SweetSpot: New York Yankees

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
11:09
AM ET
This weekend the 2014 regular season winds down to a close. For those teams who were contenders at the All-Star break, the conclusion is a tad bit sad. To others? It might even be a relief.

Yet for those who play on into October, they get more than the chance to etch their franchise's name into the record books. The long hours clocked in on the ballfield and in the training room pay off with an opportunity to win it all. And for the personnel staffing those winning organizations, there is some validation for all that time spent at the office, away from their families long before the first pitch is thrown and well after the stadium lights turn off. Those efforts at the ballpark, from the clubhouse attendant doing laundry through the public relations staffer juggling media requests through the owner wringing his hands over costs and revenue, pay off with a bit of proof that whatever they did, at least for this year "worked." They even get some extra baseball out of it.

And for the casual fans, the newspaper writers, the sports broadcasters and the bloggers, the end of the regular season is a time to look back or, in other cases, to look ahead to 2015. As the last ICYMI for 2014, feel free to weigh in your last thoughts for the year about your team in the comments section below.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Lamb fitting his way into time share: He may not have gaudy home run totals to show for it, but Jake Lamb's line drive approach produced truly amazing minor league numbers. Ryan P. Morrison examines Lamb and how he could fit in with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Aaron Hill. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
A statistical look at previous O's rotations since Baltimore's last AL East crown: Matt Kremnitzer looks back at previous Orioles' rotations since 1997, the last time they won the American League East title. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Paul Konerko -- adults only: As the entire White Sox fan base says its weepy goodbyes to a franchise mainstay, James Fegan looks at Konerko's career as a testament to the value of maturity. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
LaTroy Hawkins -- ageless wonder: Ryan Hammon profiles LaTroy Hawkins, in pursuit of his 1000th career appearance. Besides being a fan favorite on Twitter (@LaTroyHawkins32), in a season with frustrating performances out of the bullpen, Hawkins has been one of the steadiest pitchers on the Rockies staff. Follow on Twitter: @RyanHammon.

Carlos Gonzalez's trade value: Eric Garcia McKinley discusses Carlos Gonzalez's trade value, considering his talent and an injury history with an eye towards what the Rockies have and what they'll need in the future. Follow on Twitter: @garcia_mckinley.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
The Twins have a problem: As they head toward another last-place finish and crowds continue to dwindle at Target Field, Nick Nelson lays out the major problem the Twins face. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Jeter providing one last memory: Brad Vietrogoski discusses Derek Jeter's mini-hot streak against Toronto in the final homestand of his career.

Yankeemetrics: Jeter farewell edition: As the final games of his career tick down, Katie Sharp looks back at some of her favorite Jeter statistics. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.


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I know we've all been inundated with Derek Jeter stories, columns, videos and tributes the past few days -- well, all season long -- but as I was watching his final home game, I saw this tweet:


Now, Rob is a biased Yankees fan, but it leads to a good question: How come Jeter never won an American League MVP award? He played on winning teams his entire career, one of the primary criteria writers consider, and you'd think the respect everyone in the game has for him would have helped in the voting.

The closest he came to winning an MVP was in 2006, when he finished second to then-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, 320 points to 306. Morneau received 15 first-place votes and Jeter 12 (Twins pitcher Johan Santana received the other one). Morneau had a good year but was a weak MVP choice. Writers overrate RBI guys, and Morneau knocked in 130 runs, second in the league. He also had the advantage of being a breakout player that year, improving from a .239 average and 22 home runs to .321 and 34. He hit .342 in the second half, and that seemed to factor in as the Twins rallied on the final weekend to edge out the Tigers for the AL Central title.

I'd suggest Jeter had a better season:

Morneau: .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, 3 SB, 4.3 WAR
Jeter: .343/.417/.483, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 118 R, 34 SB, 5.5 WAR

Morneau drove in 33 more runs, but Jeter scored 21 more while playing the more demanding defensive position. In fact, Baseball-Reference.com rated Jeter the most valuable offensive player in the AL in 2006, with 7.1 oWAR (other hitters had better overall numbers, but Jeter combined strong numbers with more than 700 plate appearances).

But did that make Jeter the best player in the league? Not necessarily. His overall WAR was dragged down by poor defensive metrics -- minus-16 Defensive Runs Saved compared to an average shortstop. (Using less advanced stats, Jeter made 4.14 plays per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 4.49; over the 1,292 innings he played at shortstop, that's 50 fewer plays made, so it's hard to deny the metrics.)

Anyway, there wasn't a clear MVP favorite that year. By WAR, it was Santana:

Johan Santana, Twins: 7.6
Grady Sizemore, Indians: 6.6
Vernon Wells, Blue Jays: 6.2
Carlos Guillen, Tigers: 6.0
Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees: 6.0

Jeter ranked 10th overall, seventh among position players. I remember at the time thinking Joe Mauer -- he edged Jeter for the batting title and was worth 5.8 WAR -- was the best candidate. But Jeter would have been a solid choice, and you wonder if he would have won if he had gotten three more RBIs.

His best season was probably 1999, in which he hit .349/.438/.552 with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and 134 runs scored. Of course, this was in the middle of the Crazy Offense era. Jeter's 102 RBIs ranked 27th in the AL, but he did rank fifth in OPS. It was a split vote that year, with six different players receiving first-place votes, although Jeter received just one. The voting:

Ivan Rodriguez, Rangers: 252 points (7.0 WAR)
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: 239 points (9.7 WAR)
Roberto Alomar, Indians: 226 points (7.4 WAR)
Manny Ramirez, Indians: 226 points (7.3 WAR)
Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers: 193 points (5.2 WAR)
Derek Jeter, Yankees: 177 points (8.0 WAR)

Yep, Jeter led AL position players in WAR. That was the year Pedro went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213⅓ innings -- in my book, the best pitching season of the past 50 years -- so it's hard to argue against him, although obviously the voters did. The WAR numbers are close enough among Rodriguez, Alomar, Ramirez and Jeter that you could fight any of their cases, but it's surprising Jeter didn't get more support.

Anyway, Jeter also finished third in 1998 (he was second among AL position players in WAR) and third in 2009, when he was sixth among position players in WAR. The voters made the right choice with Mauer in 2009, but Juan Gonzalez (4.9 WAR) was a bad choice in 1998. Nomar Garciaparra (7.1 WAR) finished ahead of Jeter (7.5 WAR) in the voting, and it probably should have gone to one of them or Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who led with 8.5 WAR. Considering that was the year the Yankees won 114 games, it's kind of surprising in retrospect Jeter received only two first-place votes. (And what was the Juan Gonzalez infatuation all about back then?)

So how come Jeter didn't win an MVP award? Unlike everything else in his career -- including his game-winning hit on Thursday -- the stars just didn't quite align.
On Tuesday, Nelson Cruz of the Orioles hit his 40th home run, saving us from the deprivation of not having a 40-homer guy for the first time since 1982. That year Reggie Jackson of the Angels and Gorman Thomas of the Brewers tied for the major league with 39, and what a pair that was. Dave Kingman of the Mets led the National League with 37. Those three players also ranked 1-2-3 in the majors in strikeouts -- Reggie and Kingman had 156 and Stormin' Gorman had 143, so those guys were playing 2014-style baseball 32 years ago. Ahead of their time!

Reggie had been a free agent that year and George Steinbrenner once said letting Jackson leave was the biggest mistake he ever made. That's not really true. Reggie did have a big season in 1982 but that was kind of a last hurrah. He played through 1987 -- remember that return to Oakland? -- but didn't really provide much value after '82. Of course, 1982 was the Yankees tried to win with speed -- Dave Collins! Jerry Mumphrey! Ken Griffey Sr.! -- and didn't steal that many bases and went 79-83.

While nobody hit 40 in 1982, sixteen players did reach 30. This is kind of interesting: Ten of the 16 were in their 30s. This year, only 10 players have hit 30, even though we have four more teams and generally smaller parks. It’s worth noting that only seven of those 16 players from 1982 struck out 100 times, although it's also worth nothing that four of this year’s 30-homer guys are under 100 K’s – Victor Martinez, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz. Speaking of which, Ortiz doesn’t get much credit for how he’s changed his game as he’s aged. This is a guy who struck out 145 times in 2010; even though strikeouts have risen across the sport his have decreased. Anyway, of the top 40 home run hitters this season, only seven have so far struck out fewer than 100 times.

So, yes, it’s a different era. In 1982, the average strikeouts per game was 5.0; this year it’s 7.7. Overall, there are slightly more home runs in 2014: 0.87 per game compared to 0.80 in 1982. While we have fewer 30-homer guys in 2014, teams today have more power throughout the lineup. That shouldn’t be a surprise; the banjo-hitting infielders and Omar Moreno-type outfielders have basically been phased out by players who sell out to hit 15 home runs a year. With so many strikeouts (and give credit to the pitchers as well), offense is down, as we all know: 4.07 runs per game compared to 4.30 in 1982.

That decline in offense has led to many "baseball is dying" stories of late. Yes, offense is way down compared to the steroids-infused 1990s and 2000s but the difference between 2014 and 1982 is about one run every four games. Is that really noticeable until you look at the numbers?

Anyway, the first 40-homer guy was, apropos, Babe Ruth, who cracked the 40-homer and 50-homer barrier in 1920, when he joined the Yankees and swatted 54. Rogers Hornsby became the first National Leaguer to reach 40 when he hit 42 in 1922. That was pretty impressive; only one other player in the NL even hit 20 that year. Once the 40-homer had barrier had been reached, the lowest league-leading total, not including the 1981 strike season, was Nick Etten of the Yankees in 1944 with 22. But that was during the war without many of the regular major leaguers and the baseball was made out of mud or cornstalks or something. Not including World War II, the lowest total is 23 by Ralph Kiner of the Pirates in 1946. He and Johnny Mize both hit 51 the next year, so maybe the NL was still using leftover mushballs in 1946. Could be the case. Owners were cheap back then. From 1971 through 1977, the AL actually went seven seasons in a row without a 40-homer hitter. No wonder Jim Rice beat out Ron Guidry for the 1978 AL MVP Award when he hit 46.

The season with most 40-homer guys is 1996, with 17 (long live Brady Anderson and Toddy Hundley!). There were 16-homer guys in 2000. And the top 10 seasons all occurred between 1996 and 2005. So steroids are bad but baseball is dying because we don't have enough players juicing up and hitting 40 these days. Can't win.

Of course, we have nearly double the teams now as prior to the 16-team circuit that existed before the first expansion in 1961. That year saw eight 40-homer guys between the 18 teams in the majors (including Roger Maris with 61, the only year he reached 40). Plus they played 154 games before expansion, so a 40-homer season now is kind of the same as a 38-homer season in a 154-game season (one homer every four games). Using a cutoff of 38 home runs per season, most years in the 1950s saw five or six guys reach that total, so the rate of 40-homer guys back then was pretty high.

Ruth has the most 40-homer seasons with 11. Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew each have eight. Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. have seven. The most obscure 40-homer guy? Well, probably Cy Williams, who hit 41 in 1923 for the Phillies. That was a long time ago which makes him obscure. The Phillies played in Baker Bowl, maybe the greatest hitter’s park ever, a little bandbox with a short right-field fence. Guys put up crazy numbers there and Williams hit 26 of his 41 home runs at home. Williams led the NL four times in home runs, including in 1927 when he was 39 years old, which I believe makes him the oldest player to lead his league in home runs. According to this bio, after his playing days, Williams retired to his dairy farm in Wisconsin "where he worked as an architect and started a construction business. Some of the finest buildings on Wisconsin's Upper Peninsula stand today as tributes to his architectural talent."

So, thank you, Nelson Cruz, for giving us reason to mention Cy Williams.
With the news that Jacob deGrom has been shut down by the New York Mets and after watching Yordano Ventura deliver another impressive performance Tuesday night for the Kansas City Royals, it seems like a good time to review the 2014 rookie class. Here's my all-rookie team, based on 2014 performance, not future value.

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud, Mets (.242/.302/.416, 0.4 WAR)
His overall batting numbers aren't great, but he flashed some of the potential prospect analysts had long seen at the plate, including a .265/.313/.474 line in the second half. More importantly, he stayed relatively healthy, always a problem for him in the minors. The defense is still an issue: His 19 percent caught stealing rate is well below league average -- teammate Anthony Recker was at 41 percent -- and he allowed 12 passed balls and 39 wild pitches, also well above Recker's rates. D'Arnaud is 25, so I'm not sure how much growth there is in him, but if he can match his second-half production over a full season and clean up the defense, he is going to be a solid role player.

Others: Caleb Joseph, Orioles; Christian Vazquez, Red Sox; Christian Bethancourt, Braves; Josmil Pinto, Twins. Joseph has been a huge bonus for the Orioles, filling in for Matt Wieters. Vazquez and Bethancourt are defense-first guys with questionable bats. Pinto allowed 19 steals in 19 attempts and ended up going back to Triple-A for a couple months.

First base: Jose Abreu, White Sox (.316/.382/.582, 5.3 WAR)
Yeah, he can hit big league pitching. Abreu is leading the American League in slugging percentage and ranks sixth in on-base percentage. He's not the MVP of the league -- that's Mike Trout -- but he should finish high in the voting even though he doesn't have much value on defense. Here's one thing I love most about his season: In the first half, Abreu hit .292 with 29 home runs but had an 82-22 strikeout-walk ratio. In the second half, he has hit .352 with six home runs and has a 45-27 strikeout-walk ratio. Should we be concerned about the drop in power? I don't think so. His fly ball rate has dropped about 5 percent from the first half, which could be some fatigue or pitchers just working him a little more carefully, but I like that he has improved his control of the strike zone, showing he's a hitter and not just a slugger.

Others: Jonathan Singleton of the Astros has hit .168 in 356 plate appearances with 133 strikeouts. He walks, has shown power and just turned 23, but .168 is .168.

SportsNation

Which position player would you most want for the next six years?

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    18%
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    32%
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Discuss (Total votes: 850)

Second base: Kolten Wong, Cardinals (.252/.295/.396, 2.1 WAR)
The most impressive season, however, may be from Rougned Odor of the Rangers, who has essentially the same batting line as Wong but is three years younger. Wong rates higher due to better defense and baserunning, but Odor is the guy I'd take for the future.

Others: Javier Baez, Cubs; Jonathan Schoop, Orioles; Joe Panik, Giants; Tommy La Stella, Braves. Would you rather have Baez or Odor? Baez is a year older and has hit .164. Odor was rushed to the majors due to all the injuries in Texas with just 62 games above Class A, whereas Baez had 158 games above Class A. Like Baez, Odor is an aggressive swinger at the plate, although with better contact skills. It will be interesting to see how these two develop.

Third base: Nick Castellanos, Tigers (.264/.310/.397, -1.5 WAR)
Wait, negative WAR? That's because he has rated as the worst defensive player in the majors via defensive runs saved, with minus-31. In looking at the numbers from Baseball Info Solutions, Castellanos has been credited with 30 good fielding plays and 37 defensive misplays and errors. The misplays and errors aren't out of line with the best defenders, but the good plays are near the bottom of the list. Josh Donaldson, for example, leads with 75. Castellanos' raw range factor is half a play per game lower than league average. It just looks a guy who doesn't have the range and reaction time to be a good defensive third baseman (not that he can't improve). Anyway, the bat hasn't been anything special, but he's just 22 and has popped 45 extra-base hits.

Others: Yangervis Solarte, Padres; Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks. Lamb should retain rookie eligibility for next season if he sits a couple more games this final week.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (.237/.297/.362, 0.3 WAR)
He didn't have the year everyone expected, but he's going to be an excellent player.

Outfield: Billy Hamilton, Reds (.251/.293/.357, 2.5 WAR); George Springer, Astros (.231/.336/,468, 2.0 WAR); Danny Santana, Twins (.314/.351/.469, 3.5 WAR)
Hamilton has plummeted to a .202/.256/.259 line in the second half after showing some surprising pop in the first half. His base stealing hasn't been that electric as he has 56 stolen bases but has a league-leading 23 caught stealings. There have been reports he has had some leg issues, but regardless, he is going to have to improve that percentage and get stronger to get through an entire season. Springer's season was cut short by injury while Santana has been the big surprise as he never hit like this in the minors.

Others: Gregory Polanco, Pirates; Oscar Taveras, Cardinals; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs; Ender Inciarte, Diamondbacks; Kevin Kiermaier, Rays. Those players all used up their rookie eligibility, with mixed results. Inciarte has the highest WAR of any rookie outfielder at 3.6 thanks to a terrific defensive rating.

SP: Collin McHugh, Astros (11-9, 2.73 ERA, 4.3 WAR); Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (13-4, 2.47 ERA, 4.0 WAR); Yordano Ventura, Royals (14-10, 3.07 ERA, 3.5 WAR); Jacob deGrom, Mets (9-6, 2.63 ERA, 3.0 WAR); Matt Shoemaker, Angels (16-4, 3.04 ERA, 2.3 WAR)
It's an interesting group. McHugh was plucked off waivers from the Rockies; Shoemaker was basically a nonprospect who got a chance due to injuries in the Angels' rotation; deGrom was a second-tier prospect, but nobody expected this; Ventura was a highly rated prospect due to that explosive fastball; and Tanaka, of course, was the prized free agent from Japan. Lesson: Good pitchers can come from anywhere.

Others: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs; Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays; Jake Odorizzi, Rays; Tyler Matzek, Rockies; James Paxton, Mariners; Trevor Bauer, Indians; Shane Greene, Yankees; Roenis Elias, Mariners; Kevin Gausman, Orioles. Many others, of course, but those are some I like.

Reliever: Dellin Betances, Yankees (5-0, 1.40 ERA, 3.7 WAR)
With 135 strikeouts and just 46 hits allowed in 90 innings, he's had maybe the best relief season of any pitcher in the majors -- tied with Wade Davis of the Royals in WAR. With David Robertson a free agent, it will be interesting to see what the Yankees do. Betances is probably more valuable as a 90-inning setup guy than a 70-inning closer.

Overall, I'd rate this rookie class as average in production -- good on the pitching side, weak on the hitting side once you get past Abreu -- but with the potential to be better over the long haul with guys like Bogaerts, Polanco, Taveras, Baez, Odor and Springer having star potential.

My rookies of the year: Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom.

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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Will the Royals make the playoffs?

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Discuss (Total votes: 21,913)

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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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.

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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.

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