apart in 2008, so obviously returning to the NL has helped.
Beyond that, Duncan has him throwing more strikes and inducing more ground balls than ever before, which is a huge change for a pitcher who basically just tried to blow hitters away with his mid-90s fastball for the first 10 years of his career. So far this season Penny has thrown his fastball just 51 percent of the time, which is big drop compared to his career rate of over 70 percent.
He obviously won’t be this good all season, but Duncan has worked similar magic with similar pitchers before and while a sub-1.00 ERA is flukishly amazing much of Penny’s improvement can be traced to what seems to be a legitimate change in approach.

2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves