SweetSpot: San Francisco Giants

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

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

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

WINNERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOSERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandoval is Giants' most valuable defender

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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SandovalAP Photo/Alan DiazPablo Sandoval has been so good in the field that he can even make plays while blowing bubbles.
If the San Francisco Giants do emerge as the top team in the NL West this season, Pablo Sandoval's defense at third base may be a difference-maker.

Some may find that odd, but if you disregard his girth, study the numbers and watch a little film, it makes sense.

The numbers
Sandoval dropped a considerable amount of weight prior to the start of the season and the dividends are apparent.

Sandoval ranks third among third basemen with 10 defensive runs saved this season, trailing only Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado. His 10 runs saved are the most on the team.

This is not the first time that Sandoval has excelled in that category.

In 2011, he ranked second among third basemen in the majors and first in the NL with 15 defensive runs saved. But his total slipped to minus-5 defensive runs saved in each of the past two seasons, with added pounds perhaps playing a role.

"He came into spring training in better condition and that brings out his athleticism,” said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus on Tuesday. “Pablo is someone who has always worked extremely hard on his defense and he pays a lot of attention to detail. He's very athletic for his body type. He's always had the skills.”

Sandoval currently ranks fourth in out of zone plays (OOZ), a stat that can be found at Fangraphs. The past two seasons, he ranked 11th and 12th.

In other words, Sandoval is getting to the balls that others aren’t.

Film review
Baseball Info Solutions does video review of every play of every game, categorizing plays into 30 groups of good fielding plays (GFPs) and about 60 categories of defensive misplays & errors, providing the data to teams and media.

Good fielding plays for third basemen include things such as an outstanding diving stop that merits a Web Gem, starting a double play quickly, or cutting off a ball hit down the line to yield only a single instead of a double.

[+] EnlargeSandoval
AP Photo/David DurochikSandoval has an extremely accurate arm.
Sandoval currently has 46 good fielding plays and 15 misplays and errors.

His good play/misplay ratio of better than 3 to 1 is the best among third basemen. The next closest is Anthony Rendon of the Nationals at 2.2 to 1. The average third baseman has a ratio only slightly better than 1 to 1.

In fact, the only players who are better among regular second basemen and shortstops are Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Cardinals second baseman Mark Ellis.

Watch a little bit of the Sandoval highlight reel and the thing that jumps out is his reflexes. We're taking an educated guess here, but we'd wager that if someone kept track of the rate of a player's successful dives for balls to diving attempts made, Sandoval would be at the top of the list.

"His hand-eye coordination is off the charts," said "Baseball Tonight" analyst Alex Cora. "You can see that in how he hits balls over his head and balls in the dirt. His best tool on defense is that hand-eye coordination, because there's not a lot of time to read the angles of the ball coming off the bat at third base."

Sandoval leads players at all positions with 28 good fielding plays awarded for ground-ball outs on diving stops and charges on slow rollers. He’s also cut back on throw-related misplays and errors from 13 last season to only four so far in 2014.

A pitcher's best friend
Wotus noted that one advantage Sandoval has is that he knows the tendencies of his pitchers, since the likes of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have been with the team for a while. The Giants rank fourth in the majors in turning ground balls into outs (76 percent of the time) and that could be part of the reason.

"When the Braves had their run [with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz], they had the same pitchers going every night, and all their fielders seemed to know exactly where to be," Wotus said.

But the new guys have also learned that Sandoval performs better than he looks.

"I've been very impressed with him," Giants starter Tim Hudson told Jerry Crasnick earlier this week. "Because he's a bigger guy, you don't think he's very athletic by looking at him. But he's pretty agile. He'll get to balls in the hole and some balls down the line. He runs in on the ball pretty well, too. I've been pleasantly surprised with his range and how nimble he is at third."

He probably isn't the only one.
OK, we're already a couple of days into the second half of the season, which actually begins well past the actual halfway point of the season, but here are the key players to watch for each National League team.

Atlanta Braves: Mike Minor
Well, we know it's not Dan Uggla. Minor began the season on the DL after a sore shoulder in spring training, and he hasn't been the same pitcher he was last season. The differences are small, but his stuff and command just haven't played up as well -- his swing-and-miss rate is down more than three percent and his overall strike rate is down 2 percent, and as a result his batting average allowed has increased from .232 to .295. The Braves are hoping that's simply tied to a high BABIP -- .348, seventh-worst among 124 pitchers with at least 75 innings -- but he's allowed 14 home runs in 83.1 innings.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
He's hit .150 since coming off the DL and had two home runs in 123 at-bats at the All-Star break. Is the thumb healed? Is he still too young to be The Man in the Nationals' lineup? It will be intriguing to see what happens here.

New York Mets: Travis d'Arnaud
The Mets are counting on the rookie catcher as a big foundation piece for their future. He had trouble staying healthy in his minor league career and struggled at the plate early on, although hit well in his final 16 games before the All-Star break (.295/.338/.525), following a stint in Triple-A. He's proven he can hit in Las Vegas, but everyone can hit in Vegas. The question is if he can hit at the major league level.

Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
Must-see TV. The Marlins aren't going anywhere, so all eyes will be focused on Stanton. Could he win an MVP award if the Marlins don't even finish .500? Probably not. But I'm still watching.

Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown
The focus on the Phillies will be on their veteran assets and whether general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will (or can) trade the likes of Marlon Byrd and others. But this might also be the most important two months of Brown's career. A year ago, Brown was an All-Star after hitting 23 home runs in the first half. In 2014, he was one of the worst players of the first half, with six home runs, a .279 OBP and poor defense -- a combination worth -1.4 WAR. Ouch. Can Brown salvage his season and give hope that he's part of the Phillies' future?

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
After dominating the NL Central for most of the first half, the Brewers left the All-Star break with a slim, one-game lead over the Cardinals. They've been all over the place with hot months and cold months and have probably settled near their true talent. In going through their roster, there aren't any obvious "over his head" candidates or "should play better" candidates. The one guy who has the capability of ripping it up for the next 60 games, however, is Braun. He had a good first half but not near his 41-homer level of 2012. Yes, you can assume and conclude whatever you want, but Braun could easily go out and hit 20 home runs the second half and carry the Brewers to a division title.

St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Holliday
Two numbers tell the tale of the Cardinals -- or rather, two sets of numbers:

2013 runs per game: 4.83 (first in NL)
2014 runs per game at the break: 3.75 (14th in NL)

2013 average with RISP: .330
2014 average with RISP: .248

The point: David Price would certainly be nice, but the Cardinals are more likely to rely on improvement from within. Holliday, who homered Friday, is one guy who could improve his offense after hitting .265 with six home runs in the first half. Cardinals fans will remember that Holliday had a monster second half last year -- .348/.442/.552.

Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce
Joey Votto's injury issues have left him less than 100 percent and a question mark as he sits on the DL. That leaves Bruce as the guy who needs to power a Reds lineup that is also missing Brandon Phillips as the second half kicks off. At 27, Bruce is at the age that many players have their peak season; instead, after hitting 30-plus homers the past three seasons, he's struggling through his worst year, hitting .229 with 10 home runs at the break. Bruce's main problem is simple: He hasn't been getting the ball in the air. His fly ball rate is down 15 percent from his average since 2009. More grounders equals fewer homers and, against shift, not enough base hits to compensate.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Francisco Liriano
This one's easy. A year ago, Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and then won the wild-card game. This year, he's 1-7 with a 4.43 ERA in 16 starts after allowing an unearned run in five innings on Friday. The difference in performance is clear when looking at his year-by-year walks per nine innings:

2014: 5.1
2013: 3.5
2012: 5.0
2011: 5.0

Yes, wins are team dependent to some degree, but the Pirates need Liriano to pitch closer to the ace he was a year ago.

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant
Maybe it says something about the Cubs that the guy we care most about right now is in Triple-A. Then again, he entered the weekend hitting .350 with 32 home runs in the minors. Will we see him in September? He needs a higher league to give him a more difficult test.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
Kemp began the second half with his agent Dave Stewart proclaiming that Kemp just wants to play every day and "his hope at some point is to get back to center." That's not going to happen, as the Dodgers finally realized Kemp's bad routes lead to too many bad plays in the outfield (he had the worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in the first half at any position). So that means Kemp will have to hit -- and play left field. He had a solid June, hitting .317/.375/.525. The Dodgers will happily take that at this point.

San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain
The fact that Cain is starting the Giants' fifth game after the break tells where he now sits in the San Francisco rotation. He has to do better than a 2-7 record and 4.15 ERA if the Giants are going to catch the Dodgers.

San Diego Padres: Andrew Cashner
Cashner is important because the Padres need him healthy for 2015. He's currently on the DL with a sore shoulder and is supposed to start playing catch again. It's not so much what he does the rest of the season, but that he returns at some point and proves the shoulder is sound.

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Another lost season for the Rockies has turned ugly, as owner Dick Monfort told a disgruntled fan that "if it is that upsetting, don't come to the games," and then, when asked who was responsible for the Rockies' poor first half, said, "You would have to say it’s [assistant general manager] Bill Geivett. He’s responsible for the major league team." In the midst of this mess is Tulo, who is having an MVP-caliber season for a lousy team.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ender Inciarte
Just kidding! But I'm struggling to come up with a good name here. Maybe Mark Trumbo, returning from his foot fracture? Aaron Hill or Martin Prado, to see if they bring anything in trade? Tuffy Gosewisch?
OK, we're actually well past 81 games, but we tend to divide the season at the All-Star break, even if that's not the true halfway point. Here's my list of the 10 biggest stories of the first half:

1. The rash of Tommy John surgeries.

On the heels of Matt Harvey going down late in 2013 and missing this season, this year's Tommy John surgeries have included Jose Fernandez, Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Matt Moore, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Brandon Beachy, Ivan Nova, Bronson Arroyo, David Hernandez, Bobby Parnell, Josh Johnson, Luke Hochevar and Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon. Plus there's the possibility that Yankees rookie Masahiro Tanaka will need the surgery if six weeks of rest doesn't help his elbow. That's a devastating loss of talent and has led to much discussion on how to better prevent all these injuries.

2. Best-in-baseball A's make huge trade.

Even with the season-ending injuries to Parker and Griffin and the offseason departure of Bartolo Colon, Oakland had soared to the best record in baseball with easily the best run differential. And Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray had been terrific at the front end of the rotation. But, worried about depth and fatigue, Billy Beane stunned everyone by trading prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney (and pitcher Dan Straily) to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Beane made the move to help hold off the hard-charging Angels; but at the break Oakland's lead was down to a slim 1.5 games.

[+] EnlargeHallion
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHas instant replay helped? The answer, at least from players, isn't all positive.
3. Confusion over new instant replay rules.

Catchers blocking home plate, the outfield "transfer" rule, the neighborhood play, managers challenging plays they're not supposed to be allowed to challenge -- expanded instant replay has hardly been a smooth transition. Longer-than-expected delays and inconsistent application has left everyone a little confused at times. Last week, after a play at home plate was not overturned despite evidence that a tag was missed, Jose Bautista said, "This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes. I think they should just ban it. They should just get rid of it. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident."

4. New stars emerge.

Besides Tanaka, we've seen White Sox rookie Jose Abreu crush 29 home runs in the most impressive power display by a rookie since Mark McGwire in 1987. Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton has hit far better than anyone expected while stealing 38 bases and impressing with his defense in center field. George Springer of the Astros didn't make his debut until mid-April and didn't hit his first home run until May 8, but has still clocked 19 home runs, several of light-tower prodigiousness. Yordano Ventura of the Royals has gone 7-7 with a 3.22 ERA while displaying his upper-90s fastball. Yankees reliever Dellin Betances failed as a starter in the minors but has been one of the game's most dominant relievers with 84 strikeouts in 55.1 innings while holding opponents to a .124 batting average.

Those guys aren't just good; they’re exciting. Then we've had breakout non-rookies like Gray (who emerged late last season), Garrett Richards, Corey Kluber, Anthony Rizzo, Devin Mesoraco, Dallas Keuchel, Anthony Rendon, Marcell Ozuna and others. The young talent keeps on coming -- and that's before we get to minor league mashers Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Joey Gallo of the Rangers, two guys we can't wait to see reach the majors.

5. Pitchers continue to dominate.

SportsNation

What's been the biggest story of the first half?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,576)

Even with all the injuries, offense has still gone down -- if only slightly -- to 4.14 runs per game, which would be the lowest total since 4.12 in 1992. We enter the break with 21 qualified starters holding an ERA under 3.00, and that doesn't include Clayton Kershaw, who is two outs short of qualifying for the leaderboard.

Kershaw (11-2, 1.78 ERA), Adam Wainwright (12-4, 1.83) and Felix Hernandez (11-2, 2.12) highlight a season with many top pitching performers. Those three all have a shot at finishing with 20 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA, a feat accomplished just three times since 1980 -- Roger Clemens in 1990 and Dwight Gooden and John Tudor in 1985. Hernandez enters the break with 11 consecutive starts in which he's pitched at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer, the longest such stretch since Mike Scott had 12 for the Astros in 1986. Kershaw had a 15-strikeout no-hitter with no walks, perfect other than a fielding error behind him. Wainwright hasn't allowed a run in nine of his 19 starts. Brilliance.

6. The Red Sox and Rays both struggle.

The defending champions and the team many expected to win the World Series both hit the break nine games under .500 and 9.5 games out of first place in the AL East. The Rays actually had the worst record in baseball on June 10 at 24-42. They’ve at least played better since then, going 20-11, but it may be too late to fend off the inevitable David Price trade. As for the Red Sox, one of baseball's richest and supposedly smartest franchises is headed for a second losing season sandwiched around its World Series title.

7. The NL Central race.

With four teams separated by 3.5 games, I have no idea who is going to win. But I know it's going to be fun.

[+] EnlargeTrout
AP PhotoHaven't seen much of Mike Trout's strikeout face lately.
8. The Dodgers catch the Giants.

On June 8, the Giants were 42-21 and led the NL West by 9.5 games. Since then, they've gone 10-22 -- only the injury-depleted Rangers have been worse -- and the Dodgers lead by a game. Collapses in June get ignored, but blowing such a big lead in the span of a month is brutal. It sets the stage for what should turn into another classic Giants-Dodgers pennant race.

9. Remember when we were worried about Mike Trout's strikeouts?

On May 19, Trout's average dipped to .263 and he was striking out like Dave Kingman in a bad slump. In 46 games since then, he's hit .356/.440/.701 with 31 extra-base hits. He's on pace for 38 home runs, 126 RBIs and 17 steals while playing good defense in center. He leads the AL in OPS and total bases. He's the best player in the game, he's going to win the AL MVP Award and we should finally see him in the postseason -- and maybe for more than just the wild-card game.

10. The collapse of the Rangers and Phillies.

The Rangers were supposed to be in the midst of a dynasty. The Phillies had become one of the game's power players with their run of division titles. Instead, both teams have declined into oblivion, the Rangers due to an unnatural number of injuries (including season-ending neck surgery for offseason acquisition Prince Fielder) and the Phillies due to the predictable affliction of age. It may be a long time before either is competitive again.


The San Francisco Giants needed this one. Matt Cain certainly needed it. The Giants, mired in a bad stretch that had seen them go 7-20 since June 9 and slide from a 9.5-game lead in the NL West to a one-game deficit, had already lost the first two games of a three-game series to Bay Area rival Oakland. Cain entered with a 1-7 record and 4.27 ERA in 14 starts.

The Giants were floundering. Cain is being paid $20 million to do a whole lot better than 1-7.

Even if we all know pitcher wins don't always tell the whole story, that isn't supposed to be the record of a $20 million pitcher. So it was a big game, at least as big as a game in early July can be considered.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cain
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsIt hasn't been Matt Cain's year, but could he change that in the second half?
Cain -- who knows a thing or two about big-game performances -- was solid, certainly not spectacular. He worked through 105 pitches in six innings, gave up five hits and two runs, including a long home run to Stephen Vogt in the fourth inning. His biggest pitch was probably his final one. Leading 3-2, having just given up an RBI single, he faced All-Star catcher Derek Norris with two runners on. He got ahead with a curveball and threw the signature Matt Cain: A 92 mph two-seamer with late action. Norris grounded out to shortstop.

The Giants went on to win 5-2, moved back into a first-place tie with the Dodgers and Cain got the W, his first since May 15. After the game, Hunter Pence admitted it was "a pretty intense series."

OK. Let's dig into some big-picture questions for the Giants.

1. How good are the Giants? Not as good as their 42-21 start and not as bad as they've been the past month. They're probably about where they should be, on pace for 89 wins. That's about where most people had them projected before the season.

2. Sure, but they lost Angel Pagan on June 15. Right about when the slide started. No coincidence, right? His injury has hurt but one guy doesn't make a lineup. Pagan was having a nice season -- .307/.356/.411 -- but that's not exactly Willie Mays. It is true, however, that Giants center fielders have been a disaster since Pagan went down, hitting .145/.193/.205 since June 15 entering Wednesday's game.

A bigger factor for the offense has been the decline in home runs. Through June 8, they were second in the National League and fourth in the majors with 69 home runs, a great pace for a team that was next-to-last in home runs in the NL in 2013 and last in 2012.

Since June 9, however, the Giants have hit 14 home runs -- the lowest total in the majors. Pence homered on Wednesday. They need more of that.

3. OK, what's been wrong with Cain? I'm not sure anything is wrong. I've been going through his numbers, slicing and dicing and digging deep and there's nothing obvious that explains why he had a 2.93 ERA from 2009 through 2012 and 4.06 the past two seasons. His fastball velocity is the same. Things like swing-and-miss rate and strike percentage and batting average on balls in play are all stable.

But his walk rate is up slightly, especially this year, and he's given up a few more home runs (his home run per fly ball rate is up, although his actual rate of fly balls has been lower the past two seasons than before). That's enough to raise that ERA just a bit.

Why that's happening, I'm not sure. Maybe he's falling behind a little more often. Early last season, he was certainly grooving a few many pitches. This year, he has missed a few starts and twice landed on the disabled list -- first, with a cut on his right index finger suffered while cutting a sandwich and then a hamstring pull. So that could have had an effect. Overall, however, I see no reason why Cain can't be better the rest of the season.

4. What about the rest of the rotation? That's why Cain really needs to step it up. The rotation was bad last year and even this year it's not as good as its reputation. Look, Madison Bumgarner is a terrific pitcher, but he's not Clayton Kershaw and I'd be hard-pressed to say he's better than Zack Greinke. Tim Lincecum is pretty good against the Padres and pretty good at home, but has a 5.82 ERA on the road. Tim Hudson was the savior the first two months and Ryan Vogelsong has been much better than last season. Entering Wednesday, the Giants ranked 21st in starters' WAR via FanGraphs.

5. Didn't you say Brandon Belt could contend for the batting title? Next question.

6. What do they need to do to stay with the Dodgers? Well, if Pagan's back issue is a long-term problem, they'll need to address center field. Without Marco Scutaro, second base has been a problem, with rookie Joe Panik currently being given the opportunity. You know Brian Sabean will make a move; he always does, one of the few GMs that is always willing to trade his prospects for that veteran spare part. Second base is one position that will potentially be easiest to fill -- guys like Aaron Hill, Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and Gordon Beckham could be available.

7. The bullpen ... Yes, they're fifth in the majors in bullpen ERA overall... but they're 28th since June 9. Their true value is probably somewhere between those two rankings. Obviously, Sergio Romo's gopherball issues have been a big problem, leading to his demotion from closer and I'd worry about the ages here -- their top six relievers are all older than 30 -- but the pen should OK moving forward.

8. Last one. What's the best news with the Giants? They play in the NL West.
An early theme of the 2014 season was parity: Through the first two months, just about every team could still sell themselves on a potential playoff chase. But the last month changed all that, especially in the National League, which has sorted itself into contenders and bad teams. A lot of bad teams.

The two groups:

Contenders: Brewers, Dodgers, Nationals, Braves, Giants, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates.

The bad teams: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cubs, Phillies, Padres, Mets.

That leaves only the Marlins in the mediocrity of the middle.

Some of those bad teams are likely to get worse. The Cubs just traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The Diamondbacks lost Bronson Arroyo and traded Brandon McCarthy. The Rockies' pitching staff has been decimated with injuries. The Phillies are some form of unwatchable wretchedness right now.

All this means the remaining schedule for the playoff contenders could play a vital role in who wins the divisions and who wins the wild cards. So let's see how many games each of the contenders has remaining against our six bad teams.

Nationals (33) -- Mets (13), Phillies (13), Rockies (3), Padres (4).
Braves (27) -- Mets (8), Phillies (9), Cubs (3), Padres (7). They also have three against AL weakling Texas.

Brewers (19) -- Mets (4), Phillies (2), Cubs (10), Padres (3).
Cardinals (26) -- Phillies (3), Cubs (10), Padres (7), Rockies (3), Diamondbacks (3).
Reds (18) -- Mets (3), Cubs (8), Rockies (4), Diamondbacks (3).
Pirates (23) -- Phillies (4), Cubs (6), Padres (3), Rockies (6), Diamondbacks (4).

Dodgers (31) -- Cubs (7), Padres (13), Rockies (6), Diamondbacks (5).
Giants (37) -- Mets (4), Phillies (7), Cubs (3), Padres (7), Rockies (7), Diamondbacks (9).

Strength of schedule can be overrated, but you can clearly see the potential ramifications here. With four good teams, the NL Central teams have much tougher remaining schedules than the Nationals/Braves and Dodgers/Giants. The NL Central teams may beat up on each other, opening the door for the two wild cards to come from the NL East and NL West.

Digging deeper into the NL Central, here's how many games each has remaining against the other three contenders:

Brewers (28) -- Cardinals (13), Reds (9), Pirates (6).
Cardinals (31) -- Brewers (13), Reds (10), Pirates (8).
Reds (28) -- Brewers (9), Cardinals (10), Pirates (9).
Pirates (23) -- Brewers (6), Cardinals (8), Reds (9).

Something tells me those 13 remaining Brewers-Cardinals games will go a long ways towards deciding the division title.
Random thoughts for a Monday morning ...

1. As Buster Olney wrote the other day, the Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel trade just ramped up the cost for David Price. If the Cardinals want him, they better start with Oscar Taveras. If the Dodgers want him, they’re going to have to start with Joc Pederon or Corey Seager.

2. Joey Votto has basically been playing on one leg, so it’s no surprise that it appears he’s heading to the DL. I’ve been saying I still expect a four-team race in the NL Central, but with Votto struggling and Jay Bruce still yet to get untracked (he just snapped an 0-for-26 skid), the Reds are looking like the fourth-best team in that division.

3. Always love the All-Star controversies this time of year. Many deserving players got left off the AL roster -- Chris Sale, part of the final player vote, is one of the top five or six starters in the game. I can’t believe the players actually think Mark Buehrle and Scott Kazmir are better pitchers and have to think they failed to vote for Sale only because of his time on the DL.

4. If Giancarlo Stanton ends up starting at DH for the NL, the backup outfield pool will be pretty weak -- Hunter Pence, Charlie Blackmon and utility man Josh Harrison could end up deciding home-field advantage for the World Series. Of course, Mike Matheny could just play Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez the entire game.

5. That’s one of the incongruous things about Matheny selecting Harrison, Tony Watson and Pat Neshek: He clearly selected them for late-game matchup and versatility, to give the NL a better chance of winning. I certain understand that reasoning. But if winning is so important, then play some of your best players the entire game. Why bench Troy Tulowitzki just to get Starlin Castro a couple of at-bats if you're trying to win the game?

6. While Sale is the guy I’d give my final player vote to in the AL, I hope Garrett Richards eventually finds his way on to the team. He had another great outing on Sunday against the Astros with 11 strikeouts while averaging a career-high 97.3 mph with his fastball. He’s 6-0 with a 1.45 ERA since June 1. That sounds like an All-Star to me.

7. Of course, he faced the strikeout-prone Astros. Rookies George Springer and Jonathan Singleton went a combined 0-for-8 with seven K’s. Singleton is hitting .168 with 46 strikeouts in his first 32 games. Springer’s contact issues have been well documented. Domingo Santana was sent down after whiffing 11 times in his first 13 at-bats. As promising as those three guys are, and while strikeouts aren’t necessarily a bad thing for hitters, you do wonder if you can have too many strikeout-prone hitters in the lineup. We’ll see how these guys develop and whether it becomes a long-term issue for Houston.

8. Underrated: Kole Calhoun.

9. Love the idea of Justin Morneau returning to Minnesota, but Anthony Rendon or Anthony Rizzo are clearly better players and more deserving of final player honors in the NL.

10. Now trending on Twitter: “LeBron James,” “Cleveland” and “Cavs.” How awesome would that be? But it’s not really going to happen, is it?

11. Andrew McCutchen: Making another run at MVP honors. Since June 1, he’s hit .364 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs.

12. Fun to watch play defense: Adam Eaton. Still can’t believe the Diamondbacks traded him and now they’re playing somebody named Ender Inciarte in center field.

13. Fun to watch hit: Jose Abreu. Loved the Abreu-King Felix showdown on Saturday. King Felix won as Abreu went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

14. It’s starting to look like CC Sabathia will miss the rest of the season. Joe Girardi is usually an optimistic guy so if he’s saying Sabathia is done he’s probably done. So here’s a question: What if Sabathia is also finished as a quality pitcher? Hall of Famer? He’s 208-119 in his career with a 3.63 ERA and 54.1 WAR. He can stick around and add some wins and a little bit of WAR, but his winning percentage likely goes down and his ERA likely goes up. He’s close now and while improving his win total with otherwise mediocre pitching shouldn’t be the difference in making him a Hall of Famer at this point, he probably needs to get another 25-30 wins for serious consideration.

15. The Yankees also designated Alfonso Soriano for assignment, no surprise considering his struggles. I’m guessing somebody will give him a chance but with 71 strikeouts and just six walks his free-swinging approach finally got the best of him. Hell of a career though: 412 home runs, 289 stolen bases, seven-time All-Star. He was far from the perfect player but he delivered for a lot of years.

16. Underrated: Kyle Seager.

17. Edwin Encarnacion’s injury should open a spot for Seager or Ian Kinsler to make the All-Star Game.

18. Better than I thought he’d be: Scooter Gennett.

19. Just release Dan Uggla already.

20. Mike Trout needs to be in the Home Run Derby.

21. The Nationals have outscored their opponents by 59 runs. The Padres have been outscored by 51 runs. Both teams have one All-Star.

22. That was a terrific Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, right up there with the famous Federer-Rafael Nadal final. Federer won his first grand slam tournament in 2003 and is still competing for titles 11 years later. Amazing athlete.

23. Among qualified starters, toughest fastball to hit this year: Johnny Cueto, .164 average, .439 OPS.

24. Easiest fastball to hit: Ricky Nolasco has allowed a .364/.422/.618 line against his fastball. No surprise to Twins fans.

25. Easier fastball to hit than you would think: Batters are hitting .337/.381/.516 against Stephen Strasburg’s fastball.

26. Best curveball so far: Corey Kluber has held opponents to an .080 average and .219 OPS. (For comparison, batters have hit .156 against Adam Wainwright’s curve and .173 against Clayton Kershaw’s curve.)

27. Underrated: Corey Kluber.

28. Toughest slider so far: Johnny Cueto, again. Batters are hitting .176 with a .509 OPS against it.

29. Toughest changeup: In 178 plate appearances ending with a changeup, opponents are hitting .110/.136/.151 against Felix Hernandez.

30. I’m not counting the Rays out just yet.

31. Cool All-Star factoid: For the first time in American League history, the eight starting position players will come from eight different teams. Of course, Nelson Cruz is starting at DH, so there will be two Orioles in the starting nine.

32. For all the David Price to the Cardinals rumors, they need to start scoring runs and that’s going to have to happen from within as there just aren’t big impact bats out there (Marlon Byrd?). The Cardinals are 13th in the NL in runs and last in home runs. Trouble is, where’s the power going to come from? Matt Holliday has only five home runs, so he’s the logical answer, but there’s no reason to expect Matt Adams (nine) or Allen Craig (seven) to suddenly start blasting more home runs.

33. I like what I’ve seen from this Eugenio Suarez kid at shortstop for the Tigers. Not sure about his defensive chops yet but he’s been a positive at the plate.

34. The Blue Jays just got their butts kicked in Oakland and you have to wonder if this team already peaked. They were six games up on June 6 and now trail the Orioles by two games, having gone 9-19 in 28 games since that high-water mark. And don’t blame the pitching: The offense, which scored four runs in the four-game sweep to the A’s, has hit .235/.302/.366 since June 6.

35. Better than I thought he'd be: Dallas Keuchel.

36. Fun to watch: The Mariners bullpen has been lights out for two months. It has the best bullpen ERA in the majors, a 2.02 ERA since May 1 and 1.52 since June 1. Brandon Maurer, the failed starter, is the latest weapon down there, throwing smoke 97-mph smoke since he's been moved to relief.

37. Fun to listen to: My pals Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft on the Fantasy Focus podcast. Here's today’s show, including ramifications of the Samardzija trade, the Votto and Encarnacion injuries and the Brandon McCarthy trade to the Yankees.

38. Hard to say if Tim Lincecum has improved or just benefited from facing some weak lineups of late. He does have a 1.75 ERA over his past five starts but two of those starts came against the Padres and one against the Cardinals. He has 25 strikeouts in 35 innings, so he hasn’t ramped up the K rate or anything. I’m not convinced he’s turned the corner just yet.

39. Not getting any recognition for a solid season: Justin Upton.

40. Underrated: Jose Quintana.

41. Pat Neshek is a great story, a minor league invite to spring training for the Cardinals and now an All-Star. I got into a debate on Twitter last night about All-Star relievers -- people were asking why guys like Jake McGee, Fernando Rodney, Wade Davis, Koji Uehara and others didn't make it despite great numbers. I pointed out that lots of relievers are having great seasons. It's just not that special to have 35 great innings out of the bullpen. As a point of reference, just look at some of last year's All-Star relievers: Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Edward Mujica, Sergio Romo, Jason Grilli, Jesse Crain. That said, if you're going to pick relievers, Neshek has been as good as any in the game so far.

42. Unique: Henderson Alvarez. He doesn't rack up strikeouts (70 in 115 innings) but that hard sinking fastball is hard to get into the air (five home runs allowed) and he's walked just 22 batters. I believe he's the real deal, which only reinforces the huge blow to the Marlins when Jose Fernandez went down.

43. Bryce Harper is 4-for-21 with nine strikeouts and two walks since coming off the DL. One Nationals fan tweeted me that he doesn't look completely healthy and has had some awkward swings. I don't the think the Nationals would have activated him if he wasn't healthy, but there's no doubt that Harper put added pressure on himself with his comments about how the Nationals' lineup should look. It's OK to say that if you're producing but not if you're striking out twice a game.

44. Remember that season of parity we were having? Things are starting to sort themselves out a bit. In fact, we suddenly have a fair share of bad teams instead of mediocre teams -- Rockies, Padres, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers, Astros, Twins, maybe even the Red Sox. The Cubs will probably fade even more after Samardzija-Hammel trade. The Mets may or may not be bad instead of mediocre.

45. Which leads to: Tanking! That should be fun in the second half. Remember, it pays to finish with one of the worst 10 records.

46. Large person, large fastball: Dellin Betances.

47. Loving Gregory Polanco. I was admittedly a little skeptical, in part because I didn't want to fall prey to prospect hype. I've been most impressed with his approach at the plate -- 15 walks and 20 strikeouts in 25 games, nice to see after walking just 25 times in 62 games in Triple-A. If that kind of discipline continues, I like his ability to hit for a decent average and get on base. Then maybe next year comes the power.

48. Things I didn’t see coming: Jeff Locke. Now 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in seven starts and he’s pitched seven-plus innings in five of those games.

49. Must-see TV on Friday: Jeff Samardzija versus Felix Hernandez.

50. Germany over Brazil. Argentina over the Netherlands.

We've reached the most fun part of the All-Star Game: Arguing about the final rosters.

The starters and reserves were named on Sunday and it was interesting to note the different philosophies of managers John Farrell and Mike Matheny in filling out their rosters. As expected, some worthy American League players were excluded and there were a couple surprising choices in the National League.

Some quick thoughts:

Worst American League starter: Derek Jeter, Yankees. While I actually don't have that big of an issue with Jeter starting -- there is no Troy Tulowitzki in the AL that he's keeping out of the lineup -- he's probably the worst starter we've had in a long time, hitting an empty .273 with mediocre defense and no power, worth 0.5 WAR so far. Matt Wieters was inexplicably voted in by the fans at catcher, but since he's out for the season, Salvador Perez will rightfully start in his place.

Worst National League starter: Aramis Ramirez, Brewers. Cincinnati's Todd Frazier is clearly the deserving starter at third base based on 2014 numbers while Ramirez is hitting .287 with 11 home runs. Considering Frazier, Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Anthony Rendon of the Nationals are better all-around players than Ramirez, his selection cost somebody an All-Star spot (Rendon is on the final player ballot).

Best ballot stuffing: Orioles and Brewers fans. Who says you need to play for the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers to have an edge in fan balloting? Adam Jones was never in the top three among outfielders until passing Yoenis Cespedes at the wire. He's a fine selection, however, and has come on strong after a slow April. Orioles fans also voted in Wieters and Nelson Cruz in that crowded DH slot that included Victor Martinez, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Moss and David Ortiz. Likewise, Carlos Gomez passed Giancarlo Stanton for the third outfield spot in the NL behind Yasiel Puig and Andrew McCutchen. Stanton clearly should be starting but Gomez is arguably one of the top three outfielders in the NL. Brewers fans, however, couldn't get Jonathan Lucroy voted in over Yadier Molina, so Lucroy will be the backup.

National League DH should be: Stanton. Pretty each choice here for Matheny. Heck, start him and let him play the entire game. A nation that never watches Marlins games should see this guy get four at-bats.

Jeff Samardzija, almost an All-Star. The players had actually voted for Samardzija as one of the five best starters in the NL, along with Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. Samardzija had a 1.68 ERA through May, so you can see why he fared well in the balloting. His ERA had since climbed to 2.83 with some bad outings and he was replaced by Julio Teheran of the Braves.

Worst player selection: Charlie Blackmon, Rockies. The players actually did a much better job than they usually do and Blackmon's selection was the only dubious choice, a guy who had a monster April but is down to .295/.341/.463, mediocre numbers for a guy who plays in Colorado. To be fair, the NL lacked obvious choices for the fifth and sixth outfielders, but they somehow came up with a player ranked 21st among NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR. Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Billy Hamilton or even Rockies teammate Corey Dickerson (hitting .340) would have been better selections.

The AL crunch: Farrell had some tough choices in filling out his squad. His manager selections were Jon Lester (deserving and the only Red Sox rep), David Price (deserving and the only Rays rep), Glen Perkins of the Twins, Max Scherzer of the Tigers, Kurt Suzuki of the Twins (a third catcher), Encarnacion and Moss. I guess you have to carry three catchers and I don't have a problem with the Scherzer selection. Encarnacion was a lock with his big numbers so the final choice probably came down to Moss or another player.

Biggest snubs: Ian Kinsler, Tigers; Kyle Seager, Mariners. And that led to Kinser and Seager being this year's biggest snubs. Entering Sunday, Kinsler ranked third among AL position players in fWAR and Seager seventh. In Baseball-Reference WAR, they ranked third and sixth, so by either measure two of the AL's top 10 players didn't make it. It's not that an undeserving player made it -- the players voted in Jose Altuve and Adrian Beltre as the backups at second and third -- just that there were too many good players and not enough spots (unless you want to knock out a third catcher). You can debate the Moss selection, but I can see the desire to have the left-handed power off the bench if needed late in the game. (Remember, it counts!)

Matt Carpenter and Pat Neshek are good selections: Matheny picked two of his own players -- third baseman Carpenter and righty reliever Neshek. I'm sure both picks will be criticized but when you dig into the numbers, both are worthy choices. Carpenter isn't having as good a season as last year, but he's still 10th among NL position players in fWAR and 15th in bWAR. Please, I don't want to hear that Casey McGehee is more deserving.

As for Neshek, his numbers are outstanding: 0.78 ERA, 35 strikeouts, four walks and a .134 average allowed. He has been as dominant as any reliever in the game, even if he's not a closer. He's also a great story, once one of the game's top set-up guys with the Twins in 2007 but suffering years of injuries since. On the day the A's clinched the AL West on the final day of the 2012 season, his infant son died after just 23 hours. The Cardinals signed him in February to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, so Neshek certainly qualifies as this year's most improbable All-Star (along with Dellin Betances of the Yankees).

I suspect Matheny also picked Neshek for late-game strategic purposes -- his sidearm delivery is killer on right-handed batters (although he has been just as effective against lefties this year), so you can see him matching up against Encarnacion or Jose Abreu if there's a big moment late in the game. Similarly, Matheny picked Pirates lefty reliever Tony Watson, a good strategic move since he had only three other lefties on the team.

Strangest selection: That picking reserves for strategic reasons also led to the selection of Pirates utility man Josh Harrison. I get it: He's having a nice season and can play multiple positions, but it's a little odd to pick a guy who doesn't even start regularly for his own team (reminiscent of the Omar Infante choice a few years ago). Rendon -- who has played second and third -- is the better player and Matheny already had versatility with Carpenter and Dee Gordon.

Best AL final man: Chris Sale, White Sox. Farrell went with five pitchers -- Sale, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards and Rick Porcello. I wrote the other day that four of these guys would be battling for a spot or two (along with Scott Kazmir, who got voted on by the players). All are worthy but the best choice is pretty easy since Sale is one of the top starters in the game and would have otherwise already made the team if not missing some time with an injury.

Best NL final man: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs. Torn here between Rizzo and Rendon, but since Matheny has already loaded up with third basemen and second basemen, let's go with Rizzo in case you need to swing for the fences late in the game.

Suggested AL lineup: Jeter better hit ninth. Mike Trout, CF; Robinson Cano, 2B; Jose Bautista, RF; Miguel Cabrera, 1B; Nelson Cruz, DH; Adam Jones, LF; Josh Donaldson, 3B; Salvador Perez, C; Derek Jeter, SS. With Felix Hernandez on the mound.

Suggested NL lineup. Yasiel Puig, RF; Andrew McCutchen, CF; Troy Tulowitzki, SS; Giancarlo Stanton, DH; Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Carlos Gomez, LF; Aramis Ramirez, 3B; Chase Utley, 2B; Yadier Molina, C. With Clayton Kershaw on the bump.


Jim Bowden, Jerry Crasnick, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark and myself presented our 34-man All-Star rosters today. Here are our National League selections and here are our American League selections. Of course, our choices aren't affected by fan balloting or the players choosing the wrong backup (although we did stick to the rule of requiring one rep from each team), so the real rosters will likely include some names that none of us included.

I thought I'd explain my selections in a little more detail.

National League

I thought the NL selections were much easier than the AL. In fact, I struggled to find obvious candidates for the final couple of spots.

Starters
C -- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
1B -- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies
3B -- Todd Frazier, Reds
SS -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
LF -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
CF -- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
RF -- Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
DH -- Freddie Freeman, Braves
SP -- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

I thought this was pretty straightforward, with the only debate being Puig or Carlos Gomez for the third outfield spot. I settled it this way: Who would I rather see? And that tiebreaker goes to Puig. I could have made Gomez the DH, but the NL was lacking in other outfield candidates, so I cleared some of the logjam at first base by making Freeman the DH and bringing Gomez off the bench. Sorry, Carlos.

Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright certainly have strong arguments to start and if you want to disagree with Kershaw, I won't put up much of a fight. Yes, he missed a month, but he's back, he's dominating and he's the best pitcher in the game.

Reserves
C -- Yadier Molina, Cardinals
C -- Devin Mesoraco, Reds
C -- Buster Posey, Giants
1B -- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
2B -- Daniel Murphy, Mets
2B -- Dee Gordon, Dodgers
3B -- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
3B -- Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
SS -- Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
OF -- Carlos Gomez, Brewers
OF -- Ryan Braun, Brewers
OF -- Justin Upton, Braves

I went three catchers because all are deserving. Molina and Posey maybe aren't having their typical seasons but they're two of the biggest stars in the game and Mesoraco makes it over the injured Evan Gattis for his monster first half. Rizzo was an easy call over Adam LaRoche and Justin Morneau, as nice a story as it would be to see Morneau go back to Minnesota (I have a feeling that he'll somehow make the real All-Star team). Murphy makes it as my lone Mets' rep and I took Hanley over Starlin Castro and Jhonny Peralta, although any of three are justifiable. Rendon is a rising star and second among NL third basemen in WAR. Carpenter isn't having the year he had last year but still has a .378 OBP and 53 runs scored. He's a better player than Aramis Ramirez or Casey McGehee, plus he can play second if needed (the game counts after all!)

After Gomez, the outfield choices were more difficult. In the end, I went with Braun and Upton over Hunter Pence, Jason Heyward's defense and rookie speedster Billy Hamilton. I was the only one to pick Braun, but he's hitting .293/.342/.515 and, like him or not, it's called the All-STAR Game and Braun is a star. My final choice was one of tactics: It came down to Gordon or Hamilton over Pence, to have a pinch-running option late in a close game if needed. Gordon has the better success rate (and has been a little better at the plate), so he gets the nod.

Pitching staff
SP -- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
SP -- Johnny Cueto, Reds
SP -- Julio Teheran, Braves
SP -- Zack Greinke, Dodgers
SP -- Madison Bumgarner, Giants
SP -- Tim Hudson, Giants
SP -- Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
SP -- Jake Arrieta, Cubs
RP -- Craig Kimbrel, Braves
RP -- Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
RP -- Huston Street, Padres
RP -- Aroldis Chapman, Reds

We had to pick four relievers and these four were pretty clear. Street gives me a Padres rep and Chapman, while missing time after his spring training line drive to the head, is one of the game's star relievers and has struck out 46 batters in 23.2 innings. For the starters, the first six listed above were pretty clear selections. I went with Zimmermann over teammate Stephen Strasburg and then Arrieta for the final spot. Maybe that's dubious choice since he's really had just the one dominant month, but he is 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA and has terrific periphals. If you want to go with Strasburg or his Cubs teammate Jason Hammel instead, that's fine with me.

The one concern here is that with Kershaw starting, there are only two lefties in the pen in Bumgarner and Chapman. For that reason, I did consider Cole Hamels, who has been great even if his 2-5 record isn't. The actual roster will likely include a couple replacements like it always does, so I could see a lefty setup guy like Tony Watson (0.93 ERA) of the Pirates eventually making it.

Just missed: Hamilton, Pence, Strasburg, Hammel, Henderson Alvarez.

American League

C -- Salvador Perez, Royals
1B -- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B -- Robinson Cano, Mariners
3B -- Josh Donaldson, A's
SS -- Derek Jeter, Yankees
LF -- Michael Brantley, Indians
CF -- Mike Trout, Angels
RF -- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
DH -- Victor Martienez, Tigers
SP -- Felix Hernandez, Mariners

Derek Jeter? OK, Derek Jeter. Of course he doesn't deserve to make the team on his 2014 merit, but in lieu of a Tulowitzki or even half of a Tulowitzki in the AL, he's the guy I want to see start. At third, you could go Donaldson, Adrian Beltre or Kyle Seager. Donaldson holds a slight edge over Seager in FanGraphs WAR and a bigger one on Baseball-Reference, with Beltre well behind on both, so Donaldson gets my nod. Left field could be Brantley or Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes or Nelson Cruz, who is listed on the ballot as a DH although has started 38 games in left. I went with Brantley but, really, any of the four are reasonable selections. DH was just as tough with Martinez, Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion. Again, any of three work. Maybe we can just play Encarnacion at shortstop and hope nobody hits the ball to him.

OK, King Felix versus Masahiro Tanaka. Tough call since their numbers are about identical. Flip a coin. Yes, I'm a Mariners fan, but the difference for me was Hernandez has allowed four home runs and Tanaka 13. I know Tanaka is a great story but Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers for many years now and has never started the All-Star Game. Hey, there's also the chance that Tanaka could turn into a Jack Armstrong pumpkin (just kidding, Yankees fans).

Reserves
C -- Derek Norris, A's
1B -- Jose Abreu, White Sox
1B/DH -- Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
2B -- Jose Altuve, Astros
2B -- Ian Kinsler, Tigers
3B -- Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3B -- Kyle Seager, Mariners
SS -- Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
OF -- Alex Gordon, Royals
OF -- Adam Jones, Orioles
OF/DH -- Nelson Cruz, Orioles
OF/1B -- Brandon Moss, A's

It will be interesting to see how the real AL roster shakes out. I assume since Cruz and Moss were listed as DHs on the ballot that they weren't considered outfielders for the player vote. So, assuming Cespedes holds on to the fan lead for the third spot, your minimum of three backup outfielders will come from the Brantley/Gordon/Jones group -- except Jones got off to a terrible start and Brantley isn't a big name, so the players may instead vote in guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Melky Cabrera (who got off to a strong start). If Brantley then makes it as the Indians rep and David Ortiz fares well in the player vote, it's possible that Martinez and Encarnacion both get squeezed off the roster (Cruz is leading the fan voting at DH).

As for the other backup, I actually cheated by including just one backup catcher when we told to include two. (Sorry, boss.) So three catchers from a weak AL group would further squeeze a deserving player off the team. I would have loved to have found room for hometown Twins second baseman Brian Dozier to make it, but I can't justify his selection over Altuve or Kinsler. The second shortstop could be Ramirez, Erick Aybar or Alcides Escobar; I don't really care which one. My final spot came down to Moss or teammate Cespedes. In part, this is a strategic move: Having that big lefty bat off the bench could be important (not that managers actually manage strategically in the game).

Pitching staff
SP -- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
SP -- Yu Darvish, Rangers
SP -- David Price, Rays
SP -- Jon Lester, Red Sox
SP -- Chris Sale, White Sox
SP -- Max Scherzer, Tigers
SP -- Garrett Richards, Angels
SP -- Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
RP -- Greg Holland, Royals
RP -- Glen Perkins, Twins
RP -- Koji Uehara, Red Sox
RP -- Sean Doolittle, A's

Love this staff. Great righty/lefty balance. My automatic selections were Tanaka, Darvish, Price, Lester and Sale, with Scherzer next in line even if his ERA is a little high. Richards and Buehrle got the edge over a strong pool of candidates that included Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Rick Porcello, Dallas Keuchel, Anibal Sanchez and even Phil Hughes. Like I said, a lot more difficult calls in the AL.

For the bullpen, Perkins makes it on merit, not just as the Twins rep. He does have a 3.41 ERA but has a 46/7 strikeout/walk ratio and just two home runs allowed and has been very good for four years now. Doolittle is a second lefty and you know his crazy numbers: 57 strikeouts and two walks. Apologies here to Yankees setup man Dellin Betances and his dominant strikeout rate. I'm guessing he finds his way on to the actual roster.

Just missed: Cespedes, Dozier, Kluber, Keuchel, Betances.
Over the next six days we'll go by division-by-division and look at what each team needs to do at the trade deadline ... and what may actually happen. As always, you can keep up with the latest trade talk at Rumor Central.


Arizona Diamondbacks

Status: Selling veterans to retool for 2015.

Trade targets for other teams: Brandon McCarthy (free agent this winter); Brad Ziegler ($5 million in 2015, team option for 2016); Oliver Perez ($2.5 million in 2015); Didi Gregorius (under team control through at least 2018); Aaron Hill ($12 million each for 2015 and 2016); Martin Prado ($11 million each for 2015 and 2016).

Possible suitors: Several teams including the Yankees and Athletics could be interested in McCarthy. Despite his 5.11 ERA, he's had outstanding peripherals (2.92 xFIP), which suggests better days ahead. Just about every contender would love to add Ziegler, whose ground ball ways make him an ideal late-inning fireman in double play situations. And many teams will also have an eye on the steady and reasonably priced Perez.

While GM Kevin Towers is reportedly loathe to trade away young shortstops Gregorius, Chris Owings or Nick Ahmed, any one of the three could be moved in the right deal (to the Mets, for catcher Kevin Plawecki?). Arizona would eat money to move Hill's contract to free up second base for one of its shortstops (back to Toronto, for pitcher John Stilson?), and teams like the Royals and Angels getting questionable production from third base might consider Prado, who doubles as injury protection at second.

What they need: Young pitching with upside is Arizona's main priority, but the team also seeks young outfielders with pop. And after moving 2012 first rounder Stryker Trahan off catcher in the spring, the D-backs' dearth of minor league catching could also cause them to target an A-ball heir apparent for Miguel Montero.

Likely scenario: McCarthy, Ziegler and Perez all get moved. Odds are against a trade of Hill, Prado or one of the D-backs' shortstops.
--Ryan P. Morrison, Inside the 'Zona


Colorado Rockies

Status: Too injured to know where they stand or move much.

Trade targets for other teams: C Wilin Rosario (eligible for arbitration for first time this winter), SS Troy Tulowitzki (signed through 2019 at $20 million per year), OF Drew Stubbs (final arbitration in 2015), SP Jorge De La Rosa (free agent this winter), RP LaTroy Hawkins (2015 team options).

Possible suitors: The Rockies would have more suitors if half of their team wasn't on the disabled list.

Rosario's bat hasn't outweighed concerns about his glove. He might attract interest from a team that needs a DH who can catch such as the Orioles. De La Rosa hasn't been all that shiny in over a month. That being said, he's better than what the Yankees have used lately in their rotation. Hawkins is a luxury the Rockies don't really need but he could help the Angels or the Tigers.

Most contenders can't afford the prospects to acquire Tulowitzki, but the Dodgers or Blue Jays could get creative if they moved their current shortstops. Don't discount the A's from making a move reminiscent of their Matt Holliday rental. Drew Stubbs is likely to be flipped because of his salary and Corey Dickerson asserting his authority. Stubbs could go to the Giants, who may be need a center fielder with Angel Pagan injured.

What they need: A young defense-first catcher and either corner infield or pitching prospects.

Likely scenario: Stubbs and De La Rosa are victims of a roster crunch and Rosario changes roles as well as scenery. Expect more drama from waiver-wire deals then from the deadline deals. The worse their July is, the crazier the post-deadline deals will be. The Rockies gamble Tulowitzki stays healthy and try again in 2015.
--Richard Bergstrom, RockiesZingers


Los Angeles Dodgers

Status: All in.

Biggest needs: Using wins above average, the Dodgers' worst position has been catcher, but that's partially due to all the time A.J. Ellis has missed. They could use an infielder, maybe a shortstop to hedge against Hanley Ramirez's minor injuries, or to move Ramirez to third to get a better defender up the middle. The bullpen has been better of late, with the second-best ERA in the majors in June, so that concern has lessened. And they're one of the few teams that has the high-end prospects to acquire David Price.

Possible trade targets: LHP David Price; SS Stephen Drew if the Red Sox continue to struggle; maybe a bullpen arm.

That prospect everyone will want but the Dodgers won’t want to trade: OF Joc Pederson is hitting .319/.437/.568 at Triple-A with 17 home runs, although he slowed down in June (.270, two home runs) after hitting .398 in April and slugging nine home runs in May. Still, he may eventually be playing center field for the Dodgers come August.

Likely scenario: As enticing as adding Price to Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke sounds, the Dodgers will resist the temptation and keep Pederson and Class A shortstop Corey Seager. Of course, cancel all bets if Josh Beckett or Hyun-Jin Ryu get injured. Most likely, the Dodgers add a reliever -- maybe a second lefty to go with J.P. Howell -- and eventually make center field a Pederson/Scott Van Slyke platoon, with Andre Ethier coming off the bench and Carl Crawford languishing somewhere if he ever gets healthy.
--David Schoenfield


San Diego Padres

Status: Selling anyone and anything.

Trade targets for other teams:
OF Seth Smith (free agent this winter); 3B Chase Headley (free agent); RP Huston Street ($7 million team option for 2015); RP Joaquin Benoit ($8 million in 2015, team option for 2016); OF Chris Denorfia (free agent); SP Ian Kennedy (under team control through 2015).

Possible suitors: Unfortunately, Headley's value has cratered the past two seasons and his current .201 average isn't going to bring much back in return. A team like the Yankees could be interested now that Yangarvis Solarte's magic has worn off, or maybe the Blue Jays (with Brett Lawrie moving to second on a regular basis).

The two relievers are the ones who will get the most attention (Benoit back to Detroit? San Francisco with Sergio Romo's recent struggles? Street to Baltimore?) and Kennedy could make a nice back-end starter for a team like Seattle, Oakland or Atlanta that plays in a homer-friendly park.

What they need: Well, considering they currently have the lowest team batting (.210) of the lively ball era (since 1920) and hit .171 in June (a record low for a month), they'll be looking for hitting prospects. At this point, parting ways with Headley is probably a foregone conclusion. Kennedy has a 4.01 ERA but does have a fine 111/27 SO/BB ratio so he should be able to help somebody's rotation. But he's also been a valuable workhose so the Padres may want to keep him around for 2015.

Likely scenario: Headley, Smith, Denorfia and at least one of the relievers gets traded. Less likely that that Kennedy gets dealt.
--David Schoenfield


San Francisco Giants

Status: All in.

Biggest needs: Giants' second basemen this season have combined for the second-worst average in the majors, hovering below the Mendoza line at .171. Brandon Hicks started off strong, but the recent free-fall could result in a larger role for prospect Joe Panik. Second base has been the clear and most concerning gap, followed by a lack of depth on the bench. The bullpen has been solid most of the season, but closer Sergio Romo was removed from his role on Sunday after blowing three of his last five save opportunities. While there has been talk of the Giants' interest in David Price or Jeff Samardzija, Giants general manager Brian Sabean is probably inclined to keep his rotation intact.

Possible trade targets: 2B/OF Ben Zobrist; 2B Daniel Murphy; 2B Chase Utley; UT Eduardo Nunez; OF Eric Young Jr.

That prospect everyone will want but the Giants won't want to trade: RHP Kyle Crick. But honestly, I'm not sure there is a prospect everyone will want that the Giants won't want to trade. San Francisco's farm system has been in the dumps since the graduations of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Belt. Crick is regarded as the best prospect in the system, but a 6.4 BB/9 in the minors highlights his command issues. He may not even make it to the majors as a starting pitcher, but rather as a reliever. The farm system is currently in limbo, to say the least.

Likely scenario: I don't envision Sabean sitting back in his chair too much longer as the losses have piled up for his team after they got off to the best 60-game start in the league. The versatility of Zobrist doubled with the Rays' desires to cash in on their expendable assets would ultimately fill the Giants black hole at second base. Don't be surprised to see a backup outfielder or infielder (or both) get picked up somewhere along the line. Sabean's always had a good eye in the bargain bin.
--Connor Grossman, West Coast Bias
Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield took your questions about this week's Power Rankings.



To be honest, I'm not sure if this says more about Tim Lincecum or the struggling, offensively inept San Diego Padres.

I mean, if you were to grade each no-hitter on a degree of difficulty scale from 1 to 10, factoring in the strength of the opponent, the ballpark and the weather, a no-hitter against the Padres at AT&T Park on a gray, hazy day would have to be a 1.

Still ... a no-hitter is a no-hitter, they're always fun and there's always a good story behind each one. Retiring 27 major league hitters without giving up a hit is a terrific accomplishment, even if no-hitters have become more prevalent in recent seasons and even if this one came against one of the worst offensive teams (maybe the worst) in modern history.

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsTim Lincecum enjoys finishing his second no-hitter against the Padres; when he's on, he's on.
For Lincecum, it's a reminder -- despite his ups and downs since 2012 -- that when everything comes together he can still out-think opposing hitters, even if he can no longer blow fastballs by them. Lincecum also pitched a no-hitter last July against the Padres, but that one was in San Diego, so it was nice that this one came in front of a happy home crowd. The two no-hitters were completely different in nature: That first one required 148 pitches as Lincecum struck out 13 and walked four. This one required just 113 as he fanned six and walked one (a second-inning walk to Chase Headley). After the game, Bruce Bochy gave a speech to the team in the clubhouse and joked about Lincecum making this one a lot easier for him by keeping his pitch count down.

Lincecum went to a three-ball count just five times, and his highest-pitch inning was the first, with 18. In the late innings, he looked calm and relaxed and even started a seventh-inning rally that helped the Giants extend a 2-0 lead to 4-0. With the Padres using three different pitchers in that inning, it led to a long break before the top of the eighth. But Lincecum got Headley to ground softly to first for the first out. He fell behind 2-0 to Tommy Medica, and the biggest pitch of the game might have been a 2-1 90 mph fastball that Medica was late on. He popped up to first base on a curveball, and then Alexi Amarista flew out harmlessly to center.

Everything was working well for Lincecum -- when he's on, he's spotting his four-seamer and two-seam sinker on the corners, which sets up his curveball, slider and split/changeup as strikeout pitches. The interesting thing about Lincecum is that even though his ERA is 4.70 since 2012, his strikeout rate has remained above average. If he can get to two strikes, he can still wipe batters out. Of course, he's been a much better pitcher at home these past three seasons: He has a 3.98 ERA and .230 average at AT&T but a 5.59 ERA and .278 average on the road.

Heading into the ninth, the no-hitter seemed inevitable considering the Padres entered the game hitting .216 as a team with a .275 OBP. If that holds, the only team with a lower average would be the 1968 Yankees, who hit .214. The Pads' OBP would be the lowest since 1920. Still, no-hitters are tough to finish off:



Pinch hitter Chris Denorfia got ahead 2-0 but took a fastball for a strike, missed a slider and then missed a curveball in the dirt. Yasmani Grandal bounced back to the mound on 3-2 slider. If there's one pitch the Padres would like back, it was the 1-1 91 mph fastball right down the middle to Will Venable that he foul tipped. He then grounded out to second.

So Lincecum has thrown no-hitters in back-to-back seasons against the Padres -- a team that has never thrown a no-hitter. Leading to this tweet:



A bad day for the Padres. A great day for the little guy with the terrible mustache.
Some stuff to check out as you take a break from watching the World Cup ...
  • Remember the great throw by Yoenis Cespedes a couple weeks ago? The next day, I wrote about some of history's great throws. Eric Lang of The Hardball Times examined the physics of a few of these great throws. Of the eight throws Eric looked at (including three from Rick Ankiel), Cespedes' throw had the second-fastest release speed and third-longest distance. Eric doesn't declare a best throw but does have some cool charts. Plus you can watch the videos again.
  • Grantland's Jonah Keri with a look at the evolution of the Cuban pipeline.
  • Missed this from a couple weeks ago, but Jonah had a list of the 15 BestCoolest teams he's seen in his baseball-watching lifetime. Surprisingly, he didn't have the 1994 Expos No. 1. He mentions the 1995 and 2001 Mariners, although I'd arguably suggest the 1997 club, while not as good as the 2001 team, was the coolest with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez before we despised him, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, Little Joey Cora, Paul Sorrento ... good times. Until the playoffs.
  • Matt Swartz of The Hardball Times had an interesting two-part look at the declining percentage of African-American players in the majors. Here's part 1 and part 2.
  • Good feature on Joey Votto by Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star. Votto: "I was always concerned about having the feeling — there’s nothing like seeing the fans and knowing you can’t go anywhere. It never made me feel comfortable. If I go out to dinner in Cincinnati, I know everyone’s eyes are on me, or at least the people who recognize me. Eyes are on me, judging me, and I can’t relax. I can’t be at ease. I don’t like that feeling. Over time, I’ve realized those things are few and far between, that those are isolated circumstances and my life can be completely normal. I wanted to open up because I do like to talk baseball. I love talking baseball. I think it’s an interesting subject, I think it’s something I’m familiar with. It’s something I can constantly learn about. I do like talking with the fans."
  • The Indians inducted Omar Vizquel into their Hall of Fame. Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com has the story of how Vizquel matured from an 18-year-old who couldn't hit the ball out of the infield to a potential Cooperstown Hall of Famer. Related: This is great, how the Indians turned an infielder from the '70s named Jack Brohamer into Vizquel, via Ryan McCrystal of It's Pronounced "Lajaway."
  • Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs with a look at Alex Gordon's arm. It's a pretty awesome weapon for the Royals.
  • Joe Posnanski with some thoughts on Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame.
  • The Orioles need to fix left field. Matt Perez of Camden Depot suggests Seth Smith of the Padres.
  • Brad Vietrogowski of It's About the Money ponders the idea of Adam Warren in the Yankees rotation.
  • Matt Adams of The Catbird Seat looks at the history of Home Run Derby participants to see if Jose Abreu could be affected by participating. That's something you hear all the time if a player regresses in the second half. Some of said that's why they don't want to participate, that it could mess up their swing. Matt's study shows 65 hitters improved in the second half and 141 declined in terms of OPS. Evidence of anything? I don't think. Aren't players who had a good first half more likely to be invited? So they would be good bets to regress anyway? I think Abreu will be if asked (and he should be).
  • Eric Reining writes that it's OK if the Rangers end up tanking this season. At this point, I agree. Too many injuries. Too many teams ahead of them in the standings. Take your lumps and look ahead to 2015. But do they really have anybody worth trading?
  • Nothing like a foul ball at a game, right? Here are some recent highlights: A fan gives a young girl a ball, only to see her throw it into the lower deck; a fan catches a foul ball while holding his kid; an A's fan is upset after missing a catch; a father and son are really excited about catching one; finally, Robinson Cano is out to protect Felix Hernandez. As he should. He is, after all, the King.
  • Finally, the memorial service for ESPN colleague Richard Durrett was held Monday. Hundreds packed the church in Dallas, including Rangers manager Ron Washington and GM Jon Daniels. He'll be missed.
On Saturday, Rockies pitcher Christian Friedrich, making his first major league appearance of the season, threw a wild pitch against the Brewers with the bases loaded.

Three runs scored.

Calling it a Little League play is an insult to Little Leaguers. Here's the play, in case you missed it. The first run scored on the wild pitch. The second run scored when catcher Michael McKenry threw wildly to Friedrich covering the plate. For the third run, Jean Segura caught Friedrich not paying attention as he retrieved the errant throw and scrambled home ahead of the tag.

SportsNation

Which was the worst play?

  •  
    56%
  •  
    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 915)

"I always check the effort first, that's first and foremost," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said after the game, a 9-4 Rockies loss. "But we didn't execute today. We wash it off, come out tomorrow. But we were sloppy early on, there's no way around that."

Was it the worst play ever? Well, maybe not, but we don't have video of the time Babe Herman doubled off the wall at Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers somehow ended up three runners standing at third base.

We do, however, have Ruben Rivera's baserunning adventures from May 27, 2003.

So which play was worse?

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