SweetSpot: Tampa Bay Rays
Oh, and the trade season is upon us (Jake Peavy to the Giants; Kendrys Morales to the Mariners) and plenty of other chatter as the deadline is fast approaching and the Rays won't lose.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Prado once again finds patience is a virtue: Martin Prado is an unusual contact hitter in that he typically has one of the lowest swing rates in the majors. Jeffrey Bellone checks in on Prado's recent success. Follow on Twitter: @JeffreyBellone.
Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Who is the real Travis Wood? Noah Eisner takes a look at the performance of Wood compared to what we saw last year. Follow on Twitter: @Noah_Eisner.
Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The AL Central in 2015: With the White Sox far out of contention, Nick Schaefer looks ahead to how the division race will look next year. You won't believe this: The White Sox team blog is optimistic about their team's future. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.
Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced "Lajaway"
Indians' best defender is ... Carlos Santana? Ryan McCrystal evaluates Santana's performance at first base, and how he's evolved into one of the more reliable defensive players on an otherwise shaky defensive squad.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Rockies Zingers first-half highlights: From Doctor Who parodies and Hologram John Denver, to swing mechanics and breaking unwritten rules, Rockies Zingers recaps the analysis and silliness from the first half, with features such as Denver comic Adam Cayton-Holland's experience throwing out the first pitch, Jason Hirsh discussing arm care and Maury Brown's opinion on whether the Rockies should be scared of the Dodgers' payroll. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.
New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Appreciating the amazing David Robertson: Katie Sharp breaks down just how dominant D-Rob has been this year in his first season manning the Yankee closer throne. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.
Cashman deserves props for recent moves: Brad Vietrogoski examines the recent trades made by the Yankees and gives Brian Cashman credit for bringing in solid-to-very good value without giving up much in return. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.
St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Outfield offensive production rather shabby: Cardinals outfielders haven't produced much at the plate, and to make matters worse, they waste chances when they do actually reach base through poor base running. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
New Phil Hughes meets old Danks theory: The Rays continued their winning ways in the second half by using an unconventional lineup against the Twins' Phil Hughes as Tommy Rancel explains. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel.
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.
The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays entered the opener of their three-game series Friday night at Tropicana Field with similar stories: season-long struggles along with questions about how to handle the contracts of their ace starting pitchers.
Boston's honeymoon with its third World Series triumph in 10 seasons quickly waned as they coped with replacing Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew (he re-signed with the Red Sox in late May), as well as dealing with the oft-injured Shane Victorino. Xander Bogaerts (.665 OPS) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.622) have each experienced growing pains in their first full seasons. The offense, as a whole, has been wretched for most of the year, batting a collective .248 with only 79 homers before Friday (both figures 12th best in the American League).
On the mound, the Red Sox's rotation has been wildly uneven as Jake Peavy has seen a return of his gopheritis (AL-worst 20 homers allowed) and Clay Buchholz has yielded nearly 11 hits per nine innings. However, John Lackey has continued his career revival with a 3.47 FIP (his lowest since 2005) and Rubby De La Rosa has shown flashes of promise. Staff ace Jon Lester entered Friday's game with a career-high 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .238 opponents' batting average and a .638 opponents' OPS.
But Lester is also in the final season of a six-year, $43 million deal, and talks regarding a new contract have now been set aside until the end of the season, at Lester’s request. While he appears willing (and wanting) to remain with the Red Sox, even with a small "hometown discount," the Red Sox's reported four-year, $70 million offer in spring training was likely far lower than what Lester had in mind. So now, with Boston having lost three of four to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Sox sat at 47-55, 6½ games out of the second wild card and 9½ games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles. Their playoff odds were at 2.4 percent as of Friday. As such, Lester could be entering the final two months of his Red Sox career, or he might even be traded by the July 31 trade deadline.
On the other side of the field, the Rays came off their fourth consecutive 90-win season with reason for optimism. They'd have a full season of Wil Myers to build on his .831 OPS. Matt Moore, off a 150-inning campaign, would have his innings cap loosened. They would count on growth from Chris Archer, who acquitted himself well over 23 starts, finishing third in the AL rookie of the year vote. Evan Longoria would be his usual self. The division certainly appeared winnable.
However, Longoria has posted a career-low .396 slugging percentage and .728 OPS to this point in 2014. Myers was hitting only .227 when he landed on the disabled list in early June with a wrist fracture. Moore succumbed to Tommy John surgery in April, and Alex Cobb spent the first six weeks of the season out with a side injury. Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery in January and just made it back to Tampa three weeks ago. The catchers were hitting a combined .200 (68-for-340) with only 13 extra-base hits for the season. The team hit its nadir June 10 at 24-42 and 15 games out of first place.
It was looking more and more likely that David Price, due for perhaps a $20 million arbitration salary in 2015 before hitting free agency that November, would be dealt sooner rather than later. If so, it would be a bitter pill for Rays fans, as Price is having perhaps his best season ever (career bests of 1.04 WHIP, 8.2 strikeout-to-walk rate, 10 K's and 1.2 walks per nine innings, 3.01 FIP).
Then, the Rays righted themselves and won 25 of their next 36, leaving them at 49-53 and only 4½ games out of the second wild card. Their playoff odds were still only 10.2 percent, but given their track record -- and the mediocrity of the division -- who would count them out? As a result, seemingly the most tradable front-line starter on the market might be staying put a while longer or Friday night might still possibly be his last start in a Rays uniform.
If it was to be each ace's last start for his respective club, each left a terrific impression on the 23,136 fans in attendance, as well as scouts from no less than 17 teams (as reported by Gordon Edes early in the evening). The Rays went on to beat the Red Sox 6-4 as Price was the crisper and more efficient of the two, mixing fastballs from 92 to 95 miles per hour with changeups and curves that nipped the corners all night long. He did make a mistake in the second inning, leaving a pitch over the plate for Victorino to knock into the left-field stands for only his second homer of the season. Aside from that, he breezed through the first five innings in 60 pitches, yielding only three hits while striking out six without a walk.
Lester nursed that slim lead through four innings before getting touched for a two-run homer by Desmond Jennings with two outs in the fifth. He yielded a single and a walk after that but got Longoria to fly out to left field to escape further damage. He needed 35 pitches to get through the inning, bringing him to 98 on the night.
The Sox got to Price for two runs in the sixth on a double and three singles, but he managed to retire Bogaerts on a fly ball to center with runners on the corners to keep the deficit at one. After Lester finished the sixth at 110 pitches and with a 3-2 lead, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to the pen. Andrew Miller hit Jose Molina with a pitch to start the seventh, then struck out Logan Forsythe. Miller was relieved by Junichi Tazawa, who hadn't pitched since Sunday. Tazawa faced six batters. The first four of those went walk, run-scoring single, walk, bases-clearing double by Longoria. So much for the pitchers' duel.
Price thus took the mound in the eighth with a 6-3 lead and capped off his final inning of work with the last two of his 10 strikeouts on the night. In all, he threw 114 pitches, 80 of which were strikes. This was his 12th straight outing of seven or more innings, and he's pitched to a 1.07 ERA in his past eight games.
It now seems rather unlikely the Rays will part with Price before next Thursday's deadline. While their offense isn't a juggernaut, the pitching has been good enough, and they're starting to get some of their walking wounded back. The Orioles might still lead the division, but their remaining schedule is tough (only 13 games against sub-.500 teams). Hence, the AL East is still within reach for the Rays, and if they don't win the division, they'd be a tough out in the wild-card play-in game.
As for the Red Sox, their climb back to relevancy in the playoff race seems to have petered out. The bullpen has been shaky (their collective .700 OPS is eighth worst in the majors) and the offense just isn't steady enough, even with the return of Victorino. If a playoff contender asks about Lester, and the Sox feel unwilling to commit to "near-market value" on him long term, the Sox might just listen, and retool for 2015.
Diane Firstman writes the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
ST. LOUIS -- Even with all the trade rumors surrounding David Price, Rays manager Joe Maddon hasn’t pulled Price aside to talk to him about how he should handle the approaching trade deadline.
“I’m really not into that stuff,” said Maddon. “I could only probably hurt that, whatever they are thinking. Furthermore, I’m not the GM. So anytime I’m speaking like that, I’m speaking for a GM, which I’m not that guy.”
The Rays' left-hander (10-7, 3.06) has been the center of trade talks for the past month. With the July 31 trade deadline a week away, Maddon said that instead of getting caught up in all the trade discussion, he’s preparing for each game like it is September baseball.
“Honestly, if you don’t attack it one day at a time, you can get into a lot of trouble,” Maddon said.
Tampa Bay's 3-0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch stadium on Wednesday night marks the team's seventh straight win, matching a seven-game streak in September 2013. If the Rays believe they have a chance to get to the postseason, the landscape of the trade deadline could change.
This is where Maddon’s experience, personality and management style benefit the Rays, because when it comes to a team finding its way into the postseason, he has seen it all.
“I was involved in two really weird moments,” Maddon said.
In 1995 Maddon was the first-base coach for the Angels. On Aug. 1, 1995, the Angels had an 11-game lead in the American League West. What followed was the biggest September collapse in major league history, and the Angels ended up losing a one-game playoff against the Mariners.
“That’s wild,” Maddon recalled about the 1995 season. “A few years ago, [the Rays] were down by nine [games back] and then get there. So I’ve seen it from both sides.”
This year, however, Maddon said the Rays got “into such a horrible hole” early in the season. On June 10, the Rays were 24-42 and last in the AL East.
“It was really weird to watch because we weren’t playing well,” said Maddon, who has managed the Rays to four postseason appearances in eight seasons. “Things were just constantly working against us. We couldn’t hit, we couldn’t make a pitch, our defense wasn’t [good], and everything was just not normal. Why? I have no idea. I can’t say much other than the fact that it is called baseball.”
Then, all of a sudden, Maddon said the team started turning it around and playing better.
“We started playing a more familiar game; hitters started to click, the guys got their swagger back,” Maddon said. “There’s a lot of time left, man. A lot of time.”
What the Rays need most is time. Because being 7.5 games back in the AL East isn’t as big of a challenge as being behind three teams: the Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays.
A key to how the Rays' season plays out is Price. What can the 28-year-old hurler do, besides not being traded, to help the Rays get into the postseason?
“Everybody needs to continue to do what [they've] been doing,” said Price, who has a 1.72 ERA in his last 10 starts. “Nobody needs to change a thing."
Maddon says Price is a much more mature pitcher right now; he’s pitching better than ever, and he is a big factor in why the Rays' pitching staff has allowed the second-fewest runs (411) in the AL East. Since the Rays' winning streak began on July 12, their pitching staff leads the majors with a 1.33 ERA.
“The difference is he knows what he has and he’s utilizing it better,” Maddon said about the change in Price. “He’s a better pitcher. He’s more self-aware. He knows what he’s got and how to utilize it.”
If the Rays keep winning, they might play their way into making a trade impossible for executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. The remaining schedule provides lots of room for hope. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 17, the Rays have 26 straight games against AL East opponents.
Is a trade now impossible? “My job is only to look at one side of it, and I’m paid to win,” Maddon said. “The bigger picture for me is October, it’s not 2015. So I really -- again, we’ve talked about this -- it’s my job to do my job only.”
Maddon wants the players to do their jobs, and the front office members to do theirs, and he will do his.
“What you are saying is true,” Maddon acknowledged to the media, though. “The more we win, [there is] less probability of a trade occurring.”
Instead of being sellers, maybe the Rays have turned into buyers at the trade deadline.
“I like our team,” Maddon said, recognizing that when David DeJesus, Ryan Hanigan and Wil Myers come off the disabled list, along with the young talent they already have, the Rays will be much stronger. “I’m forced to say the same thing every year at this time: I like our names.
“We have plenty to get this done with what we have on the field. We just have to get everybody playing to their abilities. I think sometimes, people are fooled by all that, having to go out and get something at the trade deadline in order to make them a contender. Sometimes, you’ve got the answers from within and just aren’t getting people the proper opportunity. So we gave our guys opportunity; that’s what we have to do. So I’m here to tell you, man, with the guys we have here, I’m plenty happy.”
Even more than being happy about the makeup of the team, Maddon, who has managed more than half the games in Rays’ history, likes how the team has turned things around.
“Everybody knows I think we can do this,” Maddon said. “I’ve been saying that for a while. I believe we can do this. I really do. I’m not just trying to make it a feel-good story. We can do this. We’ve come from a lot farther back. So why not us? We’ve done a lot of firsts around here. Why can’t we do another one this year? I firmly believe we are in this, and everybody in our front office knows how I feel. I’m more optimistic than ever right now.”
On June 9, the Tampa Bay Rays entered play with a record of 24-40. Earlier that day the team's eccentric manager, Joe Maddon, unleashed Bobby Henry, a Seminole medicine man who throws turtles in the air hoping to anger the gods into making it rain, on Tropicana Field in an effort to chase away the bad vibes. Shortly after Henry was done, the Rays lost to the Seattle Mariners 3-0. They lost the next night too, this time 1-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was their 14th loss in 15 games.
Sitting at 24-42 on June 11, the Rays were 15 games behind in the American League East and 11 games out of the second wild-card slot. That evening they fell behind the Cardinals 3-0 and appeared to be on the fast track to another loss.
Perhaps baseball gods are slower to react than the ones who bring rain, but something awoke the Rays’ bats in the bottom of the fourth inning. The offense put together four runs on four hits and two walks to take the lead. They would add on two more runs en route to a 6-3 victory.
Since then, the Rays have been one of the best teams in baseball, with a 24-11 record since June 11. The run has taken them from the worst team in baseball to 4 1/2 games behind the Seattle Mariners in the wild-card chase. The much-maligned offense has produced the third-best team OPS over the stretch without much in the way of star power. Reigning American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers has been sidelined with a fractured wrist while their franchise player, Evan Longoria, is having his worst season at the plate. In their stead have been players like Logan Forsythe -- traded for this offseason -- and Kevin Kiermaier, a 31st-round pick in the 2010 draft. The latter has been particularly impressive, hitting .306/.360/.553 in 53 games.
The Rays' pitching staff also has picked it up, holding teams to around three runs a game while striking out more batters than any other club in baseball. David Price, the subject of constant trade rumors, has been the tip of the spear. The ace has allowed just three earned run in 31 2/3 innings this month. Any plans to trade Price and/or Ben Zobrist have been put on hold, at least temporarily.
On Wednesday night, the Rays met the same Cardinals team they faced when they started to turn things around. This time, Tampa Bay entered the game on a six-game winning streak and winners of 15 of their last 18, including a 7-2 victory over St. Louis on Tuesday.
Alex Cobb has been one of the Rays' best pitchers since joining the rotation full-time in 2013, but oddly enough, he has not been much of a factor during the team's resurgence. In his last five starts coming into Wednesday's game, he carried an ERA above 5.00 and was averaging less than six innings per start.
Locking horns with Lance Lynn, Cobb turned a much better performance on Wednesday. He tossed seven shutout innings while scattering five hits and striking out 10 batters without issuing a walk. The 26-year-old used his fastball and curveball to get ahead of the Cardinals' hitters before turning to his off-speed pitch to end plate appearances. The split-change was responsible for 14 of the 20 outs he recorded (a caught stealing was the 21st), including seven of the 10 strikeouts. St. Louis swung at the pitch a combined 33 times and came up empty on 13 of those swings.
Pitching in a National League park, Cobb was afforded the rare opportunity to contribute offensively. With Yunel Escobar on second base in the second inning, the right-handed pitcher lined an RBI double down the right-field line. It was his first career hit and run batted in. It also turned out to be the game winner.
Cobb was hit by a pitch on his right elbow in his second at-bat. After crumbling to the ground in pain and a lengthy check by team trainer Ron Porterfield, he remained in the game. He took the mound in the bottom half of the fourth inning and didn't miss a beat.
Brad Boxberger relieved Cobb in the eighth inning before passing the baton to the club's new-but-not-officially closer Jake McGee. The righty-lefty tandem affectionately known as "Jake in the Box" has become one of the most potent bullpen duos over the past month. No reliever in the AL posted a higher percentage of strikeouts than Boxberger over the past six weeks (47.1 percent); he added two more punchouts Wednesday. Not far behind him is McGee, the owner of a 99 mph fastball that he commands with ease, who struck out the side in the ninth inning to preserve the shutout.
Even with the current run, the Rays' odds of making the playoffs are long. Aside from still being four games under .500, they are in heavy competition for a postseason spot in a crowded middle of the pack with upwards of six teams vying for one of two spots not held by the Oakland A's, Los Angeles Angels or Detroit Tigers.
But after a clean 5-0 road trip to start the second half of the season, Tampa Bay returns home this weekend for a three-game set with a wild-card competitor and division rival: the Boston Red Sox. Although all of the games will be played under the cover of Tropicana Field's roof, perhaps another visit from the rain man is in order.
One player won't make or break a team's playoff push, but here is one key guy for each American League club in the second half.
Baltimore Orioles -- Chris Davis
Let's divide Davis' last two years into halves:
Second half, 2012: .269/.337/.530, .338 BABIP, .261 ISO, 32% SO, 8% BB, 31% HR/FB
First half, 2013: .315/.392/.717, .355 BABIP, .402 ISO, 28% SO, 10% BB, 33% HR/FB
Second half, 2013: .245/.339/.515, .309 BABIP, .270 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 21% HR/FB
First half, 2014: .199/.309/.391, .252 BABIP, .192 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 23% HR/FB
I don't know what to make of any of this, except that Davis is probably not as good as the first half of 2013 and not as bad as the first half of 2014. A major reason the Orioles need a better second half from Davis is that among AL players with at least 200 plate appearances, Steve Pearce ranked fourth in wOBA in the first half and Nelson Cruz ranked 11th. Assuming some decline from those two, Davis will have to pick up the slack.
Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus
Everybody keeps talking about the Blue Jays needing a starter, but from June 1 through the All-Star break only the Red Sox scored fewer runs than the Jays -- and now Edwin Encarnacion is out a few weeks with a quad injury. Rasmus hit .212/.266/.453 in the first half; the 12 home runs were nice, nothing else was. He hit .276 with a .338 OBP last year so there's hope for a turnaround.
New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka
I don't see how the Yankees climb back into this thing with an injury-depleted, makeshift rotation and an aging lineup that is more old than simply disappointing. The slim chance the Yankees have of winning the East or a wild card rests on the ultimate health of Tanaka's elbow. Maybe more importantly, the state of the 2015 Yankees rests on the health of Tanaka's elbow.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
David Price is the important Tampa player to the rest of baseball, but before the Rays pack it in and trade Price, they're going to see if they can get to within four or five games of first place by the July 31 deadline. To do that, they need Longoria to heat up. He wasn't terrible in the first half, but a .386 slugging percentage is well below his .512 career mark entering the season.
Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
The young infielder was hitting .296/.389/.427 through June 1, outstanding numbers for a 21-year-old shortstop. Then the Red Sox activated Stephen Drew and moved Bogaerts to third base and he hit .140 with 37 strikeouts and five walks through the All-Star break. Did the position change affect his mental state? Is it simply a failure to adjust to how pitchers have attacked? The final two-plus months may tell us a lot about his future stardom.
Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
Last year, the Tigers had a Big Four rotation with Max Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. They traded Fister, and Verlander went 8-8 with a 4.88 ERA in the first half, so it's really down to the Big Two, although Rick Porcello's improvement has added a strong third guy in place of Verlander. Among 86 AL pitchers with at least 50 innings, Verlander is 72nd in ERA. He's underperformed his peripherals a little bit -- 4.02 FIP, 4.46 xFIP -- but even the peripherals are a far cry from peak Verlander.
How far has Verlander fallen? In 2011 and 2012 he had 29 regular starts of eight or more innings. Last year he had three. This year he has one. Right-handers are hitting .329/.377/.505 off him; hard to believe that a guy that was so dominant as recently as last postseason has struggled so severely against same-side hitters. The Tigers don't need a strong Verlander to win the division, but they do want to see a guy they can believe in heading into the playoffs.
Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura
Well, yes, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas ... but Ventura (7-7, 3.22) is key because the 23-year-old right-hander is already at 103 innings; he threw 150 last year between the minors and his brief major league stint. He's not a big guy and he relies so much on that upper 90s fastball, meaning you wonder if fatigue will be an issue down the stretch. The Kansas City rotation has been relatively healthy this year -- the Royals have needed just six starts from guys outside their top five (although Jason Vargas will miss a couple weeks after undergoing an appendectomy) -- and any chance of winning the wild card will rest on that rotation remaining healthy.
Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher
The Indians finished the first half at .500, pretty remarkable considering the number of awful performances they received: Swisher hit .208 with a .288 OBP, Carlos Santana hit .207, Justin Masterson had a 5.51 ERA before finally hitting the DL with a bad knee, Ryan Raburn hit .199, Danny Salazar pitched his way back to the minors and Jason Kipnis' numbers are way down. So there's some second-half upside here, especially from Swisher, who shouldn't have lost his skills overnight at 33.
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale/Jose Abreu
The White Sox aren't going anywhere so it's all about Sale chasing a Cy Young Award (that may be tough even though he leads the AL in ERA and WHIP as he's pitched 50 fewer innings than Felix Hernandez) and Abreu chasing 50 home runs.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
Mauer hit .271/.342/.353 in the first half with two home runs. He has four more years on his contract after this one at $23 million per year. Was it just a bad three months? Is it the concussion he suffered late last season? The Twins figured that with his .400-plus OBP skills, he'd remain one of the best players in the game, even moving to first base. But after being worth 5.3 WAR last year, he's been worth 0.7 this year. A singles-hitting first baseman doesn't have a lot of value.
Oakland Athletics: Jeff Samardzija
He doesn't have to be the staff ace, not with Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray around, but he's under fire to prove his first half with the Cubs was a true improvement. Remember, he had a 4.34 ERA with the Cubs in 2013. Most importantly, Billy Beane acquired Samardzija and Jason Hammel to help the A's win the AL West -- but a red-hot Angels team narrowed the deficit to a mere 1.5 games at the break. Considering Gray is in his first full season and Kazmir hasn't pitched more than 158 innings since 2007, Samardzija will be expected to be a workhorse for Oakland, the guy who goes seven or eight innings every start to prevent the bullpen from getting burned out.
Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton
I could point to Garrett Richards, who pitched like an ace in the first half, but I think he'll pitch close to that level in the second half; he's the real deal. So let's turn to Hamilton, who hit .295/.373/.449 in the first half with five home runs in the 46 games he played. The good news is this:
2013 chase rate: 37.5 percent
2014 chase rate: 36.1 percent
He's continued to cut down on his free-swinging ways. The bad news is that he's struck out 52 times in 36 games since returning from the DL, with just three home runs. With Mike Trout crushing it and Albert Pujols on pace for 34 home runs, having a third big power threat would add even more to a lineup that led the AL in runs in the first half.
Seattle Mariners: Taijuan Walker
We know the Mariners have to improve the offense, but that's most likely going to have to come via a trade rather than internal improvement. We know Hernandez is great and that Hisashi Iwakuma remains a hidden gem. Chris Young had a terrific first half -- remember the whole Randy Wolf controversy, which basically allowed Young to come to Seattle in the first place? -- but Roenis Elias has struggled of late. That means Walker needs to find some consistency. As bad as the offense has been, Seattle has basically punted the fifth spot in the rotation all year with Erasmo Ramirez (4.58 ERA in 11 starts) and Brandon Maurer (7.52 in seven starts). If Walker lives up to his hype, he'll be a big improvement.
Houston Astros: Jon Singleton
We've seen George Springer flash his potential. Now it's time for Singleton to start doing the same.
Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
There's not much to watch with the Rangers in the second half, but Jurickson Profar's injury forced Odor to the majors earlier than anticipated. He's held his own so far but a strong second half could lead to an interesting position battle next spring with Profar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays lost 1-0 to the Cardinals, their third straight game getting shut out. They dropped to 24-42, the worst record in baseball, 15 games out of first place in the AL East.
The David Price trade rumors heated up. The Rays were going nowhere. Price is a free agent after 2015 and the Rays won't be able to afford him. They would obviously trade him in the midst of this lost season.
Then the Rays started playing better, going 18-9 entering Wednesday night and, as the Blue Jays collapsed, found themselves nine games back of the Orioles. Just close enough that trading Price can't be assumed as a foregone conclusion if the Rays continue to shrink that deficit before the July 31 trade deadline. Hey, the Rays are known for their hot stretches of play -- they went 21-5 last July, for example -- and this is franchise that was caught the Red Sox for the wild card back in 2011 after being 8.5 games behind in September.
So the eternally optimistic Joe Maddon keeps saying the Rays aren't out of it. That he believes in his team. The odds are slim and the Rays know this. Entering Wednesday, FanGraphs' playoff odds gave the Rays a 3.1 percent chance of winning the division and 4.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Clay Davenport's site gave the Rays a 7 percent chance of winning the division and 14 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The Rays have run their numbers. Maybe their own internal odds are more optimistic or more pessimistic. But I would guess the Rays have a number on where they have to be on July 31: Maybe it's five games back or six or seven. If they're at that number, they keep Price; if they're not there, they trade him.
So one win could be huge. Not just for the Rays, but the rest of baseball, or at least the rest of baseball interested in acquiring Price.
The Orioles had already lost when the Rays took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning against Kansas City, three outs from trimming that lead to eight games. Alex Cobb had pitched 6 2/3 innings and Maddon then burned through Grant Balfour, Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger to get the next four outs. Maddon has been a little flexible with his bullpen of late. McGee had gotten the last three saves, but Boxberger and Balfour also have a save this month.
Anyway, McGee had thrown 26 pitches on Tuesday so he was pulled in the eighth after giving up two hits. Boxberger threw 10 pitches to get out of the inning. Maddon went to Joel Peralta for the save. But he gave up a single and a one-out walk to Eric Hosmer, and Maddon turned to a pitcher named Kirby Yates, a 27-year-old right-hander with 10 appearances in the majors.
I know nothing about Kirby Yates. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He'd been the closer the past two years at Triple-A Durham and turned himself into a prospect with some dominating numbers: He'd allowed one run in 25 innings there this year and had pitched well enough in his 10 games with the Rays, 15 strikeouts and three walks. Maddon had used him as mop-up guy; only one of his appearances had come in anything resembling a close game.
But he here was trying to get his first career save. As I said, Maddon is an optimist. He'll trust anyone on his 25-man roster. He gave the ball to Yates to face All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. Yates threw an 0-1, 91 mph four-seam fastball that Perez lofted into the left-field corner and just over the glove of a leaping Brandon Guyer and just over the wall for a three-run homer. Royals win 5-4. Big win for Kansas City.
So here's my point: One win could be the deciding factor on what the Rays decide to do on July 31. The Rays are an organization that studies the numbers. The numbers -- the standings and the playoff odds -- will determine their decision.
It's possible that Salvador Perez just changed the entire David Price trade dynamic. Which in turn could influence the entire season, depending on where Price goes and what he does.
Keep that in mind -- and remember Kirby Yates -- if Price is pitching for the Cardinals or the Dodgers or some other team in October.
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.
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.
Status: All in. Despite all that has gone wrong in the first -- the struggles of Chris Davis and Manny Machado, poor results from Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Wieters' season-ending injury -- the Orioles are right there with the Blue Jays.
Biggest needs: Tillman and Jimenez were supposed to headline the rotation but are a combined 10-12, both with ERAs over 4.00. It's not just Camden Yards as both have poor strikeout-to-walk rates. So you'd think the top priority would be landing a starting pitcher. If the O's are willing to trade Dylan Bundy, they could probably land Jeff Samardzija (the Rays are unlikely to deal David Price to a division rival). Second base has been a problem all season with a .277 OBP. Jonathan Schoop has 56 strikeouts and seven walks while Ryan Flaherty is best suited for utility role. Steve Pearce has been hot of late so the need for a left fielder isn't the same as a few weeks ago. They could also look to add a closer or, if they're comfortable with Zach Britton there, a setup guy to pair with Darren O'Day.
Possible trade targets: Jason Hammel has succeeded before in Baltimore and the way he's pitching with the Cubs would make him the No. 1 starter in Baltimore. There are several second basemen who may available: Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks, although he comes with a contract through 2016 at $12 million per year; Ben Zobrist of the Rays; Martin Prado of the D-backs can also play second; Daniel Murphy may be the best guy out there if the Mets decide to deal him. Huston Street could is an option for the ninth, pushing Britton into a lefty-righty setup role with O'Day.
Prospect everyone will ask about: Bundy has now made three rehab starts in short-season Class A with 22 strikeouts and three walks. That doesn't tell us a whole lot but the reports have been good. It's possible he could be ready to contribute by mid-August, but would the Orioles be ready to trust him? And then there's Kevin Gausman, who the O's keep shuffling back and forth between the majors and minors. They won't want to trade Bundy or Gausman, and conceivably could go with the youngsters alongside Tillman, Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen and/or Bud Norris. Schoo could be dangled.
Likely scenario: The Orioles will do something, that's almost guaranteed. The AL East is too ripe for the taking to stand pat. They'll be battling the Blue Jays for the same group of starting pitchers. Knowing their history with Hammel, that seems like a strong possibility. If not Street, expect minor pickups for the bullpen and maybe a lefty outfield bat to platoon with Pearce since David Lough is hitting under .200.
-- David Schoenfield
Status: On the bubble.
Biggest needs: The Red Sox outfield has been among baseball's worst in 2014, and the club surely needs to add another bat to the mix if it has any hope of contending in the AL. Boston has especially had problems against right-handed pitching (though the Sox offense has'’t hit lefties well either). Adding a lefty bat to replace the injured Shane Victorino or fill in periodically for the struggling Jackie Bradley Jr. is the move GM Ben Cherington is most likely to make if he chooses to upgrade Boston's major league roster.
Possible trade targets: OF Will Venable; OF Gerardo Parra; another available outfield bat.
If the Red Sox can’t find a way to win some games over the next couple of weeks, Cherington could also look to sell off some of Boston's pieces, though the GM remains adamant the team can still contend in 2014.
Likely scenario: The Red Sox make a minor move for an outfield bat but still can't climb into legitimate contention in the AL East as the offense continues to struggle. Cherington sells off some of the team’s veterans -- players such as Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew and even Koji Uehara are all shipped elsewhere -- while holding onto bigger pieces like Jon Lester and John Lackey (and hope to re-sign Lester after the season). Boston adds young talent at the deadline, makes room on the major league roster for some of its talented prospects down in Triple-A, and gears up for another run in 2015.
-- Alex Skillin, Fire Brand of the AL
Status: Buying (by default).
Biggest needs: The problem that presents itself is that the Yankees are in need of a great many things, but don't necessarily have the pieces to acquire those things. On top of that, they have very little roster flexibility, unless they start axing vets like Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Of those many needs, though, the biggest is in the starting rotation. No one has any idea how CC Sabathia will be when he returns from the disabled list and counting on Michael Pineda to pitch again this year, let alone be effective, seems like a risky proposition at best. Additionally, with Ivan Nova out for the year, three-fifths of the rotation -- David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley -- is of the "just-keep-the-team-in-the-game" variety and that's not going to propel the Yankees into the playoffs, mediocre AL East or not.
Possible trade targets: We've seen the Yankees linked to the big names like Cliff Lee and David Price, as well as "lesser" targets like Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel.
Potential trade chips: The shine is off the apple of a lot of Yankee prospects, like the oft-injured Slade Heathcott and the under-performing Mason Williams and Tyler Austin. Catchers Gary Sanchez and John Ryan Murphy, who impressed with his cup of coffee this season, could be interesting pieces in a trade, but it's likely that the Yankees don't have the prospect package to land a big name.
Likely scenario: The Yankees trade for Jason Hammel or someone like him: A mid-rotation arm to take the pressure off the Phelps-Nuno-Whitely troika while Sabathia slides back into the rotation.
-- Matt Imbrogno, It's About The Money
Status: Should be selling, despite the recent hot streak.
Trade targets for other teams: 2B Ben Zobrist (2015 team option), David Price (controlled through 2015), Matt Joyce (arbitration eligible), Grant Balfour (under contract through 2015).
Possible suitors: The Dodgers were rumored to be interested in Price during this past offseason and could use Zobrist's flexibility for insurance at multiple positions. The surprising play of Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer lead to a crowded depth chart in the outfield as David DeJesus and Wil Myers return from injury, making Joyce a trade possibility for teams looking for a left-handed bat or outfield depth such as the Angels, Athletics, Giants or Brewers.
What they need: Tampa Bay needs to address the upper levels of the minors to restock the cupboard for the next couple of years. Starting pitching would be a primary need to replace Price and make up for the loss of Matt Moore as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. The team has two middle infielders in Zobrist and Yunel Escobar that are on the other side of 30 that have lost a step or two this season after excelling in 2013 and have two fringe players in Hak-Ju Lee and Cole Figueroa as the next men up on the depth chart. The bullpen is long in the tooth with Balfour and Peralta, and a MLB-ready catcher to add to the 40-man roster would be helpful.
Likely scenario: Price is traded for a high-profile pitching prospect and an outfield prospect. Joyce is traded for near-ready bullpen help. Given the front office strongly believed in the potential of the 2014 team, they could also keep all of their pieces and make one more push for the postseason in 2015.
-- Jason Collette, The Process Report
Status: All in.
Biggest needs: The Blue Jays are currently 17th in MLB in starting pitching ERA. The Jays' rotation consists of two soft-tossers, a journeyman lefty and two 23-year olds. Toronto needs a power arm, a workhorse who can put an end to losing streaks and take the pressure off youngsters Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman. As well, the Blue Jays could use an upgrade at second base and pitching depth in the bullpen.
Possible trade targets: SP Jeff Samardzija, SP David Price, SP James Shields, SP Jason Hammel, SP Justin Masterson, SP Cole Hamels, 3B Chase Headley, 2B Chase Utley, 2B Daniel Murphy, 2B Ben Zobrist.
That prospect everyone will want but the Blue Jays won't want to trade: SP Aaron Sanchez is ranked by both ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America as being the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect -- and for good reason. The 22-year old right-handed pitcher possesses a power arm with a fastball that averages a tick above 95 mph. Before being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo, Sanchez averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and induced 3.3 groundballs for every fly ball. With that said, command of his pitches is an issue. He's walked 5.5 for every nine innings this season.
Likely scenario: It is doubtful that the Rays would trade Price within the division, or that the Blue Jays would part with a package deep enough to acquire him. With the Royals flirting with first place in the AL Central, they're not going to trade Shields. The Jays will trade for a lower-tier arm such as Hammel, Jonathon Niese, Ian Kennedy or even the prodigal son A.J. Burnett. As for the gap at second base, Martin Prado would fill it nicely.
-- Callum Hughson, mopupduty.com, @callumhughson
Remember, no firing bottle rockets at one another. Stay safe and have fun!
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
The Inside the 'Zona midseason plan: A comprehensive breakdown of the D-backs' trade deadline strategy, with discussion of assets and targets. The Inside the 'Zona team also recommends specific trades with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Mariners and Red Sox. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona, @OutfieldGrass24, @rghods, @JeffreyBellone.
Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
Rivalry redirect: Brett Cowett calls the vaunted Red Sox-Yankees rivalry dead. In its place comes a new rivalry which has only grown more heated over the past decade. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.
Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
This would be a good year to figure out how to handle Adam Eaton: Now that Adam Eaton has shaken off the brutal slump after his return from the DL, James Fegan says the White Sox should figure out how to avoid running him into the ground again. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
One more reason why the Rockies don't hit on the road: Why do the Rockies hit so horribly on the road? Richard Bergstrom believes he found a surprising reason. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.
Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Crazy Twins stats at the halfway point: Joe Mauer is on pace to finish with four homers and 52 RBIs. Brian Dozier is on his way to joining the 30/30 club. Plus more quirky midseason marks. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.
New York Yankees: It's About the Money
Yankees' first half by the numbers, offense: The Yankees finished the first half 41-40 and a big reason for such mediocrity was their offense. Stacey Gotsulias breaks down the numbers and highlights the good and the bad. Follow on Twitter @StaceGots.
Yankees' first half by the numbers, pitching: Even though the Yankees' starting rotation has been decimated by injuries, some guys on the pitching staffreally stepped it up.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Finding Forsythe: The Rays have slowly climbed out of the American League basement and utility man Logan Forsythe has been one of the catalysts. Tommy Rancel explains how he has turned it around. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
There is no timetable for either pitcher. Wacha's injury doesn't require surgery but the Cardinals will certainly proceed with caution. "This last start he missed, we did it just to give him some rest because as we said all along we're trying to bank some innings so come September and October, he'd be available, being a young pitcher," GM John Mozeliak said. "It's disappointing to learn of this, but obviously he is too young and too valuable to take risks with."
Garcia, coming back after shoulder surgery last season, had pitched well in seven starts with a 4.12 ERA and 39/7 strikeout/walk ratio but was unable to complete a bullpen session on Saturday.
Without knowing the length of time the Cardinals will miss the two starters, one obvious ramification is this would have to heighten the Cardinals' interest in Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, the Cy Young winner everybody expects to be traded before the July 31 trade deadline.
Right now, the Cardinals will stick with Carlos Martinez in the rotation. The young right-hander certainly has potential but hasn't shown an ability to consistently get out left-handed batters, who are hitting .284/.393/.473 against him with more walks (14) than strikeouts (10). The Cardinals will have to use a spot starter for Garcia on Wednesday. Eventually, Joe Kelly, who begins his rehab assignment on Friday after missing two months with a hamstring strain, would fill the fifth slot.
So the Cardinals aren't necessary desperate, as they still have Adam Wainwright (who returned Sunday after missing a start and pitched well), Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. While Lynn has pitched better than last year, Miller has struggled at times and ranks 93rd among 96 qualified starters in strikeout/walk ratio as his strikeouts have dropped and his walks increased from his rookie season. That leaves a rotation suddenly shaky in three of the five spots.
Price has more value to a team trying to win a division title than a wild card -- general managers will be reluctant to give up too much for Price just to increase the odds of reaching a one-game playoff -- so that's one reason the Cardinals should have interest. While they're 5.5 games behind the Brewers, there's no reason they can't make a race of it. (Right now, FanGraphs projects the Brewers with a 50 percent chance of winning the division, the Cardinals at 37 percent.)
Plus, the Cardinals have some depth to trade from. While they would undoubtedly like to keep Oscar Taveras, outfielder Stephen Piscotty is hitting .312/.371/.438 at Triple-A. If the Rays are looking for more power, maybe something like a Matt Adams/Kelly duo is the centerpiece of a trade. Martinez could also be bait, especially if the Cardinals don't believe in him long-term as a starter.
Remember, Price has one more year under contract, so he's not just a rental. With so many pre-arbitration players on the roster, the Cardinals could afford to keep Price for 2015 and there's no denying a Wainwright-Price-Wacha trio in a potential playoff series looks nice.
A final thought: With three of their core offensive players (Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta) in their 30s, and Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter 29 and 28), the Cardinals are built to go for it now. A play for Price makes sense and won't gut the future.
- A's 11, Orioles 1: I wrote about Manny Machado's embarrassing episode here. How much of this is frustration by Machado? While he has had four two-hit games since May 31, his season line is a mediocre .235/.291/.346. Last June 30, he was hitting .321/.350/.489 with 35 doubles (remember when he was on a record pace for doubles in a season?). Since then he's hit .238/.278/.360 with 16 doubles in 107 games. Pitchers have been able to tie him up inside (.204 on inside pitches) and get him with primarily offspeed stuff outside (.236). For the first time, Machado is learning that baseball is hard. He needs to make those adjustments at the plate. ... The fielding metrics love Josh Donaldson's fielding and he passes the eye test with great plays like this one. If I'm voting today, he's my AL MVP.
- Mariners 5, Rays 0: Felix Hernandez had one of the best games of his career on Sunday, with a career-high 15 K's in just seven innings. Remember when we were all worried about that no-strikeout game a few weeks ago? Since then he's 5-0 in six starts (he didn't get the win on Sunday since Seattle didn't score until a two-out, five-run rally in the ninth) with a 1.99 ERA. Jeff Sullivan suggests one reason for his success is Mike Zunino's ability to frame those pitches low in the strike zone. ... I love when managers do this: Ten days ago Endy Chavez wasn't good enough to be on the team and now Lloyd McClendon is batting him first or second. ... David Price, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer are all underperforming their FIP. I don't think that gives any solace to Rays fans.
- Angels 4, White Sox 2: Interesting move by Mike Scioscia to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Adam Dunn in the ninth to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. But the batter was backup catcher Adrian Nieto, who had entered earlier for Tyler Flowers, so the White Sox had to let him hit. ... Any doubt that the AL West is the best division in baseball right now? ... Robin Ventura had used Nieto to run for Flowers in the eighth after a leadoff walk. That didn't really make sense since the score was 4-0 at the time. ... Tough sweep for the White Sox since Sunday's loss came on the heels of leading 5-0 in the eighth on Saturday with Chris Sale pitching.
- Astros 14, Twins 5: With George Springer, Jose Altuve and now Jon Singleton, the Astros have been interesting to watch for the first time in years. They're 16-9 since May 13 and have averaged 4.7 runs per game. ... How about Springer for the All-Star Game? Hitting .251/.346/.497 with 12 home runs and that's come after a slow start. With just one steal, hasn't flashed the stolen base part of that 30/30 potential, however. ... Don't exactly understand the Kendrys Morales signing for the Twins. The Twins are 29-32 and while that puts them in the wild-card race, it also means they're not that good. Morales isn't really a difference-maker. Wonder if he becomes trade bait in July if the Twins fall out if it.
- Red Sox 5, Tigers 3: If anyone can stop a Red Sox losing streak, it's Joba Chamberlain. ... Big Papi doesn't miss 83-mph hanging sliders. ... I have mixed opinions on the Tigers right now. They're 33-26, but have outscored opponents by just nine runs. I wonder what Justin Verlander is right now and the late-inning relief has been shaky, although to be fair Joba had done a decent job before Sunday's ninth-inning blow-up. The offense looks mediocre beyond the awesome 1-2 punch of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. It still seems like they should run away with the AL Central, but maybe we'll get a race like the past two seasons.
- Indians 3, Rangers 2: The Indians are fifth in the AL in runs and while Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall have been great, I think there's still more upside from this group, especially from Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. ... This is one team that could really use David Price. He'd look pretty nice alongside Corey Kluber and Justin Masterson, but not sure the Indians have the prospects to get a deal done (they're not trading Francisco Lindor). ... Just not going to be the Rangers' year. Now Mitch Moreland, not that he was hitting great, is out for maybe the rest of the season after he had ankle surgery, and second baseman Rougned Odor had to leave Sunday's game with a sprained shoulder.
- Royals 2, Yankees 1: The other day, I heard Yankees announcer John Sterling say the Yankees can only play better the rest of the season. Is that really true, however? This looks like a classic .500 team to me. ... Gotta love Ned Yost. He's hitting the players with the two highest OBPs on the team (Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain) fifth and seventh for the most part.
- Cardinals 5, Blue Jays 0: Impressive back-to-back shutouts for the Cards in Toronto. ... Amazingly, the Cards have now homered in back-to-back games for the first time since May 7-9, snapping a 26-game stretch without homering in consecutive games. ... That lack of power remains one of the most important issues in the National League moving forward. ... You do wonder how the Blue Jays' rotation will hold up. Mark Buehrle is due to slide (he lost Saturday) and Sunday starter Drew Hutchison has been inconsistent and is coming off Tommy John surgery so you wonder about fatigue later in the season with him.
- Giants 6, Mets 4: Hard to find a flaw right now with the Giants. Tim Lincecum wasn't great on Sunday -- allowing three runs in six innings -- but when he's the weakest link on the club that's how you can have the best record in baseball. ... Brandon Crawford remains an unsung member of the team, very good at shortstop and contributes with the bat. ... As bad as the Mets lineup looked on Sunday, the Mets are averaging 4.0 runs per game, right at the NL average. I hear the lineup being criticized a lot as being awful, but it's not, it's actually mediocre.
- Dodgers 6, Rockies 1: On Sunday, the most expensive payroll in the majors rolled out a lineup that had Chone Figgins leading off, Scott Van Slyke batting fifth and playing center field, somebody named Jamie Romak batting sixth and playing right field, somebody named Miguel Rojas batting seventh and weak-hitting Drew Butera hitting eighth. And they won! ... Charlie Blackmon since May 1: .246/.289/.405. ... The Rockies are 2-11 their past 13 and their next 27 games are all against teams currently with a winning record. They may be 10 games under .500 by the end of that stretch. It was fun for awhile.
- Diamondbacks 6, Braves 5: I think it's too late, but the D-backs are 20-15 since April 30. ... Chase Anderson is 5-0 in five starts. Is he this good? Probably not. His FIP is 4.54 but his ERA is 3.14. He had a 5.73 ERA last year at Triple-A Reno. He doesn't throw hard (average fastball is 90 mph) but has thrown strikes so far and hasn't hurt himself. ... Not sure how much longer the Braves can ride the Aaron Harang bandwagon (six walks on Monday). ... Tommy La Stella has hit .400 in nine games although with no extra-base hits. That's what he is, a guy who can hit for average and put the ball in play. He won't be a huge offensive contributor since it will be an empty average, but he should still be an upgrade over what they got from Dan Uggla the past year-plus (including defensively).
- Brewers 1, Pirates 0: Yovani Gallardo had his best start of the season. I think he's a huge key to the Brewers winning the NL Central. ... If I'm filling out my All-Star ballot today, Jonathan Lucroy gets my vote as starting catcher. ... Is this what Starling Marte is, a .230 hitter? With 68 strikeouts and just 16 walks, he clearly has holes in his swing and areas he can be pitched to.
- Nationals 6, Padres 0: You rarely see a pitcher dominate with just his fastball, but that's essentially what Jordan Zimmermann did, with nine of his 12 K's coming on his fastball. ... Zimmermann has lowered his ERA from 4.07 to 3.17 with two scoreless starts. Is he back to the guy who dominated in the first half of last year? We'll see, but those two starts came against the Phillies and Padres. ... The Nationals have the best ERA in the majors since May 1 at 2.87. ... This upcoming road trip to St. Louis and San Francisco will be an interesting test for the Nationals to make a statement that they're more than just a .500-ish team. ... Chase Headley will always have that second half of 2012. Will he go down as the least likely season RBI leader ever?
- Marlins 4, Cubs 3: The Marlins continue to hang in there, although let's see if Henderson Alvarez's injury is serious (he left in the sixth with a hip strain after his scoreless streak ended at 26 innings). ... Next 16 games are against teams with losing records, so an important stretch to play well. ... Lineup is still more than just Giancarlo Stanton -- seven of the eight regulars have an OPS+ better than league average. ... In general, I still like this club and expect them to hang around in the NL East. ... Have the Cubs found a starter in Jake Arrieta? In 16 starts with them, he has a 3.18 ERA. Maybe leaving Camden Yards helped his confidence or maybe at 28 he's finally figuring a few things out. He's also being limited to 5-6 innings per outing. There are some gray areas in the numbers but he does have a 2.58 FIP this year to go with his 2.50 ERA, primarily because he's allowed just one home run. I'm still a little skeptical, as home runs have always been a big problem for him.
- Reds 4, Phillies 1: Speaking of bad lineups, maybe it's time Bryan Price demotes Brandon Phillips and his .305 OBP out of the third spot? Not that Price has a lot of good options. He's hit Todd Frazier, the team's best hitter this season, in the second spot quite a bit recently, but he was hitting sixth on Sunday. So Price hit his hottest hitter sixth in order to lead off his lineup with three guys with OBPs of .288, .267 and .305. ... As for the Phillies, don't even get me going on Ben Revere, who drew a walk leading off a game for the first time in his career. He's hitting .282 ... with a robust .298 OBP. It's National League baseball, 2014 style!