SweetSpot: Detroit Tigers

Five things we learned Friday

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
12:05
AM ET
video 1. Another Friday, another no-hit bid against the Cincinnati Reds

Last week Atlanta Braves starter Mike Minor tossed 7 2/3 innings before the Reds put a hit on the board. Friday, it was Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez who kept Cincinnati hitless for the first six frames. Volquez, a former 17-game winner with the Reds, was picked up off the scrap heap by Pittsburgh this winter and has been a pleasant surprise. Although his peripheral statistics don't necessarily support his 3.45 ERA, he is unlikely to turn into a pumpkin down the stretch after nearly 160 innings of work this season.

Volquez tied a season high with 114 pitches Friday. He was charged with one earned run on three hits and three walks. He struck out six. He pounded the ground with 10 ground-ball outs. Although he has done a lot of work close to the earth, it is his work in the air that has been the big key in 2014. Last year, opposing batters had a .310 average on fly balls against Volquez. This season, that mark sits at .172. Advanced metrics place the Pirates' outfield in a negative light, but someone is converting those fly balls into outs on a consistent basis.

Despite the lack of knocks, the Reds were able to keep both games close, losing in the 12th inning last Friday and briefly taking a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning Friday before conceding the lead and the game soon after. The wins were important to Atlanta and Pittsburgh as both are still chasing the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card race. In fact, the Pirates' three-game winning streak has them sneaking back into contention in the NL Central as well.

For those interested, the Reds host the New York Mets next Friday at the Great American Ballpark.

2. DeGrom continues strong season

The Mets are in the midst of another lost season, but once again a trio of young arms gives the organization and its fans some hope. They lack the cool nickname of "Generation K," but Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom may be the foundation of a rotation that gets New York's other baseball team back to the postseason. DeGrom, the only active member of the trio, was on the bump Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Without the hype of Harvey or Syndergaard, deGrom has snuck up on most people this season. The lanky right-hander tossed seven strong innings against the Phillies, allowing just one unearned run. Of his 18 starts, deGrom has gone at least six innings in 14 of them. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of those contests.

The rookie boasts a full arsenal of pitches, but Friday night's game plan centered around a mid-90s fastball that he commanded well. It accounted for nearly 75 percent of his pitches thrown Friday, as deGrom honed in on the lower half of the zone to his arm side. The heater was the weapon of choice on 16 of the 22 outs he recorded.

It's been said before, but "maybe next year" for the Mets.

3. Orioles continue to pound away

After taking three of four from the Tampa Bay Rays, the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles were back at it Friday night, blowing out the Minnesota Twins 9-1. Baltimore's pitching staff has been largely mediocre this season, but its offense packs a powerful enough punch to push the O's past the opposition on most nights. The club's .163 ISO -- isolated power measures the ability to hit for extra bases by stripping singles from slugging percentage -- is tops in the AL, trailing only the Colorado Rockies in the majors.

Chris Davis is having a disappointing season after his breakout 2013 campaign, but he hit another home run -- this one a grand slam -- on Friday that gives him seven in August and 24 on the season. While that is a far cry from last year's pace, Davis appears to be getting a bit more into the swing of things even if his average sits below .200.

In Davis' void, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce have picked up the offensive slack. Cruz signed a one-year deal with Baltimore after a difficult time finding work on the open market. His 34 home runs lead the majors. Pearce was once a top prospect in the Pirates' system, but has spent most of his career shuttling between the majors and minors. This season, he has broken out in a big way with an OPS approaching .900 and 16 homers in limited action. He left Friday's game with an abdominal strain. Considering Manny Machado's injury, the team can ill afford to lose Pearce, as crazy as that may sound.

4. Verlander better versus White Sox

The Detroit Tigers have one of the game's top pitchers (Max Scherzer) and traded for another one (David Price) on July 31. Meanwhile, the team's former top hurler was on the mound Friday night, looking to close the gap in the highly contested AL Central race.

Justin Verlander has been off his game for most of this season. His ERA is approaching 5.00 and he has allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time since 2006. Friday's effort was not vintage Verlander; however, it was still encouraging since he is no longer considered the team's top gun.

Facing the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Verlander worked seven innings, allowing one run on nine hits and two walks. He struck out seven batters, throwing 77 strikes in 116 pitches. It was the first time since April 17 that he allowed one run or none in a start.

Despite a recent run of inconsistency, the Tigers are within arm's reach of the division lead. With Anibal Sanchez's future in doubt, Verlander once again becomes a key figure in Detroit's rotation. If he can be just part of what he once was, it may go a long way in the club's quest for a fourth straight division title.

5. Young Cubs on the prowl

The Houston Astros have been painted by some as the poster boys of "process." Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs have also been in rebuild mode and, unlike Houston, which may have some sour grapes among its bunch, their organizational tree is starting to bear fruit at the highest level.

Javier Baez was first to capture the nation's attention this summer with his risk-versus-reward approach at the plate. His big swings have left nearly an equal amount of oohs and ughs depending on whether he made contact or not. This week, the club promoted Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to the big leagues. That decision is already paying dividends.

Though he is just three games into his major league career, the 22-year-old Soler has seven hits in his first 12 plate appearances. On Friday, he recorded his first multi-home run game, belting a pair of homers against the St. Louis Cardinals. Soler's first homer was a solo shot in the seventh inning that tied the game at 2-2. Baez put the Cubs ahead 4-2 with an RBI double the next inning, but the big blast came once again from Soler, who smacked a two-run homer to left field. Two innings, two at-bats and two home runs that covered 858 feet. Not bad for the third night on the job.

As exciting as the win was for the Cubs, it was equally devastating for a Cardinals team that is clinging to an NL wild-card spot by the slimmest of margins.

Tommy Rancel blogs about the Tampa Bay Rays at the SweetSpot network affiliate The Process Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @TRancel.
1. A big night in the AL Central.

The Royals scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to beat the Twins 6-1 ... which came a couple hours after David Price allowed -- not a typo -- nine consecutive hits in the third inning as the Yankees scored eight runs. Most of the hits were not cheapies, either. The inning went:

Single, double, single, double, single, single, single, infield single, single. Four of the hits were ground balls but only two of those were soft. Price became the first pitcher since Bob Forsch in 1989 to allow nine hits in a row. As our friend Jonah Keri tweeted, the Yankees scored more runs that inning than Drew Smyly has allowed in his five starts with Tampa Bay since being traded for Price.

As for the Royals, here's a stat: Before Tuesday, the Twins had lost just two games all season they led heading into the eighth inning. The Royals rallied two nights in a row in the ninth and eighth innings.

2. Speaking of Smyly ... he's good.

You don't want to overreact to five starts, but in those five starts Smyly has allowed just six runs. In beating the Orioles on Wednesday and allowing just two hits in seven innings, he became the second Rays pitcher to pitch at least seven innings and allow two hits or fewer in consecutive starts. Bottom line: For those who think the Rays didn't get enough in return for Price, think again; Smyly is more than just a back-end starter.

We all loved this trade for the Tigers because we overfocused for the Tigers, but it's fair to ask: How much is Dave Dombrowski sweating right now?



3. The Cubs are worth watching down the stretch.

I mentioned Javier Baez in non-pennant race news on Tuesday, and now we discuss Jorge Soler, the dynamic Cuban right fielder who debuted for the Cubs on Wednesday ... and promptly slammed a Mat Latos fastball for a home run in his first at-bat. Soler is the same physical presence as Baez but his minor numbers suggest a swing with a little more control: He struck out 48 times in 200 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A (hitting .340/.432/.700) compared to Baez's 130 K's in 388 at-bats. That's still a high strikeout rate, so he may face the same initial struggles as Baez. Soler's biggest issue has been staying healthy: He had a fractured tibia last year and had injuries to both hamstrings that forced him to miss most of April and May this year. But with 15 home runs in 62 minor-league games, the power potential resembles Baez's.

Now ... let's hope the Cubs call up Kris Bryant. I don't want to hear about service time and all that. He's ready for the big leagues.

4. Eric O'Flaherty, A's closer, for now.

Oakland's first save opportunity since Sean Doolittle went to the former Braves lefty, who has pitched well in limited action for the A's so far. He gave up a run to the Astros but preserved the 5-4 win. (The A's scored three off Chad Qualls in the top of the ninth, with Sam Fuld hitting a tiebreaking two-run homer.)

Also note: Drew Pomeranz, good outing. Pomeranz didn't replace Jason Hammel in the rotation, but was taking a start to give Sonny Gray an extra day of rest. But he pitched well enough if that Bob Melvin may give him another one.

5. Give these guys Gold Gloves.

1. Alex Gordon.
2. Juan Lagares.
3. Andrelton Simmons.

Maybe the three best defensive players in the game.
video

It's another edition of Rapid Fire ... except this time I ask Eric the questions.
video

Eric and I discuss the Royals, Tigers and who will win the American League Central. Worth mentioning that wasn't mentioned in the video: FanGraphs projects the Tigers as having the easiest remaining schedule in the majors. But, really, the differences are small, although maybe small differences ending up being big differences. That's why they play the games. Or something like that.


Let's get this out of the way: The Kansas City Royals are in first place, the Detroit Tigers are in second place. It's the middle of August and we have baseball fever in the AL Central.

* * * *

Who would you rather have? David Price ... or Doug Fister, Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly, Jhonny Peralta and Joaquin Benoit?

I know that's a little unfair to Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski since those players weren't all involved in the same transactions, but it's related to this point: For the past four seasons, the Tigers have been the ultimate stars and scrubs team, top heavy in big-name performers who have delivered some monster seasons but a team that has lacked depth and won three consecutive division titles despite some obvious holes.

Trading for Price sort of doubled down on this philosophy. He provided an upgrade over Smyly -- although smaller than most people acknowledged when the trade was made -- but it also came at the expense of losing your starting center fielder in Jackson, a solid, league-average player both at the plate and in the field. In trading away Jackson, Dombrowski and the Tigers were also doubling down on the emergence of J.D. Martinez, and on Rajai Davis continuing to play well as an everyday player.

One big problem with the stars and scrubs approach: What happens when the stars don't play like stars?
[+] EnlargeJustin Verlander
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJustin Verlander may not know what hit him after enduring his shortest big league start.
Justin Verlander had been suffering through a bad season and on Monday we finally got an answer as to perhaps one reason why: He left after one inning, five runs and 40 pitches with a sore right shoulder, in a game the Pirates eventually won 11-6. Verlander has said all season he's healthy, so maybe it's unfair to speculate that he has pitched through an injury, but it certainly makes you wonder. Maybe this just happened at the most inopportune time, the day after Anibal Sanchez landed on the disabled list with a right pectoral strain, and also on the day that the Royals had a chance to take over first. If Verlander does join Sanchez on the DL, it will be the first DL stint of his major league career.

Obviously, let's hope that Verlander's injury isn't serious. But Jim Leyland worked this guy extremely hard over the years; he led the majors in pitches in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was second in 2010. And that doesn't include the 71 innings and over 1,100 pitches that Verlander has pitched in the postseason since 2011. As much of a workhorse as he's been, that arm has a lot of high-velocity mileage on it, and we all know that velocity has been down this season. It's possible that his greatness was gone even before he exited Monday's game (and that, as much as anything, may be why Dombrowski pulled the trigger on the Price trade, figuring it's now or never with Verlander in decline and Max Scherzer likely leaving after the season as a free agent).

As for Monday's game, there doesn't appear to be a sudden drop in velocity or a moment when you can pinpoint an injury, not like when Jose Fernandez blew out his elbow. Here's a chart of Verlander's pitch-by-pitch velocity readings on Monday. Did he pitch the whole inning with a sore shoulder? It will be interesting to see the fallout here. The one-inning outing also came after a 19-inning loss, so the Detroit bullpen was already pitching on fumes. It also came after the Tigers went 2-5 last week and saw their five-game lead evaporate. It comes in a week where the Royals have four games against the Pirates and three against the Mariners, two solid playoff contenders.

Is it time to panic in Detroit? Absolutely. As I wrote on Sunday, the Royals have a better bullpen, better team defense and better team speed. And the rotations? The Royals have a 3.75 ERA, the Tigers 3.73 (obviously, that only includes two Price starts).

I'm not kicking the Tigers to the curb, but suddenly two-fifths of the team's biggest strength may be missing and you're looking at a Tigers team that doesn't have the depth of last year's squad, easily the best of its three division-winning teams. Peralta and Benoit both left as free agents after solid contributions in 2013 and prior seasons. Smyly was a huge bullpen weapon before joining the rotation this year. Fister was traded away in the controversial offseason deal with the Nationals that brought over pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray, neither of whom has impressed so far in 2014 (Krol in the majors, Ray primarily in Triple-A). The Price trade was necessitated, in part, because of the Fister trade.

So now the Tigers are relying on Martinez, who was released in spring training by the Astros. He made some minor tweaks to his swing and got off to a huge start with the Tigers after beginning the season in the minors. But entering Monday's game, in 22 games since the All-Star break he'd hit .197/.256/.342 with 23 strikeouts. I think the jury is still out on whether he's the real deal.

The Tigers are relying Miguel Cabrera to hit like Miguel Cabrera. Not that he's having a bad year, but his .308/.366/.509 line is about the same Melky Cabrera's (.318/.374/.480). The Tigers aren't paying Miggy to hit like Melky.

Oh ... and the Tigers owe Verlander $140 million over the next five seasons and Cabrera $270 million over the next nine seasons.

Now or never? Maybe.

* * * *

The stars-and-scrubs Tigers remind me a lot of the late '90s Mariners. From 1995 to 1998, the Mariners had Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. They made the playoffs in 1995, but lost in the ALCS. The 1996 team scored 993 runs but failed to make the postseason when Johnson was injured. The 1997 club won the AL West but lost to the Orioles in the playoffs. In 1998, Johnson was dealt at the trade deadline and the team finished under .500.

Those Mariners teams possessed unbelievable front-line talent. They had trouble putting together the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. They had holes like Russ Davis and left field and the bench was often weak. The stars were spectacular; the scrubs were not. There were fun and exciting but, ultimately, never even reached a World Series. (The 2000-2003 Mariners regrouped to make the playoffs twice and win 90 games four years in a row, but that was a different team, with only Martinez still around contributing all those years.)

The Tigers may be going down that route. They did reach a World Series in 2012, only to get swept.

Two weeks ago after they acquired Price we were all discussing the impending playoff death match rotation battle between the Tigers and A's.

Now they're in a battle just to get into the playoffs.

Now ... or never.
They call this time of the baseball season the dog days, a phrase that apparently goes back to ancient Greece when Sirius -- the "dog star" -- was closest to the sun and was believed to cause the intense heat of summer. And you thought John McGraw or Ty Cobb came up with it to describe why some tired opponent just got steamrolled.

Anyway, what do you call a 19-inning game in the middle of the dog days? Well, that depends ... our Tigers blog, Walkoff Woodward, headlined its wrap-up "Tigers Waste Nearly Seven Hours Of Everyone's Life." Toronto's Ryan Goins and Detroit's Nick Castellanos, both removed from the game earlier, may have called it a chance to play rock, paper, scissors in the 17th inning.

I'd call it the best game of the year considering it involved two playoff contenders, lasted 19 incredible innings with Toronto winning 6-5, featured the Tigers blowing a 5-0 lead with David Price pitching, and cemented the impression that the AL Central is suddenly up for grabs. Detroit's lead is down to a mere half-game over the red-hot Royals, who won their seventh in a row Sunday.

[+] EnlargePrice
Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY SportsDavid Price threw 112 pitches in six-plus innings in his second start for Detroit.
The Tigers jumped on Mark Buehrle for an early lead before Dioner Navarro touched Price for a two-out, two-run homer. After a walk and single to start the seventh, Price exited, making it his shortest stint since May 8 although he threw 112 pitches. Price was worked heavily by Joe Maddon in Tampa -- he leads the majors in innings and total pitches -- and wasn't sharp Sunday, walking three in six-plus innings. Phil Coke allowed the two inherited runners to score, as the Tigers failed to turn a double play on one ground ball and Castellanos misplayed another (Castellanos' defense at third, by the way, has been a big problem; his minus-22 defensive runs saved entering the day was the worst mark in the majors).

While Coke wasn't completely to blame, he's a symbol of Detroit's biggest problem these days -- the bullpen. Joakim Soria was acquired to help provide depth, but he'd been terrible and was just placed on the DL, along with starter Anibal Sanchez. Before Sunday's game, Christina Kahrl wrote this on the Detroit bullpen:
[Y]ou have the challenge of replacing Soria at a time when Joe Nathan is doing his best Papa Grande impression when it comes to late-game spontaneous combustion. Nathan isn’t alone when it comes to failing to provide relief: Al Alburquerque and lefties Ian Krol and Phil Coke have combined to allow 35 of 101 inherited runners to score, worse than league average, and much worse than what you’d expect for a late-game crew handed plenty of leads on a contending team. That all three have inherited more than 30 baserunners apiece reflects their usage pattern, because rookie skipper Brad Ausmus has already been very matchup-conscious this season: Tigers relievers average less than an inning per appearance, getting an AL-low 2.8 outs per appearance.


Prophetic words. With Nathan unavailable in the ninth, Ausmus turned to Joba Chamberlain, who entered with a 3.13 ERA and .246 average allowed while serving as the team's primary setup guy. Those seem like pretty good numbers, but in this day of lights-out relievers, they're not that impressive for a premier late-inning guy, and the Jays tied it up. Consider that among all relievers with at least 35 innings (152 pitches), Chamberlain now ranks 87th in ERA, 100th in batting average allowed, 105th in OBP allowed and 67th in strikeout-walk ratio. He's good, but every team has a couple of guys as good.

Both teams had runners galore in extra innings but couldn't score. As the game stretched on, Blue Jays reliever Chad Jenkins turned into the hero, scattering seven hits over six scoreless innings, with his biggest out a bases-loaded double play against Torii Hunter in the 16th. Jenkins is the kind of reliever a lot of teams don't even carry anymore -- the long man who can pitch multiple innings or go as long as needed in a game like this. He's a former starter (and started four games at Triple-A Buffalo this year), and that paid off for Toronto. The Tigers eventually had to turn to starter Rick Porcello. Meanwhile, Nathan allowed two runners in his one inning (a soft single and intentional walk). It will be interesting to see if the Tigers stick with him as closer. He blew a save on Friday, and while he has a 2.92 ERA over his past 13 appearances, he's allowed eight walks in 12.1 innings during that span.

Walkoff Woodard pointed to another Tigers issue:
Andrew Romine went 2-for-9. One of his hits was a single that moved Bryan Holaday to third. Romine, apparently unwilling to stop at first and set up a nice run scoring opportunity, inexplicably got himself hung up between first and second. A series of awful decisions later, he was ruled out via replay at second base, so instead of two on with one out and the top of the order coming up, it was one on with two outs. The Tigers did not score. (All this does is underscore the fact that for all of the emphasis on baserunning in spring training, the Tigers remain a poor baserunning team).


Indeed, Fangraphs ranks the Tigers 24th in baserunning runs. It's not a killer stat (they're about 12 runs worse than the No. 1 teams, the Royals and the Nationals, which is worth about one win).

Still, it's a little thing. Note that the Tigers' biggest weaknesses -- bullpen, defense and baserunning -- are three areas at which the Royals excel. That's one reason this AL Central race is so fun: two teams with contrasting styles.

More than a week ago it looked like the Tigers would coast to a fourth straight division title. They were up five games and had just acquired Price. Now the lead is a half-game, the bullpen is in semi-shambles, Sanchez is on the DL and the Tigers have to overcome the dog day blues.

Tigers' injuries narrow AL Central race

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
3:10
PM ET
video

If you went by star power and expectations alone, the Detroit Tigers were supposed to have long since sewed up the AL Central. But much as they had trouble fending off the Cleveland Indians last year, this year it looks as if events will conspire to keep them closer to the Kansas City Royals. Because make no mistake, David Price or no David Price, losing Anibal Sanchez for as much as four weeks and Joakim Soria for most of August isn’t going to help matters any.

First, there’s the matter of timing. Losing Sanchez couldn’t happen at a worse moment, with the Royals just a game and a half back. Whether Sanchez misses three or four weeks, he’s out of the picture for a stretch on the schedule when the Tigers have to play two doubleheaders, both on the road, the first on Aug. 23 against the Twins and then again a week later on the 30th against the White Sox. That means we may see the Tigers turning not just to their sixth guy on the rotation depth chart (probably Robbie Ray) but also their seventh (which may or may not be Drew VerHagen, since he’s lost time to a back injury).

Then, in the bullpen you have the challenge of replacing Soria at a time when Joe Nathan is doing his best Papa Grande impression when it comes to late-game spontaneous combustion. Nathan isn’t alone when it comes to failing to provide relief: Al Alburquerque and lefties Ian Krol and Phil Coke have combined to allow 35 of 101 inherited runners to score, worse than league average, and much worse than what you’d expect for a late-game crew handed plenty of leads on a contending team. That all three have inherited more than 30 baserunners apiece reflects their usage pattern, because rookie skipper Brad Ausmus has already been very matchup-conscious this season: Tigers relievers average less than an inning per appearance, getting an AL-low 2.8 outs per appearance. (The only other manager averaging less than three outs from his relievers is the hyper-kinetic Terry Francona with the Indians.) Soria was supposed to help fix that by giving the Tigers someone besides Joba Chamberlain to work in more of a setup than a situational role, but that’s off the table for at least two weeks.

Two things can make this less of a problem. First, the offense could crank out enough runs to keep games out of reach of opponents. That’s easier said than done, as the Tigers have seen their run scoring since the deadline -- and the decision to trade away Austin Jackson -- drop from 4.7 runs to 3.6 per game. They don’t have the pen to be able to count on converting games into wins with those kinds of narrow margins on the scoreboard.

Second, they could use Justin Verlander resembling the Verlander of old to fully fill the gap left with Sanchez absent. The good news there is that Verlander has rattled off four consecutive quality starts, averaging more than seven innings per turn with a 3.14 ERA. Less happy is that his strikeout rate has remained low during that time (16.2 percent, not much different than his 16.8 percent clip on the season). But if Verlander can get turned around in-season, the Tigers would still have a front four that can take anybody in any series for any length of time, perhaps even with as few as three runs to work with.

The situation is anything but good, but looking at it from the Tigers’ perspective, you might be more optimistic about getting more runs down the stretch from a lineup led by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, or getting great starts from Justin Verlander. There’s less reason for optimism about the bullpen, but if they get those two things, they may be able to keep the Royals at bay. Either way it looks like we’re going to get to enjoy another down-to-the-wire AL Central race.


Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
Last week, after Corey Kluber dominated the Mariners with an 85-pitch shutout, I rashly tweeted that Kluber is one of the best 10 starting pitchers in the game. That seemed to stir things up a bit on Twitter, and Giants fans were especially angered when I suggested Kluber is better than Madison Bumgarner. Kluber came back on Monday with another solid effort, allowing one run while striking out seven in 7.1 innings, improving his record to 12-6 with a 2.55 ERA.

But is he one of baseball's top 10 starters right now?

[+] EnlargeCorey Kluber
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHe's been very, very good. But is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in baseball right now?
How do you even measure such a thing? We can take the easy way out and just look at wins above replacement for the season.

FanGraphs
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.8
2. Corey Kluber: 5.0
3. Jon Lester: 4.7
4. Clayton Kershaw: 4.5
5. Chris Sale: 4.2

Baseball-Reference
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.5
2. Clayton Kershaw: 5.2
3. Corey Kluber: 4.7
4. Johnny Cueto: 4.6
5. Chris Sale/Max Scherzer: 4.5

By WAR, Kluber isn't just a top-10 starter, but a top-five starter. Even ignoring how much you believe in WAR, the question is: Do you buy into Kluber's four-month streak as a true breakout performance? How much emphasis do we place on history? Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award in 2009. Should that matter as to how we evaluate him now? Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last year when he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. How much should that matter as to how we evaluate him in August 2014?

Bill James actually devised a method to answer this question a couple of years ago. He wrote:
Everybody starts out with a ranking of 300.0, and you can’t go lower than 300, even if you pitch badly. If you’re at 300, you’re unranked; you’re only actually on the list if you have a current score higher than 300. There would typically be 150 to 180 pitchers who are, at the moment, ranked. Pitchers never actually pitch badly enough that they would rank below 300 (if it were possible to do so) for more than two or three starts, because if you pitch that badly, you lose your position in the rotation.

When a pitcher makes a start, we:

a) Mark down his previous ranking by 3%, and

b) Add 30% of his Game Score for the start.

We base the rankings on Game Scores, which means that we ignore wins and losses, but give weight to innings pitched, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks and strikeouts.


James also adjusted for park effects, inactivity (if a pitcher doesn't pitch, his overall rating goes down) and postseason play, which he factored in. Anyway, his site unfortunately doesn't update the rankings, so I don't know how Kluber would rank. So I'll just wing my own top 10.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The best pitcher in baseball, and I don't think anybody is really arguing this. Hernandez ranks higher on the WAR lists because Kershaw missed April, so he doesn't have as many innings.

2. Felix Hernandez

3. Adam Wainwright

Similar in many ways -- veteran right-handers (it seems weird to call Felix a "veteran," but he has been around a long time) having their best seasons.

4. Chris Sale

He's 10-1 with a 2.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 20 walks in 116 innings. Incredible numbers. He has cut his home run rate from last year, even though he pitches in a good home run park. I'm not knocking Wainwright when I say this: Sale is better. But he did miss time earlier this year and I think we have to give Wainwright extra credit for his durability.

5. Yu Darvish

6. David Price

SportsNation

Is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in the game?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,346)

I'm not completely comfortable ranking Price this high -- he's ninth in FanGraphs WAR and 25th in B-R WAR. He has 189 strikeouts and just 23 walks but has allowed 20 home runs, and he goes from a good pitcher's park with a good Rays defense behind him to a better hitter's park with a below-average Tigers defense behind him. It's possible that change will reveal that he did benefit from pitching in Tampa. Or it may not reveal anything. But Price has been good a pitcher for five years, and his new approach of pounding the strike zone has basically turned him into a harder-throwing version of Cliff Lee.

OK, now things get a little murky. Let's start with Kluber versus Bumgarner, because that got a lot of feedback on Twitter.

I know Bumgarner has been a solid pitcher for several years. He has come up big in the postseason. But in comparing 2014: Kluber has the better ERA, the better FIP, the better strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, a lower home run rate, a higher ground ball rate, the lower batting average and OPS allowed, has pitched more innings and has done it in a DH league while pitching in a tougher park with a lousy defense behind him. I can't rate Bumgarner ahead of Kluber.

(By the way, Bumgarner's career high bWAR is 3.8, achieved last year. A lot of that is park effects. Giants fans will point out that Bumgarner has a better ERA on the road in his career than at home, but that's not the way park effects work. Bumgarner still has the advantage of pitching half his games in a pitcher's park.)

Jon Lester? Hmm. Lester is a No. 2 starter having a No. 1-level season. But he had a 3.75 ERA last year and 4.82 the year before. FanGraphs and B-R differ on his value -- FanGraphs ranks him third overall while B-R ranks him 22nd. Kluber, by the way, had a 3.85 ERA last year with excellent peripherals. If you give Lester a little extra credit for his postseason last year, I'll reluctantly give him the nod, although I think his track record works against him just as much as Kluber's lack of track record works against him.

Scherzer is similar to Lester, except his No. 1 season came last year. He's been nearly as good this year, even though his BABIP has once again bounced up:

2011: .314
2012: .333
2013: .259
2014: .316

One reason Scherzer's BABIP is usually high is that he does pitch up in the strike zone, unlike a lot of pitchers who pound the zone at the knees. Of course, the other reason is the lousy Tigers defense. (Take note, Mr. Price.)

Johnny Cueto? I'm not quite sure what to do with Cueto, giving his history of injuries. But we're talking best starters right now, and Cueto has been healthy and effective all season and he has always been effective even when he has missed time.

Garrett Richards is another young starter having a breakout season. While Kluber relies on command and a wipeout curve, Richards has upper 90s heat and a deadly slider. Their numbers:

Kluber: 2.55 ERA, .233/.277/.341, 26.7 percent K rate
Richards: 2.58 ERA, .195/.267/.259, 24.7 percent K rate

Kluber rates a little higher in WAR because he has pitched 12 more innings and Richards benefits from a pitcher's park. Tough call here. Like Kluber, Richards doesn't have much of a track record before this season. There's no denying his stuff. Richards has the fourth-lowest BABIP allowed among starters at .258 (Kluber's is .309) and a low rate of home runs per fly ball (third-lowest among starters). I think those numbers indicate Richards has pitched in more good luck than Kluber this season. But I could be wrong; his stuff is nasty.

OK, where does that leave us? With apologies to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, the injured Masahiro Tanaka and maybe a couple of others, the top 10 starters in the majors RIGHT NOW:

1. Kershaw
2. Hernandez
3. Wainwright
4. Sale
5. Darvish
6. Price
7. Cueto
8. Lester
9. Kluber
10. Scherzer

Including Richards, you could rank the final four guys in any order, really. If you want a longer track record, go with Lester and Scherzer. If you like raw, unhittable stuff, go with Richards. If you think postseason history matters, go with Lester. If you like 28-year-olds out of nowhere with curveballs that make major league hitters weep in frustration, go with our man Corey Kluber -- one of the 10 best starters in the game.

Let's look at some of the fallout from the trade deadline -- things people said -- and then make some predictions for what happens the rest of the way.

1. The acquisition of Jon Lester makes the Oakland A's the favorite in the AL West.

Prediction: The A's win the West.

The trade for Lester didn't actually upgrade the A's odds to beat the Los Angeles Angels all that much -- using player projection totals and remaining schedule, Baseball Prospectus says the trade increased Oakland's chances a mere 2 percent. The Angels won on Sunday, thanks to a five-run first inning, while the A's were shut down by James Shields in a 4-2 loss to the Royals, so Oakland's lead is one game. Still, I like Oakland's rotation depth. C.J. Wilson's return on Saturday after missing a month was a disaster as he got knocked out in the second inning, Tyler Skaggs just landed on the DL with a shoulder issue and you wonder how the Angels' rotation will hold up after Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver.

2. With John Lackey and Justin Masterson, the St. Louis Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central.

Prediction: The Pirates win the Central.

The Cardinals remain the favorite, according to our playoffs odds, and Lackey pitched seven strong innings on Sunday to win his Cardinals debut, but I'm going with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here's the thing about Lackey and Masterson: The Cardinals' rotation was pretty good before the trades; Lackey and Masterson may be upgrades over what Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez would have done the rest of the season, making the trades important, but they aren't necessarily an improvement over what the Cardinals had received so far from their various starters in those slots. The Cardinals are eighth in the majors with a 3.47 rotation ERA, and I don't expect them to do much better than that moving forward.

The St. Louis offense, meanwhile, is still next to last in the NL in runs scored. In what should be a three-team race down to the wire, the Pirates are my pick. One major reason: Francisco Liriano. In four starts since coming off the DL, he has a 1.96 ERA. He's looking more like the guy who was so good last year. If they can get Gerrit Cole back from his lat strain -- he was scratched from his Saturday start and instead threw a bullpen session -- even better. Note: If the injury to Andrew McCutchen's side that forced him out of Sunday's game proves serious, all bets are off.

3. Even with David Price, Max Scherzer is still the Detroit Tigers' ace.

Prediction: Price starts Game 1 of the division series.

This may be most important decision Brad Ausmus has to make all postseason: Which guy do you line up for two potential starts in the first round? The past two years against the A's, it has been Justin Verlander, and he rewarded Jim Leyland with two dominant efforts. But it won't be Verlander this year. My bet is on Price, who has been more consistent this season than Scherzer and has a 2.03 ERA over his past two starts. The Tigers may play the Orioles and the O's have an OPS of .732 against righties and .695 against lefties, another reason to slot Price in the first game.

4. The Los Angeles Dodgers made a mistake by not getting Lester or Price.

Prediction: The Dodgers win the NL West.

Josh Beckett didn't do anything to boost the confidence of Dodgers fans with another poor effort on Sunday; he got knocked out after scuffling through 94 pitches in four-plus innings. In three starts since the All-Star break, he has gone 3.2, 4.1 and 4 innings, respectively. Dan Haren has been even worse, with a 10.03 ERA over his past five starts.

Still, I agree with the decision to hold on to Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias. At some point, you need to infuse some youth, and with Pederson heating up again at Triple-A, he may be in the Dodgers' outfield sooner rather than later. The Dodgers will win the West thanks to the best top three in the NL in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

5. The Baltimore Orioles should have added a starting pitcher.

Prediction: The Orioles win the AL East.

Maybe the Orioles lack an ace in the mold of Price or Lester, but good luck getting those guys from a division rival. Plus, there's this: Since June 9, the Orioles have the third-best ERA in the majors and second-best rotation ERA in the American League (3.05). Chris Tillman outdueled Hisashi Iwakuma 1-0 on Sunday in the latest strong effort from a Baltimore starter.

The question: Is there some smoke and mirrors going on here? Since June 9, Orioles starters are 29th in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings and 28th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. That does make you wonder; on the other hand, the Orioles are a very good defensive teams (fifth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved) so they do turn more batted balls into outs than most teams. The O's may like to have an ace for the postseason, but they can get there without one.

6. The Seattle Mariners are better after acquiring some bats.

Prediction: The Mariners still don't have enough offense to win the wild card.

Since the All-Star break they've allowed the second fewest runs per game in the majors -- 2.88. And they're 6-10. They lost 2-1 on Friday and 1-0 on Sunday. Kendrys Morales has looked terrible since coming over from the Twins, where he also looked terrible. Austin Jackson was a much-needed move for center field, but he and Chris Denorfia aren't game-changers on offense, even above and beyond what the Mariners had. And they can't count on Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma giving up just one or two runs every time out.

7. Stephen Strasburg isn't an ace yet.

Prediction: The Washington Nationals win the NL East ... and Strasburg starts Game 1 of the playoffs.

Wait, did somebody write that about Strasburg? He sure looked like one on Sunday, striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings against the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves lost their sixth in a row, creating a 3.5-game lead for Washington, its biggest since holding a 3.5-game on June 1.


8. The San Francisco Giants should have picked up a second baseman.

Prediction: They'll get one in August.

Even with a nine-run outburst on Sunday, over the past month the Giants are hitting .231/.290/.342, the second-lowest OPS in the majors (ahead of only the Mariners). A second baseman isn't going to cure this, but Brandon Belt returned on Saturday and that should help. Buster Posey may be heating up, hitting .352 over the past two weeks and that will help. Brian Sabean has made waiver pickups before, so don't count him from getting somebody -- maybe a guy like Luis Valbuena from the Chicago Cubs. As the offense improves, the Giants should solidify their place in the wild-card standings (playing the Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks will help a lot also).

9. The Cleveland Indians punted the season in trading Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Prediction: Not necessarily ...

The Indians won their third in a row on Sunday on Michael Brantley's 12th-inning home run, and they're just three games back for the second wild card. I'm not predicting them to win it (I'll go with the Toronto Blue Jays), but I'm predicting them to hang in there.

10. The A's are now World Series favorites.

Prediction: OK, I'll go with that. Aren't the A's overdue for some October magic?

So, my post-deadline picks:

AL wild card: Angels over Blue Jays
NL wild card: Giants over Brewers

ALDS: Tigers over Orioles
ALDS: A's over Angels

NLDS: Dodgers over Giants
NLDS: Nationals over Pirates

ALCS: A's over Tigers
NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals

World Series: A's over Dodgers ... Jon Lester wins Game 7 and then signs a $175 million contract with the Dodgers in the offseason. Sam Fuld wins World Series MVP honors. Billy Beane announces retirement and says, "I was never really into this sabermetrics stuff anyway."

ICYMI: SweetSpot trade deadline roundup

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
11:32
AM ET
Catch your breath yet? What a crazy few days across baseball. Winners and losers at the trade deadline? We've got all of that covered. Let's dive in and see what the local SweetSpot Network writers had to say about the deals that impacted their teams as well as the new landscape for the rest of the 2014 season and beyond.



New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Why Stephen Drew can help the Yankees: Katie Sharp dives deeper than the superficial season-to-date results posted by Drew and shows how he can provide a boost to the Yanks. Spoiler alerts: Bumps in hard-hit rates and a superior defender than the now-departed Brian Roberts (two ABs short of a bonus). Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Trade deadline thoughts and afterthoughts: The Yankees got four proven major leaguers in the middle-to-late parts of their primes for two cheap minor league signings, an injured spare bench part, and two low-probability prospects. Not bad. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS



Boston Red Sox: Firebrand of the AL
Yoenis Cespedes, Red Sox outfielder: Many have arrived in Boston only to be beat down by Fenway and the Green Monster. Brett Cowett looks at how Cespedes could possibly master Fenway Park. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.

Allen Craig and Joe Kelly: Who are they, and how do they fit in?: Shawn McFarland takes a quick look at the St. Louis duo, and how they can be major cogs in the Red Sox machine for years to come.



Detroit Tigers: Walkoff Woodward
The Price is right: Tigers land Rays ace: Alexandra Simon looks at the Tigers' acquisition of David Price and examines some of the fallout after the deal.

The present and future of the Tigers with Price: Grey Papke outlines what the Price trade means for the Tigers both immediately and in the coming seasons -- including Max Scherzer's Tigers future. Follow on Twitter: @walkoffwoodward.



Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
Brewers trade for Parra: The Brewers made their big move of the non-waiver deadline, acquiring outfielder Gerardo Parra from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers. Ryan Topp reviews the trade, including concerns about a slip in Parra's defense. Follow on Twitter: @RDTopp.



New York Mets: Mets Today
Stephen Drew finally heads to New York -- and other deadline news: Joe Janish does a lap around the deals that made the 2014 trade deadline so exciting.



Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The Rangers Stand Pat: Brandon Land takes a look at what ended up being a rather uneventful deadline for Texas when compared to recent years. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away



Cincinnati Reds: Redleg Nation
Early trade deadline thoughts: More swings and misses: In recent years, the Reds have repeatedly swung and missed at the trade deadline. Last season they were the only major league team that didn’t make a single move in July or August. Other general managers come up with ideas that worked for each other and their owners. Steve Mancuso wonders if this indicates a failure of market evaluation. Follow on Twitter: @redlegnation.



St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Cardinals improve, but is it enough? In separate trades, the Cardinals supplemented their starting rotation, acquiring right-handers Justin Masterson and John Lackey. The moves were quintessentially Mozeliakian, as the GM followed his typical script by accurately identifying needs then fulfilling those needs with solid but not blockbuster (or bank-busting) transactions. The only question will be whether they’re enough. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.



Chicago Cubs: View From The BleachersAn ode to Darwin Barney: Luke Jett sends off fan favorite Darwin Barney with one last look back. Follow on Twitter: @lukejett.



Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Twins sign Suzuki to an extension: All-Star Kurt Suzuki was the Twins' best deadline trade chip, but instead of shipping him out they elected to extend his contract. John Bonnes takes a look at the move. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.


Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced "Lajaway"
Indians ship Justin Masterson to Cardinals: Adam Hintz takes a look at the Masterson trade, new acquisition James Ramsey, and how the organizational outfield depth chart now shapes up. Follow on Twitter: @Palagoon.

Wrapping up Masterson's Tribe Ccreer: Ryan McCrystal looks back on the roller coaster ride that was Masterson's time in Cleveland, comparing him to not-so-great past Indians such as Roberto Hernandez and Dave Burba. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.



Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Orioles gave up too much for Andrew Miller: Typically, prospects who are traded are over-ranked. That said, handing out a top 100 prospect in LHP Eduardo Rodriguez for a pitcher who will contribute at most 20 innings the rest of the season does not seem like the most sensible thing to do. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.



Los Angeles Angels: Halos Daily
What the big deadline deals mean for the Angels: Despite sitting the dance out, the Halos will still feel ripples from some of the deadline's biggest moves. Andrew Karcher takes a look at which trades could affect the club most down the stretch. Follow on Twitter: @andrewkarcher.


And some of the other non-trade deadline-related items from around the SweetSpot Network:


Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Are traded prospects worth less? Yes, they are, but there is a twist. Matt Perez looks at how the difference between prospect rank and value have changed over the years for players in trades. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot



Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Frank Thomas memories: In the wake of his emotional induction into the Hall of Fame, the entire writing staff kicked in their favorite memories of the greatest hitter to ever put on a White Sox uniform. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.



Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Rockies bloggers panel 7/26/14: Listen to representatives from Rockies blogs talk about what's gone right and wrong for the Rockies team and the front office in 2014. Featured are Rockies Zingers writers Richard Bergstrom, Ryan Hammon and Adam Peterson; Drew Creasman from Purple Row; Michelle Stalnaker from RoxPile; and Zach Marburger from Mile High Sports. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.



New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Chase Headley more than a rental: Matt Bove examines the idea of Chase Headley being a legitimate long-term option for the Yankees at third base. Follow on Twitter: @rayrobert9.



St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Patience pays off for Carpenter: This year, Matt Carpenter is seeing pitches at a career-high rate. If he continues at this pace, he’ll finish the season with the team’s highest pitches-per-plate-appearance since the stat began being tracked in 1988. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.



Los Angeles Angels: Halos Daily
The real value of the league's "worst" prospects: For two years running now, the Angels farm system has been classified as the worst in the game. Nathan Aderhold investigates what kind of tangible value the club has derived from its farm hands the last two seasons. Follow on Twitter: @adrastusperkins.


Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
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All I can say is I hope we get a Tigers-A's postseason series. What a great deadline day, full of intrigue, interesting trades, trades to discuss and argue about, happy fans and dejected fans. The sight of Austin Jackson being pulled from center field in the middle of a game sums up the trade deadline: Anything can happen. We just had two of the best left-handers in the game traded in David Price and Jon Lester -- from two teams that were in the playoffs a year ago. Last year's World Series champ traded two starters from last year's rotation, on top of trading Jake Peavy last week.

Usually, I say the impact of the trade deadline is overhyped and overrated. Not this year.

OK, some winners and losers of this year's trade deadline ...

WINNERS

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWith the acquisition of left-hander David Price, the Tigers now have three Cy Young winners in their starting rotation.
Detroit Tigers: With Price, the Tigers now have a rotation with three Cy Young winners, plus they were last year's American League Central champs. Heck, Justin Verlander is clearly the fifth-best starter on the Tigers at the moment. Yes, Detroit is on the hook for whatever Price will earn in arbitration for next year -- $19-20 million or so -- but I don't think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch cares too much about that. The Tigers get an ace starter for Austin Jackson (free agent after 2015), midrotation lefty Drew Smyly (3.77 ERA) and a minor league shortstop. I'll take that deal. Rajai Davis can slide over to center field, and while the outfield defense will be poor with Torii Hunter and J.D. Martinez in the outfield corners, you can run out a playoff rotation of Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Verlander (or Rick Porcello). The Tigers will be in the playoffs for the fourth season in a row. This may be the year.

Oakland Athletics: I love the Lester trade like I loved Edgar Martinez driving the ball into the right-field corner or Ken Griffey Jr. turning on a 2-0 fastball. It's a beautiful thing Billy Beane pulled off. There is a huge premium to winning the division and avoiding what Joe Sheehan labels the Coin Flip Game, and Lester gives the A's a better chance of doing that, especially when factoring in Jason Hammel's struggles since coming over from the Cubs, and Jesse Chavez hitting a wall as he soars past his professional high in innings pitched. Can the A's replace Yoenis Cespedes' production? Not quite, but the offense doesn't take a huge hit with a Jonny Gomes-Sam Fuld platoon, the two other players the A's acquired Thursday:

Cespedes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .262/.347/.492
Gomes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .264/.370/.440

Cespedes versus RHP, 2013-2014: .241/.278/.436
Fuld versus RHP, 2014: .250/.343/.340

I cheated a little bit there, since Fuld was terrible in 2013. The A's lose power but pick up better on-base guys. It's actually a pretty even tradeoff, assuming Gomes and Fuld play at that level. The A's have other options, as well: Against right-handers, they could put Derek Norris behind the plate, DH John Jaso and play Stephen Vogt in the outfield instead of Fuld. The A's still have lineup flexibility to replace Cespedes, and they picked up one of the hottest starters in the game.

Plus, consider that under Beane, the A's have played 13 postseason games that would have won a playoff series -- and lost 12 of them. Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder started two of those games, but other starters included Gil Heredia, Cory Lidle, Ted Lilly, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily. Now, depending on how the rotation lines up, it could be Lester, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir, all with ERAs below 3.00 on the season (Samardzija has a 3.19 ERA with the A's). Oakland's future is always going to be uncertain, so why not put all your chips on the table and hope you finally get the lucky card?

[+] EnlargeJon Lester4
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsThe Jon Lester trade gives the Athletics a rotation that's built for October.
Boston Red Sox: Usually, trading a guy like Lester brings in prospects, but the Red Sox have plenty of prospects and young players, so why not bring in a proven commodity such as Cespedes to help in 2015? The John Lackey trade for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly is less certain, given Craig's poor season and Kelly's uncertainty as a starter. But Craig just turned 30 and hit above .300 in 2012 and 2013, so he's a good bounce-back candidate. Kelly isn't a big strikeout guy, but he does have a power two-seam fastball that induces a lot of ground balls. Maybe he ends up in the bullpen, but he'll get a chance to start. The other benefit: The Red Sox currently have the seventh-worst record in the majors, so they'll likely finish with one of the 10 worst records, which means they can sign a free agent this offseason (think Max Scherzer) and not lose their first-round pick.

St. Louis Cardinals: They picked up Lackey and Masterson without giving up prized outfielder Oscar Taveras or Carlos Martinez. Sure, David Price would have been a sexier pickup to line up behind Adam Wainwright in a potential playoff rotation, but Lackey/Masterson is a solid Plan B. Still, the Cardinals have had pretty good results all season from the rotation (fifth-best ERA in the majors), but they weren't sure what they were going to get from Kelly, Martinez or Shelby Miller moving forward. These deals didn't address the offense -- they're next to last in the NL in runs -- but with 10 games left against the Brewers, the division is still theirs for the taking.

Cleveland Indians: I like both trades. They dumped two impending free agents having poor seasons in Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera and got two players who should turn into major leaguers. James Ramsey and Zach Walters won't be stars, but they could be starters or useful bench players. Ramsey was a first-round pick in 2012, can play center field and is having a fine season in Double-A, although he's repeating the level. Walters, hitting .300/.358/.603 at Triple-A Syracuse, looks like a super utility kind of a guy as he's played all three infield positions and the outfield.

Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees: The Orioles and Blue Jays each have six games remaining against the Red Sox, while the Yankees have nine and now won't have to face Lester or Lackey in any of those games.

Seattle Mariners: They added Jackson and Chris Denorfia, much-needed right-handed bats, but Denorfia has been terrible this year, and Jackson is hardly an impact offensive player. It's not that the Franklin-for-Jackson deal is a bad trade, but it could backfire as Jackson has just one more year before free agency. On the other hand, less Endy Chavez is a good thing.

LOSERS

Tampa Bay Rays: They were only 5.5 out of the wild card. Yes, they had to jump over five teams to get into the second wild-card spot, but it was possible. I guess in the end, the Rays simply wouldn't be able to afford Price's contract next year and felt they had to trade him now. I'm just not sure Smyly and Nick Franklin are going to be long-term difference-makers. The perpetual recycling continues, but eventually the trades aren't going to all work out, and the Rays will have to start producing their own talent again.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates had the prospects to potentially work out a deal for Lester or Price, but Neal Huntington couldn't pull the trigger. It's a club that doesn't have any gaping holes, but the Pirates missed the opportunity to get an ace. They can still win the Central, but if they fall short ... well, I guess there's always 2015 or 2016 or whenever all the prospects mature.

Los Angeles Angels: They had already shored up the bullpen with Huston Street, Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher, but now they have to try to catch the A's with a rotation that includes Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs. The Angels aren't worse than they were yesterday, but the A's are better, and the second-best team in the majors may be relegated to the wild-card game.

The rest of the AL Central: Scherzer is likely gone as a free agent, but now the Tigers will have Price in 2015.

San Francisco Giants: They needed a second baseman but didn't get one. The earlier trade for Peavy isn't as inspiring as the Cardinals getting Lackey. The Dodgers still look like the favorite in the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies: And ... nothing. Enjoy 2015, Phillies fans!
Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield answered your questions about this week's Power Rankings.

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One player won't make or break a team's playoff push, but here is one key guy for each American League club in the second half.

Baltimore Orioles -- Chris Davis
Let's divide Davis' last two years into halves:

Second half, 2012: .269/.337/.530, .338 BABIP, .261 ISO, 32% SO, 8% BB, 31% HR/FB
First half, 2013: .315/.392/.717, .355 BABIP, .402 ISO, 28% SO, 10% BB, 33% HR/FB
Second half, 2013: .245/.339/.515, .309 BABIP, .270 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 21% HR/FB
First half, 2014: .199/.309/.391, .252 BABIP, .192 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 23% HR/FB

I don't know what to make of any of this, except that Davis is probably not as good as the first half of 2013 and not as bad as the first half of 2014. A major reason the Orioles need a better second half from Davis is that among AL players with at least 200 plate appearances, Steve Pearce ranked fourth in wOBA in the first half and Nelson Cruz ranked 11th. Assuming some decline from those two, Davis will have to pick up the slack.


Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus
Everybody keeps talking about the Blue Jays needing a starter, but from June 1 through the All-Star break only the Red Sox scored fewer runs than the Jays -- and now Edwin Encarnacion is out a few weeks with a quad injury. Rasmus hit .212/.266/.453 in the first half; the 12 home runs were nice, nothing else was. He hit .276 with a .338 OBP last year so there's hope for a turnaround.

New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka
I don't see how the Yankees climb back into this thing with an injury-depleted, makeshift rotation and an aging lineup that is more old than simply disappointing. The slim chance the Yankees have of winning the East or a wild card rests on the ultimate health of Tanaka's elbow. Maybe more importantly, the state of the 2015 Yankees rests on the health of Tanaka's elbow.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
David Price is the important Tampa player to the rest of baseball, but before the Rays pack it in and trade Price, they're going to see if they can get to within four or five games of first place by the July 31 deadline. To do that, they need Longoria to heat up. He wasn't terrible in the first half, but a .386 slugging percentage is well below his .512 career mark entering the season.

Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
The young infielder was hitting .296/.389/.427 through June 1, outstanding numbers for a 21-year-old shortstop. Then the Red Sox activated Stephen Drew and moved Bogaerts to third base and he hit .140 with 37 strikeouts and five walks through the All-Star break. Did the position change affect his mental state? Is it simply a failure to adjust to how pitchers have attacked? The final two-plus months may tell us a lot about his future stardom.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
Last year, the Tigers had a Big Four rotation with Max Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. They traded Fister, and Verlander went 8-8 with a 4.88 ERA in the first half, so it's really down to the Big Two, although Rick Porcello's improvement has added a strong third guy in place of Verlander. Among 86 AL pitchers with at least 50 innings, Verlander is 72nd in ERA. He's underperformed his peripherals a little bit -- 4.02 FIP, 4.46 xFIP -- but even the peripherals are a far cry from peak Verlander.

How far has Verlander fallen? In 2011 and 2012 he had 29 regular starts of eight or more innings. Last year he had three. This year he has one. Right-handers are hitting .329/.377/.505 off him; hard to believe that a guy that was so dominant as recently as last postseason has struggled so severely against same-side hitters. The Tigers don't need a strong Verlander to win the division, but they do want to see a guy they can believe in heading into the playoffs.

Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura
Well, yes, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas ... but Ventura (7-7, 3.22) is key because the 23-year-old right-hander is already at 103 innings; he threw 150 last year between the minors and his brief major league stint. He's not a big guy and he relies so much on that upper 90s fastball, meaning you wonder if fatigue will be an issue down the stretch. The Kansas City rotation has been relatively healthy this year -- the Royals have needed just six starts from guys outside their top five (although Jason Vargas will miss a couple weeks after undergoing an appendectomy) -- and any chance of winning the wild card will rest on that rotation remaining healthy.

Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher
The Indians finished the first half at .500, pretty remarkable considering the number of awful performances they received: Swisher hit .208 with a .288 OBP, Carlos Santana hit .207, Justin Masterson had a 5.51 ERA before finally hitting the DL with a bad knee, Ryan Raburn hit .199, Danny Salazar pitched his way back to the minors and Jason Kipnis' numbers are way down. So there's some second-half upside here, especially from Swisher, who shouldn't have lost his skills overnight at 33.

Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale/Jose Abreu
The White Sox aren't going anywhere so it's all about Sale chasing a Cy Young Award (that may be tough even though he leads the AL in ERA and WHIP as he's pitched 50 fewer innings than Felix Hernandez) and Abreu chasing 50 home runs.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
Mauer hit .271/.342/.353 in the first half with two home runs. He has four more years on his contract after this one at $23 million per year. Was it just a bad three months? Is it the concussion he suffered late last season? The Twins figured that with his .400-plus OBP skills, he'd remain one of the best players in the game, even moving to first base. But after being worth 5.3 WAR last year, he's been worth 0.7 this year. A singles-hitting first baseman doesn't have a lot of value.

Oakland Athletics: Jeff Samardzija
He doesn't have to be the staff ace, not with Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray around, but he's under fire to prove his first half with the Cubs was a true improvement. Remember, he had a 4.34 ERA with the Cubs in 2013. Most importantly, Billy Beane acquired Samardzija and Jason Hammel to help the A's win the AL West -- but a red-hot Angels team narrowed the deficit to a mere 1.5 games at the break. Considering Gray is in his first full season and Kazmir hasn't pitched more than 158 innings since 2007, Samardzija will be expected to be a workhorse for Oakland, the guy who goes seven or eight innings every start to prevent the bullpen from getting burned out.

Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton
I could point to Garrett Richards, who pitched like an ace in the first half, but I think he'll pitch close to that level in the second half; he's the real deal. So let's turn to Hamilton, who hit .295/.373/.449 in the first half with five home runs in the 46 games he played. The good news is this:

SportsNation

Which AL player most needs a big second half to help his team?

  •  
    30%
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    23%
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    12%
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    22%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,288)

2012 chase rate: 42.5 percent
2013 chase rate: 37.5 percent
2014 chase rate: 36.1 percent

He's continued to cut down on his free-swinging ways. The bad news is that he's struck out 52 times in 36 games since returning from the DL, with just three home runs. With Mike Trout crushing it and Albert Pujols on pace for 34 home runs, having a third big power threat would add even more to a lineup that led the AL in runs in the first half.

Seattle Mariners: Taijuan Walker
We know the Mariners have to improve the offense, but that's most likely going to have to come via a trade rather than internal improvement. We know Hernandez is great and that Hisashi Iwakuma remains a hidden gem. Chris Young had a terrific first half -- remember the whole Randy Wolf controversy, which basically allowed Young to come to Seattle in the first place? -- but Roenis Elias has struggled of late. That means Walker needs to find some consistency. As bad as the offense has been, Seattle has basically punted the fifth spot in the rotation all year with Erasmo Ramirez (4.58 ERA in 11 starts) and Brandon Maurer (7.52 in seven starts). If Walker lives up to his hype, he'll be a big improvement.

Houston Astros: Jon Singleton
We've seen George Springer flash his potential. Now it's time for Singleton to start doing the same.

Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
There's not much to watch with the Rangers in the second half, but Jurickson Profar's injury forced Odor to the majors earlier than anticipated. He's held his own so far but a strong second half could lead to an interesting position battle next spring with Profar.


The Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers play an intriguing two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit, with Hyun-Jin Ryu versus Justin Verlander on Tuesday and Zack Greinke versus Max Scherzer on Wednesday afternoon. The clubs split a two-game series in the second week of the season, with both games going 10 innings.

Is this a World Series preview? Well, it obviously has World Series potential. Based on the playoff odds from FanGraphs that we use at ESPN.com, however, neither team is quite the favorite in its league to advance to the World Series.

American League odds to advance to the World Series:

SportsNation

Which team is more likely to reach the World Series?

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    46%
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    54%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,138)

A's: 28.0 percent
Tigers: 25.2 percent
Angels: 15.6 percent
Orioles: 8.2 percent
Blue Jays: 6.6 percent

National League odds to advance to the World Series:

Nationals: 28.4 percent
Dodgers: 24.8 percent
Giants: 11.0 percent
Braves: 10.6 percent
Cardinals: 8.8 percent

Those odds factor in what has happened so far, projected results from the current roster, the remaining schedule, injuries and so on. The additions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel certainly make the A's stronger on paper. One thing that helps the Tigers' odds is that they are projected as an easy winner in the AL Central; their 84.0 percent odds of winning the division is the highest of any of the six divisions. Win the division and miss the wild-card game and your odds of reaching the World Series increase.

The belief in the Dodgers and Tigers rests on the strength of their rotations. But does either team really have the best rotation in its league? The Dodgers' rotation is fifth in the NL in runs allowed per nine innings -- although the top seven staffs are bunched between 3.47 and 3.67 runs per nine innings. In terms of FanGraphs WAR, the Dodgers are also fifth. Meanwhile, the Detroit rotation has been nowhere near as dominant as last year, when it recorded the highest WAR for a rotation in the past decade. The Tigers have allowed 4.35 runs per nine -- below the AL average of 4.26. The starters do, however, rank first in FanGraphs WAR.

It's certainly not decisive that either team has the best rotation in its league.

Even if that were the case, is that any kind of playoff guarantee? Hardly. I looked back at the past 10 years and checked the team rotation leaders in FanGraphs WAR and fewest runs allowed per nine innings in each league. This gave us 38 staffs, as the leaders in those categories usually didn't match up.

Three of those teams won the World Series -- the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and the 2005 White Sox. Four others reached the World Series. Eighteen missed the playoffs altogether. So of the 20 teams that did make the playoffs, seven reached the World Series (35 percent). Including the wild-card teams of the past two years, 84 teams have made the playoffs in the past 10 years, so the random odds of reaching the World Series is basically 1 in 4. So having the best rotation would appear to slightly improve a team's chances of making the World Series (of course, the differences between best and second-best and third-best are often minimal).

So, Dodgers-Tigers? If I had to pick today, I'll stick with the Dodgers, my preseason pick. I would change from the Rays to the A's in the AL. What do you think?

Here are the complete results of the past 10 years:

2013
AL WAR: Tigers (25.3) -- Lost ALCS
NL WAR: Dodgers (13.9) -- Lost NLCS
AL R/9: Royals (3.71) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Braves (3.38) -- Lost NLDS

2012
AL WAR: Tigers (20.6) -- Lost World Series
NL WAR: Nationals (16.7) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Rays (3.56) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Reds (3.63) -- Lost NLDS

2011
AL WAR: White Sox (19.7) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Phillies (24.7) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Rays (3.79) -- Lost ALDS
NL R/9: Phillies

2010
AL WAR: Red Sox (18.5) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Rockies (19.4) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: A's (3.86) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Padres (3.59) -- Missed playoffs

2009
AL WAR: Red Sox (18.8) -- Lost ALDS
NL WAR: Rockies (17.9) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Mariners (4.27) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Giants/Dodgers (3.77 ) -- Missed playoffs/Lost NLCS

2008
AL WAR: Blue Jays (20.3) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Diamondbacks (19.9) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Blue Jays (3.77)
NL R/9: Dodgers (4.00) -- Lost NLCS

2007
AL WAR: Red Sox (19.0) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Giants (13.0) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Red Sox (4.06)
NL R/9: Padres (4.09) -- Missed playoffs

2006
AL WAR: Angels (18.2) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Rockies (16.0) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Tigers (4.17) -- Lost World Series
NL R/9: Padres (4.19) -- Lost NLDS

2005
AL WAR: White Sox (18.8) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Marlins (17.4) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Indians (3.96) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Astros (3.74) -- Lost World Series

2004
AL WAR: Red Sox (22.3) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Cubs (17.2) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Twins (4.41) -- Lost ALDS
NL R/9: Cardinals (4.07) -- Lost World Series


It's the award-winning Rapid Fire! Today, Eric and I discuss the Angels' rotation, more replay confusion, Jose Altuve's chances of winning the batting, Manny Machado and the Orioles and whether Felix Hernandez wins the Cy Young Award and more!

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