SweetSpot: New York Yankees

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:24
AM ET
A hearty congrats to the Orioles, Nationals and Angels as they prepare for the postseason, especially Orioles fans, who have been waiting since 1997 to once again don the AL East crown. Meanwhile, former doormats (Pirates, Royals, and Mariners) are all sprinting towards the playoffs while past postseason regulars (Yankees, Red Sox, Braves) have wilted. The A's, on the other hand, cannot seem to stop the slide. And how about the performances of Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta? Wow. And wow.

What did we learn this week? The SweetSpot staff has been diligently helping us learn something every day.

On to the best from around the SweetSpot Network this week:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
D-backs have free agent options, limited flexibility in 2015: A recent report has D-backs leadership pointing at a $100 million payroll for next season. Jeff Wiser examines how that restraint may play out in the offseason. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
The Orioles don't have an MVP candidate, so who's the MVO? Pat Holden determines who has been the most valuable Orioles player in 2014. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Free agent wishcasting: The White Sox have been done for a while now, but have lots of money. Nick Schaefer takes a long look at potential free agent targets. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Projecting Michael McKenry: Ryan Hammon evaluates Michael McKenry, who has played his way into the starting catcher mix for the Rockies. Included is a chat with him about what he plans on working on this offseason and other topics. Follow on Twitter: @RyanHammon.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
What's going on with Glen? All-Star closer Glen Perkins is unraveling late in the season. Parker Hageman digs deep to figure out what's ailing the lefty. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Will Kevin Long be the sacrificial lamb? With the Yankee offense reduced to a punchline this season, William Tasker discusses Long's role in the situation and whether the hitting coach should end up taking the fall. Follow on Twitter: @FlagrantFan.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
Would Tim Lincecum make the Giants' postseason roster? Dave Tobener takes a look at what has been a horrendous year for Tim Lincecum, and how he stacks up against the other options Bruce Bochy has for assembling a postseason pitching staff. Follow on Twitter: @gggiants.



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.

Five things we learned Monday

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:41
AM ET


Check the standings, playoffs odds and upcoming schedule on the Hunt for October page.

1. "That's what speed do." A few years ago, Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, talking about his ability as one of the fastest players in the game, coined the phrase "That's what speed do." It's kind of a popular thing for Royals fan to quote although it's never quite caught on on a national level. Hey, it's the Royals. Well, it may be reaching a tipping point after the wheels of Dyson and fellow pinch runner Terrance Gore inspired a dramatic ninth-inning comeback as the Royals scored twice with two outs to beat the White Sox 4-3. Here's Dyson on second base with two outs, running on the pitch, and scoring as the ball bounces to the backstop; love the excited Royals announcers quoting Dyson. And here's Gore on second base after Norichica Aoki doubled. He's also running on the play and scores the winner on Lorenzo Cain's infield hit.

What a turn of events for the Royals, who trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the seventh. By that time, they knew the Tigers were on their (likely) way to a win over the Twins. Considering Sunday's bullpen fiasco created by manager Ned Yost, it was looking like doom-and-gloom time in Kansas City. So give them credit for coming alive late against the White Sox bullpen. Give Dyson credit for stealing third on his run -- a base that didn't seem all that important to risk with two outs -- especially considering he got picked off second in a similar scenario last week. As I wrote when Dyson got picked off, there are times you can throw the numbers out the window and just say either the player makes a play or he doesn't. Dyson made a big play.

This is one way the Royals have to manufacture runs. They're last in the AL in home runs and last in walks. They're not a good offensive team. But they have speed, ranking first in the league in steals, and FanGraphs rates them as the second-best baserunning team in the majors behind the Nationals (some of their speed advantage is negated by the likes of Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, two of the worst baserunners in the league). It's not a big statistical advantage -- plus-7.8 runs above average entering Monday -- but as Monday showed, there are moments in games where speed can be the deciding factor.

The night got even better when the Mariners lost, so the Royals are two up on Seattle for the second wild card, just one game behind the A's and still 1.5 behind the Tigers. (You know the caveat: The Royals are losing to the Indians in that suspended game.)

2. Kudos to Don Mattingly. The Dodgers' skipper didn't fuss around with Roberto Hernandez, yanking him in the fourth inning of a 2-2 game with the bases loaded. With lefty Charlie Blackmon up, Mattingly went to southpaw Paco Rodriguez. Blackmon doesn't have a huge platoon split, but his OPS against lefties was 70 points lower entering the game. Hernandez doesn't have a platoon split this year but has in the past. With all the extra relievers that September provides, there was no need to keep Hernandez in there as you probably would have before rosters expanded. The player still has to execute and Rodriguez got the groundout. The Dodgers went on to break it open with an 11-3 win, but it was a move that shows Mattingly understands that you can manage September differently from April through August.

Oh ... and the Giants lost, so L.A.'s lead in the NL West is now up to four games.

Oh ... if Hyun-Jin Ryu can't make it back for the playoffs because of his sore shoulder, is Hernandez really the team's No. 4 starter right now?

3. Stephen Strasburg with another gem. Christina Kahrl touched on how the Nationals are winning with roster depth and not on the backs of the heralded duo of Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But Strasburg has put together four straight solid starts now, with no walks, 28 strikeouts and just six extra-base hits allowed. His average fastball velocity those four starts: 95.7, 95.6, 95.9 and 95.3. This doesn't look like a guy tiring down the stretch.

One note, however: The past two starts came against the Braves, next to last in the NL in runs; the one before that came against the Phillies (in D.C.); and before that against the offensively impaired Mariners at Safeco. So I'm not quite ready to declare Strasburg has turned the corner from his inconsistent ways. Still, a good sign.

4. Good night, Yankees. Wait, did I write this on Sunday as well? As blog contributor Katie Sharp tweeted after the Yankees' 1-0 loss to the Rays, the Yankees have scored six runs in their past five games, their fewest in a five-game span since June 30-July 4, 1997. By the way, Derek Jeter got the day off. Understandable and needed. Jeter has completely wilted down the stretch, as much to blame as any player for the Yankees' struggles. Over his past 21 games, he's hit .145/.189/.169. And has still been hitting second in the lineup. Shame on you, Joe Girardi, for putting the individual over the team.

5. Tired Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix Hernandez hasn't been quite as dominant of late and Iwakuma has definitely not been sharp. Over his past five starts, Iwakuma has allowed 22 runs in 21.1 innings. On Monday, the Angels pounded him for seven runs in 3.1 innings. The big blow was Albert Pujols' three-run double with two outs in the third -- after Iwakuma had retired the first two batters of the inning. Now two games behind the Royals, the Mariners' playoff odds have dropped to 31 percent -- this after climbing over 50 percent heading into Saturday's game (with King Felix starting). But three straight losses and now it's a tough climb back.

For the Angels, Matt Shoemaker keeps winning, Mike Trout keeps hitting and they've won 11 of 12, averaging 8.2 runs per game in that stretch.

Ten questions for the stretch run

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:12
PM ET
Two weeks to go. Two weeks of gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing, pacing-in-front-of-the-TV baseball if you're a Kansas City Royals fan, hoping to see your team make the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Two weeks of wondering when Robinson Cano is due up again if you're a Seattle Mariners fan, hoping to see your team in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Two weeks for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants to trade blows in the quest for the National League West title. Two weeks for the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals to prove the cream always rises. Two weeks for the Oakland A's to avoid a historic collapse.

Two weeks to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, because there is still time for something outrageous to happen in this 2014 season. Here are 10 questions on my mind.

1. Are the A's safe now?

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJon Lester improved his record to 4-3 with the A's.
I think so. Consider where Oakland stood early in Saturday's game, having lost to the Mariners on Friday and then trailing Felix Hernandez 1-0 in the sixth inning. If Seattle holds on to win that game, they would have passed the A's in the wild-card standings. Instead, Oakland won 3-2 in 10 innings as Sonny Gray matched up with King Felix (even going an inning deeper) and then Fernando Rodney walked four batters in the 10th. On Sunday, Jon Lester survived four walks to pitch six shutout innings and the Mariners went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position as the A's won 4-0.

Wild-card lead: 1.5 over the Royals (who, keep in mind, are losing that suspended game in the 10th inning to Cleveland) and 2.5 over the Mariners.

Remaining schedule: The Rangers, Phillies and Angels at home and then a four-game finale in Texas. That should get them in.

2. Can the Mariners score enough runs to get in?

Look, Lloyd McClendon doesn't have a lot of great options once he gets past Cano and Kyle Seager, especially with the somewhat hot Dustin Ackley out with a sprained ankle. But why was he hitting Seager sixth Sunday? OK, Jon Lester, lefty-lefty matchup, I see that. Seager is still one of his better hitters against left-handers (not that he's great with a .255/.306/.385 line). Plus, Lester is actually a reverse platoon, so batting Chris Denorfia (.203 with the Mariners) and Corey Hart (.201 on the season) in the second and fifth spots and moving Seager down is one of worst decisions I've seen all season. There is zero logic behind it. None.

Sure enough, it came back to haunt the Mariners. In the seventh, after Lester had departed with a 2-0 lead, Seattle had runners at second and third with no outs. Austin Jackson -- he has been awful with the Mariners, by the way, hitting .239/.275/.289 with no home runs, eight walks and 45 strikeouts -- grounded out and pinch hitter Michael Saunders fanned. With Cano up, A's manager Bob Melvin put Cano on to pitch to Kendrys Morales, who predictably flew out (he has been awful as well, hitting .210 with a .272 OBP with Seattle).

Of course, Morales has been hitting cleanup ahead of Seager anyway, so maybe it didn't matter. But wouldn't it have been nice to have Seager on deck behind Cano? Does Melvin walk Cano if that's the case? Wouldn't it be nice to bat your second-best hitter in a terrible lineup higher in the order?

3. Did the Royals' season take a final wrong turn when Daniel Nava hit that grand slam?

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The Royals will definitely get their mental toughness tested after losing three of four to the struggling Boston Red Sox. The Royals led the Red Sox 4-3 on Sunday when manager Ned Yost turned to his bullpen to relieve Jason Vargas in the sixth inning with runners at second and third and one out. Did Yost turn to one of his dominant relievers here? OF COURSE NOT. Those guys pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. YOU HAVE TO STICK TO THE PLAN AT ALL COSTS. Hey, there are only 14 games left. Your franchise hasn't made the playoffs in 30 years. It's a huge, potentially game-deciding situation and you have two relievers who average more than 13 K's per nine and a third who hasn't allowed a home run all season. But don't deviate. Just another game, right? So bring in the guy who has allowed nine home runs and has 31 strikeouts in 56 innings. That's Aaron Crow. He walked Yoenis Cespedes and then Nava hit the salami. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland (who returned Friday) never got in the game. Job well done, Ned Yost.

4. Are the Atlanta Braves dead?

Probably, after an embarrassing three-game sweep to the terrible Texas Rangers, losing 2-1, 3-2 and then 10-3 on Sunday. They're four behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second wild card. Look, nobody should be surprised that Braves are only a game over .500. They weren't going to match last year's run prevention -- they allowed fewer runs than any Braves team that featured Greg Maddux, John Smoltz or Tom Glavine -- especially after the injuries in spring training to the starting rotation. The lineup has done pretty much what you would have expected, with no player really outperforming or underperforming expectations by all that much. The Braves were in the playoff race this long only because it's not a great playoff race.

5. Will Clayton Kershaw win 20?

Yep. After handcuffing the Giants for eight innings in a 4-2 win Sunday, he's 19-3. His next start should come Friday at Wrigley Field and then he should get one more the final week. The amazing thing is he should get to 20 wins in just 27 starts. Only one pitcher since 1901 has won 20 games in so few appearances -- Jesse Tannehill of the 1902 Pirates, who went 20-6 in 26 games.

6. Will the Orioles miss Chris Davis?

You know? Not that much. Yes, he had popped 26 home runs, but he's mostly made a lot of outs this year, with his .196 average and .300 OBP. Since Aug. 1, he had hit .189/.273/.439, so it's not as though he was doing much besides an occasional home run. After Manny Machado went down, Davis had mostly played third base. Now, Baltimore will make Steve Pearce the regular first baseman and use a Kelly Johnson/Jimmy Paredes platoon at third, it appears. That's not great but Johnson is hitting .219/.304/.373 on the season, not much worse than Davis' line, and Paredes has been hot. The defense is probably a step better without Davis as well.

7. Key injury to watch this week?

Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers, who left Friday's start and will have an MRI on his shoulder Monday. It appears rookie Carlos Frias will start in Ryu's place Wednesday in Colorado. Even minus Ryu, the Dodgers should win the NL West now that they've increased their lead to three over the Giants, but it would be a blow if he's unable to go the rest of the season or in the division series.

8. Biggest series to watch this week?

Here are three:

  • Mariners at Angels, Monday-Thursday: Mariners are 42-28 on the road, so maybe the road trip to Anaheim, Houston and Toronto is a good thing.
  • Tigers at Royals, Friday-Sunday: Right now, matchups are Kyle Lobstein-Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander-Vargas, Max Scherzer-James Shields. Yeah, might want to tune into that Sunday game.
  • Brewers at Pirates, Friday-Sunday: Big week for the Brewers with a road trip to St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
9. Biggest series to watch next week?

Three more for the final week:

  • Giants at Dodgers, Monday-Wednesday (Sept. 22-24): Kershaw should start the series finale.
  • Royals at Indians, Monday-Wednesday (Sept. 22-24): The teams will finish the bottom of the 10th inning of that suspended game that Cleveland leads 4-2 and then play their three-game series. Cleveland's hopes just about ended with the sweep to the Tigers this weekend, so they probably need a sweep against the Royals to have any shot at the wild card. And the Royals will only be staring 30 years of misery in the face.
  • Yankees at Red Sox, Friday-Sunday (Sept. 26-28): Will Derek Jeter have anything to play for?
10. So ... are we supposed to get excited about this wild-card stuff?

Well, that's up to you. Three divisions are all wrapped up and you have to like where the Cardinals and Tigers are sitting right now, even if their leads are only 3.5 and 1.5 games. It's possible that the final week is really going to be about a bunch of mediocre teams fighting for the fifth playoff spot in each league. It's not exactly Dodgers-Giants 1951, is it? I don't even know how excited the fans are. Yes, Mariners fans responded with a sellout crowd Saturday with Felix pitching, but that was down to 28,925 on a beautiful Sunday in Seattle. I guess fans were more interested in sitting home and watching the Seahawks. Royals fans are so pumped up about this division race that they drew 19,191 on Friday, 26,627 on Saturday and 19,065 on Sunday. Hardly playoff-sized crowds for games everyone says are essentially playoff games.

Maybe I shouldn't be so critical. The good news is long-suffering teams such as the Royals and Mariners matter. The Pirates could be heading back to the playoffs for the second straight season, the A's for a third straight year. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are awful. The Phillies are bad. The Cubs aren't relevant. The Yankees probably won't make it again. Bud Selig will go out with this legacy: He has his parity. The small-market teams can compete, year after year.

I guess that's something to get excited about.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:06
PM ET
A couple of scary, horrible moments Thursday night cast a pall across the league as first the otherworldly Giancarlo Stanton was drilled in the face by Mike Fiers and had to be removed from the stadium via stretcher. He suffered multiple facial fractures. Moments later, Chase Headley was hit in the chin with a pitch, also drawing blood. It's a reminder how incredibly dangerous this game can be and how tremendously focused these players are to be willing to stand in there. Here's to hoping for a speedy recovery to both. Buster Olney wonders if it's time to consider protection for hitters. Remember, it took an injury to a star catcher (Buster Posey) to marshal enough support to change the rules, so this could be a similar inflection point.

And hot off the press: the Orioles are losing Chris Davis for the rest of the regular season (and into the post-season) due to testing positive for amphetamines, a tough break for the AL East leaders.

On to the best from around the SweetSpot Network this week:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Deep thoughts about Inciarte: Despite being seventh or eighth on the major league depth chart when the season began, Ender Inciarte has put up 2.1 fWAR this season, mostly through outstanding defense. Jeff Wiser investigates. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
The 2008 Chicago Cubs: Great team or overachievers? Chet West takes a break from the less than stellar year that is the 2014 Cubs to look at the last team they sent to the postseason. Follow on Twitter: @chetwest19.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
What holes should the White Sox fill?: James Fegan takes a look at where the suddenly flush-with-cash White Sox should look to throw money at in free agency. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.


Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
Carrasco's historic streak continues: Ryan McCrystal takes a look at Carlos Carrasco's recent hot streak, and how it puts him in some elite company in the Indians' record book. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Back to school special: Juggling sports and school is tough. As kids across the country return to school, Richard Bergstrom polled Rockies players Brooks Brown, Charlie Culberson, Tyler Matzek, Ben Paulsen, Josh Rutledge and Drew Stubbs about what they liked about school and how they were able to balance athletics and grades. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.


Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Could Doug Mientkiewicz be the next Twins manager? If Ron Gardenhire is gone after this season, a former Minnesota first baseman could be positioning himself as the team's managerial successor. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Has Mark Teixeira finally learned to beat the shift? Katie Sharp looks at the BIP trends to see if Teixeira is finally changing his approach. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Should Yankees sign Victor Martinez this offseason? Matt Bove weighs Martinez as a free agent option to help the ailing Yankee offense in 2015. Follow on Twitter: @RAYROBERT9.

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.

Five things we learned Thursday

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:14
AM ET
The big story, sadly, was Giancarlo Stanton getting hit by a pitch. In fact, that was a disturbing theme of the night: Mike Trout got hit twice (leading to retaliation from the Angels); Derek Jeter got hit; Starling Marte got hit and had to leave the Pirates' game and Andrew McCutchen nearly got hit in the head. Some ugly stuff all night long.

Here are five other important results from the day and here's the Hunt for October page with standings, playoff odds and the upcoming schedule.

1. The Yankees were the big winners.

They go from nearly getting no-hit for the first time since 2003 (when six Astros did the trick) -- the Rays' Alex Cobb lost it with one out in the eighth when Chris Young doubled to right-center -- to winning in dramatic fashion when Young hit a three-run, walk-off homer off Jake McGee with one out in the ninth, capping a comeback that had them down 4-0 in the eighth. The A's lost and the Royals lost, so the A's lead over the Tigers for the first wild card is down to one game and the Yankees are now just four games behind the Tigers for the second wild. Hey, you never know ...

2. Carlos Santana is having a better season than you realize.

Remember when Santana was hitting .159 on May 25? That's when he went down with a concussion and missed 10 games. That time off seemed to have cleared his head in more ways than one. Since June 6, he's hitting .278/.394/.534 with 21 home runs and 60 RBIs -- he's tied for second in the majors in home runs since then and eighth in RBIs. He homered in both ends of the Indians' doubleheader against the Twins on Thursday as Cleveland won 8-2 and 2-0 and he's up to .235/.369/.449 for the season with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs while leading the majors in walks. Yes, those first two months count, but he's rebounded to have a solid season at the plate.

3. NL Central race is back on.

Francisco Liriano was great for the Pirates (12 K's, no runs in eight innings) in a 4-1 win over the Phillies and Johnny Cueto was great for the Reds in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals, Cincy's third straight win over St. Louis. The Cardinals' lead over the Pirates is back down to 2.5 games. The schedule still points to the Cardinals -- they have Colorado, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, the Cubs and Arizona the rest of the way, while the Pirates have the Cubs, Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Cincinnati -- but the Pirates are at least putting some pressure on them.

4. Kansas City's defense has a bad day.

The Royals are usually very good on defense but they made three errors and failed to make a couple other plays they should have made, helping the Red Sox to two unearned runs in a 6-3 loss. With Danny Duffy out, Royals manager Ned Yost started Liam Hendriks, the former Twin and Blue Jay with the 5.89 career ERA. He wasn't good and got knocked out in the third inning (although the defense didn't help). With a deep bullpen, maybe Yost could have considered being a little creative and turned it into a "bullpen" game, kind of like the Angels have done recently (including Thursday) with Cory Rasmus, even knowing he's only going to last a few innings at most. I'd rather see that approach rather then expecting Hendriks to pitch a good game.

5. At least Scott Kazmir pitched a good game.

Unfortunately for the A's, Chris Sale was better. White Sox 1, A's 0. Those Bob Melvin postgame interviews are getting depressing.

Five things we learned Sunday

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
8:13
AM ET
1. Oakland's pain continues.

After Oakland's dramatic ninth-inning rally on Saturday, the Astros returned the favor, scoring twice in the ninth to win 4-3. Especially painful: The Astros didn't even get a hit as Ryan Cook walked three batters and Fernando Abad walked two (around a sacrifice fly). Eric O'Flaherty, the team's interim closer with Sean Doolittle injured, was unavailable with lower back tightness, so Bob Melvin turned to Cook, who promptly walked Marwin Gonzalez on four pitches and threw only five of 18 pitches for strikes. With the Angels pounding the Twins, the A's are now seven back. It's all about holding on to a wild card now -- and avoiding becoming the first team of the wild-card era to have the best record in the majors at the All-Star break and miss the playoffs. Next up: A seven game road to Chicago and Seattle. That trip to Safeco shapes up as a huge series with the Mariners just two games behind the A's for the first wild card.

2. Wade Davis continues to throw up zeroes.

Filling in for Greg Holland (biceps tendinitis) in the ninth inning, Davis spun another scoreless inning to get his second save of the weekend -- closing out 1-0 and 2-0 wins over the Yankees, giving the Royals their first season-series edge over the Yankees since 1999. Davis has allowed five runs all season for a 0.71 ERA and hasn't allowed a run since June 25, a span of 31 appearances. Ned Yost has been careful not to ride his big three relievers too hard. With Holland out, Aaron Crow pitched out of the seventh on Sunday after Yordano Ventura threw six-plus scoreless innings and Kelvin Herrera was pushed back to the eighth.

Yost may have to ride that bullpen a little harder down the stretch, especially after Danny Duffy left his start on Saturday after one pitch with a sore shoulder. But he does have his three veteran starters lined up for the big series against the Tigers that begins Monday, with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and James Shields set to go.

3. Don't forget Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP race.

He went 3-for-5 with his 22nd home run as the Pirates finished off a sweep of the Cubs. McCutchen also went 3-for-5 on Saturday and ranks first in the NL in OBP and third in slugging.

4. Matt Kemp stepping up for the Dodgers.

Adrian Gonzalez had the big day on Sunday with two two-run homers, but Kemp also hit his third homer of September, after hitting five in August. Kemp is quietly 10th in the NL in slugging percentage and considering the struggles of Yasiel Puig of late (.207, no home runs since Aug. 1), Kemp may have to be the guy to carry the Dodgers down the stretch.

5. Derek Jeter had a nice career ... in case you had forgotten.

The Yankees had their Derek Jeter sendoff of sorts on Sunday, even though they still have more home games remaining. But maybe it was a good idea to do it now and get it out of the way, just in case the Yankees are fighting for a wild card down the stretch. Jeter wouldn't have wanted the ceremony to distract the team before a crucial game in the week's final season.

Of course, the Yankees went out and laid an egg with that shutout defeat. I figure it's going to take at least 90 wins to win the second wild card, which means the Yankees have to go 17-5 the rest of the way. Doesn't seem likely, does it?

Five things we learned Friday

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
12:41
AM ET
1. James Shields delivers a gem.

Shields has often been mocked for his "Big Game" nickname, but if the past two months are any indication, he might have earned the right to put it on the back of his baseball card.

Shields pitched another gem on Friday night, blanking the Yankees over 8 1/3 innings in the Royals' 1-0 win. He dominated the Yanks' lineup, retiring the first 11 batters he faced and holding the Yankees to just three hits.

With the Royals clinging to a slim lead in the American League Central, Shields was masterful in keeping Kansas City ahead of the Tigers in the division and on pace to snap the franchise's 28-season postseason drought.

Shields has cemented himself as the team's ace over the last two months, posting a 2.26 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP in 12 starts since July 7. In that span, he's allowed more than three earned runs just once, while going at least seven innings in seven of those 12 outings.

Like a true ace, he has also stepped up against the best competition over this two-month stretch, allowing only seven runs in four starts combined against the A's, Giants and Tigers.

With Shields at the top of his game and backed up by perhaps the most dominant bullpen in baseball, the Royals may have found the perfect formula to give their fans a taste of October for the first time in nearly three decades.

2. What might have been for Michael Pineda and Yankees.

The Yankees' playoff hopes are on life support following their brutal 1-0 loss to the Royals, as they wasted another brilliant effort by Pineda and fell even further back in the AL wild-card race.

The Yankees' rotation has been crippled by injuries this season, and perhaps none has been more significant than the four months that Pineda missed this season with a muscle strain in his shoulder.

Pineda has quietly pitched to a 1.80 ERA in nine starts, allowing no more than two runs in each game. The only starting pitcher with a lower ERA and at least 50 innings pitched this season is Clayton Kershaw (1.70).

Given Pineda's excellence on the mound, you can't help but wonder where the Yankees would be in the postseason race if Pineda had been healthy all year. Could they have challenged the Orioles for the AL East crown? Would they be looking up at multiple teams in the wild-card standings?

Some might say the answer is no, given the fact that Pineda can't hit and an underachieving offense has been the Yankees' biggest deficiency this season. Pineda knows all too well about the Yankees' slumping bats -- the team has given him just 16 runs of support during his nine starts.

3. Indians still very much in playoff race.

Although the Indians have hovered near .500 most of the season, they have stuck around in the playoff race by winning games like they did on Friday night against the White Sox.

They got another dominant effort from their starting pitcher, as Indians rookie T.J. House threw one-run ball over seven innings, lowering the rotation's ERA since Aug. 1 to an MLB-best 2.55. And the Indians got another clutch hit in extra innings, as pinch hitter David Murphy drove in the winning run on a base-loaded single in the 10th to give the Indians their AL-leading 11th walk-off win this season.

The Indians know something about September comebacks -- last year they went 21-6 in the final month to claim an AL wild-card spot -- and I wouldn't bet against another rally down the stretch this season, especially after Friday night's dramatic victory.

4. Marlins can play spoiler down the stretch.

The Marlins have a 1 percent chance to make the postseason, but that doesn't mean they have nothing to play for in September. In fact, they might be the senior circuit's biggest spoiler team, with a chance to significantly impact the NL wild-card race.

They played that role on Friday night, handing the Braves their third loss in the last four games and dropping them one game back in the wild-card standings. The Marlins are now 9-8 against Atlanta this season, with two more games left in the season series this weekend.

The Fish then travel to Milwaukee on Monday for four games against the team that the Braves are chasing in the wild-card standings. By the time that series is over, we may have a good idea of who is primed to take the second NL wild-card spot, and the Marlins will have played a huge part in deciding the fate of both teams in the hunt.

5. Brewers put an end to their losing ways.

There is finally something for Brewers fans to cheer about this month, as Milwaukee snapped its nine-game skid with a 6-2 win over the Cardinals at Miller Park.

Mike Fiers pitched another gem and Scooter Gennett drove in three runs, allowing the Brewers to pull to within three games of the Cardinals in the NL Central and reclaim sole possession of the NL's second wild card.

Fiers entered the rotation in the August after Matt Garza landed on the disabled list with a strain in his rib cage, but has hardly been a replacement starter, delivering a 1.94 ERA and a quality start in each of his nine outings.

The Brewers still have five more games remaining against the Cardinals, so there is still plenty of time to catch them in the division race. However, the Redbirds appear to have the easier schedule down the stretch with 16 of their 21 remaining games coming against below .500 teams, compared to 13 for the Brew Crew.

Katie Sharp blogs about the Yankees for SweetSpot network affiliate It's About the Money, and can be followed on Twitter at @ktsharp.

Five things we learned Thursday

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:45
AM ET
1. Michael Wacha will be able to help the Cardinals.

In a bit of a surprise move, the Cardinals started Michael Wacha in a key divisional game against the Brewers even though the second-year righty had pitched just two innings in his one minor-league rehab appearance as he comes back from the stress reaction in his right shoulder that caused him to miss 11 weeks. Most teams won't start a guy until he's ready to go at least 75 to 80 pitches, but the Cardinals were willing to give Wacha 50 pitches and turn it over to the bullpen. And why not? With expanded rosters, Cards manager Mike Matheny had plenty of relievers to work with once Wacha exited after three innings.

The decision paid off as Wacha gave up one run in his three innings, throwing 50 pitches on the nose. He gave up an RBI double in the first inning but settled down and most importantly his velocity was excellent, averaging 95.9 mph on his four-seam fastball. With Adam Wainwright still struggling and Justin Masterson booted to the bullpen, Wacha's return comes right as the Cardinals are ready to put the hammer on the Brewers and Pirates.

The Cardinals held on to win 3-2, handing the Brewers their ninth straight loss and increasing their division lead to a suddenly cushy four games. Wacha should slowly get extended out, throwing another 15-20 pitches in his next start.

2. Cardinals' outfield played some defense.

In the sixth inning, right fielder Jon Jay totally robbed the Brewers' Khris Davis with two runners on base. That wasn't even the play of the game. In the bottom of the eighth, with two runners on and one out for the Brewers, Logan Schafer lined a ball to deep center that Peter Bourjos flagged down. Two great catches, four runs saved. This is what happens when teams lose nine games in a row.

3. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke may have overmanaged just a bit.

In that eighth inning, Aramis Ramirez reached on an error and then Davis singled. Trailing 3-2, Roenicke ran for Ramirez, his cleanup hitter, at second base. As much as you hate to take your cleanup hitter out of the game, you can certainly understand the reasoning there. You need to get that run home. So that wasn't the worst decision. Except ... Roenicke then bunted with the next batter, but Martin Maldonado, pinch-hitting for Lyle Overbay, lined the bunt attempt back to the pitcher. Why run for Ramirez and then play for one run? A runner's speed is less important at third base than at second base. Plus, if you do tie the game, Ramirez's spot is likely to come up again but he'll be out of the game. I can see running for Ramirez, but only if you're going for the big inning.

As it turns, Ramirez's spot came up in the ninth, with two outs and two runners on, against Trevor Rosenthal. Roenicke pinch-hit Jason Rogers for Hector Gomez; Rogers was making just his second major-league plate appearance. He flew out to right field.

I'm not really blasting Roenicke. Without expanded rosters he certainly wouldn't have run for Ramirez in the eighth inning. It shows the ripple effect of moves. I think the error was not trying to go for the big inning when he had a chance.

4. Big win for the Yankees.

On a night the Tigers and Mariners would both win, the Yankees would have dropped another game back in the wild-card standings. Instead, they hit two dramatic home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Koji Uehara, with Chase Headley's walk-off blast giving the Yankees the 5-4 win in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. Headley has hit a solid .256/.353/.391 for the Yankees in a key trade-deadline pickup (and would make for a better No. 2 hitter than Jeter right now). The bullpen was once again key, throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Can the Yankees overcome Seattle and Detroit/Kansas City to win a wild card? I still don't see it. They host the Royals this weekend; maybe they don't need a sweep but a sweep would be nice. After that the schedule doesn't get much easier with Tampa, Baltimore, Tampa again, Toronto and Baltimore. Only a season-ending trip to Fenway looks easy. We finally get a season-ending series between the two rivals in the one year it may not matter.

5. Robinson Cano.

Well, everyone did say he wouldn't get the same attention playing for the Mariners. That, they were right about. He had his first four-RBI game with Seattle, raising his season line to a pretty nice .322/.388/.463. He's second in the AL in OBP, 10th in OPS, fifth among position players in WAR. He's on the short list of American League MVP candidates.
Fun piece from Brad Lefton of the Wall Street Journal from a few days ago that I just saw: Ichiro Suzuki, first-class Spanish trash-talker.

From the article:
Ichiro says he cannot carry a conversation in Spanish, which he has gradually picked up during his years in baseball. But, contrary to his stoic image, he feels compelled to engage Latin players.

"I feel a bond with them," he said. "We're all foreigners in a strange land. We've come over here and had to cope with some of the same trials and tribulations. When I throw a little Spanish out at them, they really seem to appreciate it and it seems to strengthen that bond. And besides, we don't really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can't."


Ichiro isn't signed past this season but hasn't announced his retirement. With the injury to Carlos Beltran, he's ended up playing a lot more than the Yankees probably anticipated, with over 300 plate appearances. He's hitting .283, although it's a pretty empty .283 with just 10 extra-base hits.

I'm sure Ichiro would love to hang on to get 3,000 career hits in the U.S. majors -- he's at 2,825, with 83 so far this season. He would need at least two more seasons similar to this one of part-time duty and I'm not sure many teams would want to give him that role, especially at the $6.5 million he's making with the Yankees. His value is pretty minimal; he's a fourth outfielder at best, a guy with no power and average-ish defense these days. He has a played a few games in center, so that helps as a backup, but you probably don't want to play him them except in spot duty.

He turns 41 in October, so it's possible he's scrambling for work next year. Let's hope he gets it. If only so we can mic him up and hear some of that trash-talking.
1. Mike Trout isn't exactly tearing things up right now.

As late as July 24, Trout's OPS was over 1.000 -- .309/.396/.606. Since then, 37 games, he's hit .227/.298/.413 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs but also with 47 strikeouts. Some of this is just the natural ebb and flow of a baseball season, but some of this is the streakiness that can occur with a hitter who strikes out a lot, which is what Trout has morphed into this season. He's gone hitless the last two games, both losses to the Astros. We've all heard about Trout's difficulties hitting pitches in the upper half of the zone -- he's hitting .151/.329/.253 on such location in 2014 -- and during this stretch, it's not surprising he's seeing more pitches up in the zone, 29 percent of all pitches compared to 24 percent through July 23.

2. Alex Gordon continues to come up big.

Gordon is going in the opposite direction as Trout, hitting .299/.367/.639 with 10 home runs over his past 27 games, during which the Royals have gone 18-9. His two-run shot in the fourth inning staked the Royals to the lead in a 4-1 win over the Rangers and underrated Jason Vargas tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 3.14.

3. Derek Jeter is still batting second.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox behind seven solid innings from Hiroki Kuroda and Brian McCann's 4-for-4 performance, but let's address this Jeter issue. He went 1-for-3 with a walk, but his season line is .261/.309/.319. His on-base percentage is below the league average and his power is way below the league average. Why is he still hitting in the second spot, the position sabemetricians have deemed the most important in a lineup? OK, we know why he's hitting second. Joe Girardi doesn't have the guts to move Jeter down in the lineup and Jeter doesn't have the leadership to move himself down. Jeter has started 122 games, 119 of them batting second. Guess which team's No. 2 hitters have scored the fewest runs in the majors? Which team has the second-fewest home runs from the No. 2 spot? The Yankees are 21st in OPS from that spot, and that's only because the non-Jeter No. 2 hitters have gone 26-for-74 (.351), with two of the five home runs.

4. Justin Verlander isn't going to figure things out.

Every time he throws out a decent start, everyone expects that it's a sign he's going to turn things around. In his previous start he had allowed one run in seven innings. But on Wednesday, he gave up seven runs to the Indians. It's September. Among 95 qualified starting pitchers, he's 90th in ERA. Among 131 pitchers with at least 100 innings, he's 117th in ERA. It's time to stop expecting JUSTIN VERLANDER to turn up.

5. Miguel Gonzalez pitching himself into O's playoff rotation.

With his first career shutout, Gonzalez has now allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his past nine starts. Has he solidified a spot in the playoff rotation behind Chris Tillman? Maybe, but the home runs are still a concern. In those nine starts, he's allowed nine home runs, but just 15 runs. As long as they're solo shots, he's OK, but there's some playing with fire here. He's also struck out just 39 in 63 innings. Buck Showalter will have an interesting decision between Gonzalez, Bud Norris Kevin Gausman and Wei-Yin Chen to see who gets left out of the four-man playoff rotation.
video

You know what baseball is lacking this season? A bad guy. Who are we supposed to root against? The Red Sox are dead, the Cardinals are scuffling along and while the Dodgers have a huge payroll that fans love to despite, I find it hard to root against seeing Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig in the postseason.

Of course, lurking there, as always, are the New York Yankees. Back in January, after the Yankees had spent nearly $500 million in the offseason to lure in Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, plus a fewer other lesser parts, I wrote that they're still baseball's evil empire. In sports, we need a bad guy, and the Yankees' free agent orgy created another reason to root against them, even after they missed the playoffs last season.

SportsNation

Do you want to see the Yankees make the postseason?

  •  
    44%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,784)

The Yankees are 68-62, 3.5 games behind the Mariners for the second wild card. They've hung in there despite the injuries to the starting rotation, despite being outscored by 30 runs so far. Still, they're a pretty mediocre team, even with some of the deadline acquisitions. Tanaka was fun, the way he burst on to the scene. The Michael Pineda pine tar incident in April was amusing. But the thing with the 2014 Yankees? They're not in the least bit compelling. Even last year's patchwork squad of Triple-A retreads was sort of intriguing in a train wreck sort of way, amazing that such a depleted roster remained in the wild-card race most of the season.

This year's team is simply boring. Tanaka was great until he got injured, Ellsbury has been OK, but nobody is having a memorable, MVP-caliber season. It's mostly a roster of past-their-prime vets on the downward slope of their careers. Even the whole Derek Jeter retirement saga has grown tedious. Watching him play certainly isn't that interesting: He's an old, singles-hitting shortstop without any range. Yes, respect the amazing career he's had, but this isn't 1996 or 2004; it's 2014, and he's no longer a captivating player to watch except as a memory.

So I ask: Do you want the Yankees to make the postseason? Is October better with them in it, giving us that necessary foil? Plus one last swan song for Jeter? Maybe the return of Tanaka? Maybe Pineda pitching a playoff game in the cold autumn air with a big blob of pine tar on his neck?

My answer is no. And not because I'm a Yankees hater. There are simply teams with better October stories to tell. Jeter's has already been told, legend intact. I'd like to see Felix Hernandez or Mike Trout or Alex Gordon tell theirs.
With the pennant races heating up, I'm thinking of trying this each morning the rest of the season: Sort of a quick-hitting look at some key results from the previous night and what may mean or not mean. Let's see how it goes.

1. Oakland's rotation isn't carrying the A's.

Scott Kazmir got bombed on Sunday night (10 hits and seven runs), although the A's still won the series from the Angels, winning two of three and getting better results from Sonny Gray on Friday and Jon Lester on Saturday. Jeff Samardzija made his first start for the A's on July 6 and Billy Beane later added Jon Lester; nonetheless, the A's are just 22-20 since Samardzija's debut. Don't point fingers just at the offense; the rotation has a 4.00 ERA since then, 17th in the majors and just ninth in the American League. The offense, meanwhile, is fourth in the AL in runs scored since July 6, averaging 4.38 runs per game. True, that's down from 5.0 runs per game through July 5, but good enough if the starting pitching was performing better.

2. Brewers' rotation depth is paying off.

Who would have thought that it would be Milwaukee's depth in the rotation compared to St. Louis' that could pay off in the long run? Mike Fiers allowed two hits and two runs in seven innings in a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh and is 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four starts filling in for Matt Garza. His success isn't unprecedented; remember, he had a solid rookie season in 2012 before collapsing last year. But he had pitched well in Triple-A (2.55 ERA, great peripherals), suggesting he had turned things around. Analysts have had a hard time believing in him due to his lack of fastball velocity but he keep hitters off-balance and has a deceptive delivery. Rookie Jimmy Nelson has been solid in his eight starts (4.15) as well. Meanwhile ...

3. Cardinals may have to reconsider Justin Masterson's rotation slot.

Masterson had another bad start for St. Louis, lasting just three innings in a 7-1 loss to Philly. He's 2-2 with a 7.53 in five starts with the Cardinals (and John Lackey hasn't been great either, with a 5.40 ERA). Among 124 pitchers with at least 100 innings, Masterson is 124th in OBP allowed -- .388. Considering that Adam Wainwright's second-half ERA has risen from 1.83 to 4.70, with a corresponding decline in strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.26 to 1.76, and it's amazing the Cardinals remain just 1.5 games behind the Brewers. The Cardinals may have to stick with Masterson, as there isn't a clear option to replace him unless they want to give Carlos Martinez another shot (unlikely) or rookie Marco Gonzalez, who struggled with his control in three earlier starts.

4. The Nationals are the best team in baseball right now.

I had Washington No. 1 in this week's Power Rankings, over the A's and Angels (who lost ace Garrett Richards for the season). They pounded the Giants 14-6 to win that series. Earlier in the week, they completed a stretch of five walk-off wins in six games and they're 17-5 since Aug. 2. All season, we've been waiting for the Nationals to click; they're finally clicking. If there's minor cause for concern, it's the continued inconsistency of Stephen Strasburg. Coming off back-to-back one-run outings, the Giants knocked him out after four innings and five runs. If you're Matt Williams, how do you line up your playoff rotation? I have to think Strasburg, at best, goes after Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann.

5. The Yankees aren't dead yet.

Brian McCann delivered a dramatic two-out, full-count, pinch-hit three-run homer in the 10th inning to give the Yankees their second walk-off win in three days and their fourth win in a row. The Yankees continue to play above .500 ball despite getting outscored; they're minus-34 runs on the season and they're 12-9 in August while getting outscored 81-77. They have a chance to become the first team ever to finish above .500 in consecutive seasons while getting outscored both years. We can analyze that any number of ways, but the Yankees keep finding ways to win; in shorthand, they win the close games (21-16 in one-run games) and lose the blowouts (10-18 in games decided by five or more runs). This week will be interesting: A seven-game road trip against playoff contenders Kansas City (one game), Detroit (three) and Toronto (three). The playoff odds for the Yankees remain slim -- 8.8 percent to win the division, just 3.3 to win the wild card, so the analytics suggest their best path to the postseason is a Baltimore collapse.

I don't see that happening, but we've all learned never to count out the Yankees when the lineup card suggests they're not very good.


ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:49
PM ET
With a little more than a month left in the season and many division races still not settled, it's not too early to talk about what might have been, what might still could be, and what kinda is what we thought it kinda is ... or was ... or whatever. Just within the last week, we've had two new division leaders and a slew of injuries to reshuffle expectations. Did I mention that the waiver wire deadline hasn’t passed yet? Yup, it's a changing landscape, and whoever's doing the painting is keeping the 2014 baseball season a little squiggly.

Feel free to chime in on what you think might happen in the comments section below.

And without further ado -- because if we wait too long, these thoughts might go out of date faster than the Tulowitzki-to-Yankees rumors – on to the best of the SweetSpot Network contributing sites from the past week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Roundup: Jackson Trade, Lessons from Saber Seminar: Ryan P. Morrison examines the D-backs' trade for Brett Jackson and discusses a dozen or so nuggets of cutting-edge sabermetrics wisdom from last weekend's Saber Seminar in Boston. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Jon Shepherd takes the Ice Bucket Challenge: Jon Shepherd, whose family has been impacted by ALS, has his take, but highlights the need to secure more long-term funding beyond episodic viral campaigns. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Should the Cubs Pass on Signing an Ace this Offseason?: As we get closer and closer to the offseason, Joe Aiello wonders whether the Cubs should be looking at a nontraditional route when it comes to building their rotation for next season. Follow on Twitter: @vftb

Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
The Evolution (or Devolution) of the Indians Pitching Staff: Stephanie Liscio takes a humorous month-by-month look at the fans' confidence level in the Tribe's starters. Follow on Twitter: @StephanieLiscio

Don't Give Up on Tomlin: Ryan McCrystal analyzes how Josh Tomlin has been a victim of bad defense and bad luck in recent weeks. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Honoring Todd Helton: The Colorado Rockies retired Todd Helton's jersey number, the first Rockies player afforded such an honor. Richard Bergstrom reminisces on his career.

Rockies Bloggers Panel Recording 8/16/14: It was one of the most anticipated panels of the year, filled with bloggers flying into town to commemorate Todd Helton's retirement and a special guest. Members of Rockies Zingers, Purple Row, Rockies Review and Mile High Sports discuss the Rockies injuries and trainers/coaches along with the potential offseason moves. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers


New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Brian McCann's Crazy Reverse Platoon Split: Brad Vietrogoski attempts to explain the flip-flop of Brian McCann's production against right- and left-handed pitching this season. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS

What If: The 1994 World Series: Domenic Lanza looked at how the '94 Fall Classic could have played out if the Yanks and Expos had stayed on track as the best teams in baseball that year. Follow on Twitter: @DomenicLanza

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Cardinals walk off via hit-by-pitch for second time this season: Jon Jay helped the Cardinals win their second straight game in their final at-bat Tuesday night when he drew a bases-loaded plunking from Reds reliever J.J. Hoover. The Cardinals hadn’t had a walk-off hit-by-pitch in more than 25 years, but now -- including Greg Garcia back on May 13 -- they’ve had two in 2014. Pip lists all of the walk-off HBPs over the last 25 years. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes

San Francisco Giants, West Coast Bias
Giants pursuing Rusney Castillo: Tim Kennedy delves into the Giants' dealings with Cuban player Rusney Castillo. With the possibility of being a contributor to a major league team in 2014, he could certainly help out a Giants ball club fighting for its life. Follow on Twitter: @giantsbaseball

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The Replacements: Brandon Land takes a look at the current roster for the Rangers, and why it's unreasonable to have high expectations in a season so rife with injury. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
8:01
AM ET
So how's that deadline deal working out for your team? Got buyer's remorse yet? Injuries continue to be the underlying ripcurrent across the MLB ocean and this week saw some unfortunate ones, as Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutcheon were both hurt (really, Tony?), and the already injured Cliff Lee was officially shelved for the season. Lesser names -- but still big impact to their teams -- like David Phelps and the newly acquired Allen Craig -- also hit the DL. By the way, what happened to preseason MVP candidate Bryce Harper?

Speaking of bad news, pseudo-doctor Tony Bosch surrendered and plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids. I don't much care to hear any more names. Having just read "Blood Sport" about Bosch and Biogenesis and the infiltration of PEDs throughout baseball, the need for more dirt to be thrown on this great game isn't there for me.

But at least Cubbies fans get their latest peek at their future, with the call-up of Javier Baez. And there's always the feel-good stories like Jose Abreu, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout to bring you back. Lastly, a hearty congrats to A.J. Preller, the new GM of the San Diego Padres. You hirin', bro?

On to the best of the SweetSpot Network this week, touching on some of these issues:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Operation Beanball is the newest embarrassment: After Paul Goldschmidt's hand was broken last Friday, the D-backs, from Miguel Montero up to Tony La Russa, were outspoken about retaliation. As Jeff Wiser explains, the club's conduct is adding insult to injury. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Caleb Joseph is an All-Star: Jon Shepherd delves into the surprising season Caleb Joseph has had, going from unprotected in the Rule 5 draft to, perhaps, being one of the best catchers in baseball. Of course, you know, small sample size. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Zingers in da clubhouse: What's it like to have media access for the first time? Richard Bergstrom literally walks through the Rockies clubhouse, dugout and press box and even talks to a player or two without goofing up too much. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Will Alex Meyer pitch in the majors this year? Twins fans have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the top pitching prospect, but Nick Nelson explains why they may be waiting until 2015. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About the Money
Whither the 2015 rotation: Domenic Lanza looks ahead to the Yankees' options for the 2015 rotation. All told, it's not that bad if they can make the moves to land some of the available arms. Follow on Twitter: @DomenicLanza.

McCarthy mixes fastballs brilliantly to tame the Tigers: Brandon McCarthy has pitched well since joining the Yankees in July. Brad Vietrogoski examined his latest start against the Tigers and illustrates just how good he was at mixing his pitches. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
With trade, both Cardinals and Red Sox may have relied on availability heuristic: Let’s take another look at the deadline trade involving John Lackey, Corey Littrell, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. What made the teams’ respective GMs pull the trigger on this particular package of players? Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.

Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Watching Nick Franklin: R.J. Anderson breaks down the strengths and weakness of the new Rays infielder. Follow on Twitter: @R_J_Anderson.

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.

Over the past week or so, somebody has been bombing media members with emails under various aliases, including Brian Cashman, Alex Rodriguez, Mickey Rivers, Babe Ruth and, oddly, Earl Weaver, since all the emails are about the Yankees. Most of them are criticizing Cashman for building a mediocre team despite a high payroll.

Well, it's true that despite a $208 million Opening Day payroll that ranked second in the majors behind the Dodgers, the Yankees haven't exactly put out a $208 million product.

But they certainly aren't lacking in interesting plots and surprising stories.

They just took three out of four against the Tigers, facing the past three American League Cy Young Award winners in the series. They held the Tigers to six runs in four games, just 24 hits, and Thursday's hero was a rookie named Shane Greene, who pitched eight scoreless innings to outduel Rick Porcello 1-0. When Greene allowed a leadoff single in the ninth (I'm not sure why manager Joe Girardi was letting him face the meat of the Detroit lineup for a fourth time) and then closer David Robertson walked Victor Martinez with Miguel Cabrera coming up as a pinch hitter, it appeared the Yankees may squander Greene's gem. Instead, Robertson induced a double-play grounder from Cabrera and got Don Kelly to pop out for his 31st save in 33 chances.

The Yankees are 60-54, tied with the Royals at just a half-game behind the Blue Jays for the second wild card (Kansas City and Toronto both play Thursday night). No, 60-54 isn't remarkable considering the $200-plus million payroll, but it is pretty remarkable considering four of the Yankees' original five starters are currently on the disabled list.

The Opening Day rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have started exactly half of the Yankees' 114 games. Only Kuroda has survived the injury bug (and now David Phelps, third on the team with 17 starts, is also out). In this age with so much parity across the sport, it's often good health that determines standings as much as talent and payroll. Of course, you can invest in durable players; it's not necessarily a surprise that the opening rotation didn't stay on the field considering Pineda hadn't pitched in the majors in two years, Nova missed time last year and Sabathia had years of wear on his left arm. The Yankees aren't in this position merely because of bad luck.

The Yankees began the day 10th in the AL in runs and eighth in runs allowed. The bullpen has been terrific with Dellin Betances setting up Robertson, but the Yankees' record when leading entering the seventh, eighth or ninth innings isn't any better than the major league average. Brett Gardner has been getting the attention for his recent power surge, but the Yankees lead the majors with 24 home runs since the All-Star break. Still ... the numbers don't seem to add up to a playoff contender.

But they keep finding a way to win. Take Greene. A year ago, the right-hander gave up 175 hits in 154⅓ innings between Class A and Double-A. Baseball America rated him the team's No. 16 prospect before the season. That scouting report in Baseball America didn't mention a cutter, but he threw it 28 times against the Tigers. With a 93-95 mph sinking fastball that he keeps down in the zone, and a hard slider, there's talent here that suggests he isn't a complete fluke despite his mediocre minor league numbers.

Of course, the Yankees also added reinforcements at the trade deadline; it remains to be seen what Stephen Drew, Chase Headley and Martin Prado will contribute, but while they may not be huge impact players, they should provide at least minor upgrades over the likes of Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki.

When Tanaka went down, it certainly seemed like the Yankees' season was over. Now, the rest of the American League teams may wish they had knocked out the Yankees when they had a chance. This is a better team than last year's scrappy bunch that somehow won 85 games (OK, "scrappy" and "Yankees" don't exactly go together) and while I'm still skeptical of this team's playoff chances, I'm pretty skeptical of all the teams fighting for that second wild card. We can do all the analysis and run all the projections, but it's wide-open for the second wild card.

And the Yankees may just sneak in with this group of past-their-prime veterans and Plan B starters.

It's an intriguing story, even if you don't like the Yankees, and even if Mickey Rivers isn't happy with the state of the franchise.

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