Last year, Yusmeiro Petit came within one out of a perfect game -- Eric Chavez hit a 3-2 fastball for a soft line drive to right field -- but now he got his name into the record books anyway, retiring his 46th batter in a row in Thursday's start against the Rockies.

Petit's streak goes back to July 22, when he retired the final batter he faced in a start against the Phillies; it wasn't a good one, as he allowed five runs in five innings. After that start, he was back in a mop-up role in the bullpen, before starting for Tim Lincecum on Thursday.

Here's the play-by-play of all 46 outs:

July 22 versus Phillies
1. Grady Sizemore grounded out to the mound.

July 26 versus Dodgers
2. A.J. Ellis flied out to center.
3. Clayton Kershaw grounded out to shortstop.
4. Dee Gordon struck out swinging.
5. Yasiel Puig struck out swinging.
6. Adrian Gonzalez grounded out to second.
7. Miguel Rojas struck out looking.

July 28 versus Pirates
8. Andrew McCutchen flied out to right.
9. Gaby Sanchez struck out swinging.
10. Neil Walker lined out to center.
11. Russell Martin grounded out to second.
12. Gregory Polanco popped out to third.
13. Brent Morel grounded out to shortstop.

Aug. 7 versus Brewers
14. Khris Davis flied out to deep center.
15. Rickie Weeks struck out swinging.
16. Mark Reynolds flied out to deep center.

Aug. 10 versus Royals
17. Omar Infante popped out to first.
18. Salvador Perez struck out swinging.
19. Billy Butler lined out to center.

Aug. 19 versus Cubs
20. Kyle Hendricks struck out swinging.
21. Chris Coghlan struck out swinging.
22. Javier Baez struck out swinging.
23. Anthony Rizzo struck out swinging.
24. Chris Valaika struck out swinging.
25. Luis Valbuena grounded out back to the mound.

Aug. 23 versus Nationals
26. Denard Span flied out to left field.
27. Anthony Rendon struck out looking.
28. Jayson Werth popped out to second.
29. Adam LaRoche flied out to left field.
30. Ian Desmond struck out swinging.
31. Bryce Harper popped out to shortstop.
32. Wilson Ramos lined out to right field.
33. Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to first.
34. Jordan Zimmermann struck out swinging.
35. Denard Span struck out swinging.
36. Anthony Rendon flied out to deep right field.
37. Jayson Werth struck out looking.
38. Adam LaRoche grounded out to shortstop.

Aug. 28 versus Rockies
39. Charlie Blackmon lined out to right.
40. DJ LeMahieu struck out swinging.
41. Justin Morneau flied out to center.
42. Nolan Arenado flied out to center.
43. Corey Dickerson struck out swinging.
44. Brandon Barnes struck out looking.
45. Jackson Williams struck out swinging.
46. Charlie Culberson struck out swinging.

The streak ended when opposing pitcher Jordan Lyles doubled down the left-field line.

Petit isn't known as a big strikeout pitcher -- although he's striking out batters at a career-high rate this season -- but 21 of the 46 outs came on strikeouts. Not surprisingly, only seven of the outs were ground balls; since grounders go for hits more often than fly balls, a record like this requires strikeouts and fly balls. Plus, of course, excellent command, something Petit has always had.

Anyway, it's a pretty cool achievement. The previous mark of 45 was held by White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, set in 2009 over a three-start stretch, the middle one being his perfect game. The previous National League record of 41 in a row was set by Giants pitcher Jim Barr in 1972. Barr retired the final 21 batters on Aug. 23 and the first 20 on Aug. 29.

One of the fun things about the long baseball season is the crazy, random events that will happen. This is one of those, although in this era of dominant pitching, maybe it's not a surprise that Buehrle's record was broken. But I don't think anyone would have predicted Petit to be the one to do it.
So, these are the National League leaders in batting average entering Thursday:

1. Justin Morneau, Rockies -- .317
2. Ben Revere, Phillies -- .310
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates -- .307
4. Josh Harrison, Pirates -- .304
5. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers -- .304

Five other players -- Matt Adams, Daniel Murphy, Yasiel Puig, Paul Goldschmidt and Denard Span are also at .300 or above, although Goldschmidt will eventually fall off the qualifying leaderboards due to his season-ending injury (as Troy Tulowitzki already has).

Let's be honest here: This isn't exactly Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker dueling it out.

Morneau is a nice story, signing with the Rockies and having a nice season after struggling for years to perform at his usual All-Star level after suffering a concussion in 2010. Of course, hitting .317 or winning a batting title playing for the Rockies is hardly a unique achievement and Morneau hasn't hit .300 in a full season since 2008. Michael Cuddyer, another ex-Twin, won the NL batting title last season for the Rockies at age 34 -- after having never hit .300 before. Six different Rockies have won a total of eight batting titles. To be fair, Morneau isn't just riding Coors Field -- he's hitting .325 on the road and .310 at home.

In Revere's case, it's not so much that it's surprising that he's hitting .300 -- he hit .305 last year and .294 the year before -- it's that he's the perfect example of why batting average is overrated in the first place. He has no power (just one home run and 17 extra-base hits in 480 at-bats) and has just 11 walks. So while's second in the NL in average, he's just 41st in on-base percentage and 63rd in slugging percentage. Players like Revere are kind of what led to the whole creation of sabermetrics in the first place: There's more to creating runs than just getting singles.

Now, players of Revere's ilk have won batting titles before. Ichiro Suzuki won two titles, although compared to Revere he looks like Babe Ruth, and he hit .350 and .372 the years he won. Tony Gwynn had some years where he didn't hit for much power; in 1988, he won a title with a .313 average and just 34 extra-base hits (that's the lowest average to win a title since the mound was lowered in 1969). He also won the next year hitting .336 with four home runs. Rod Carew won the AL title in 1972, hitting .318 with no home runs and just 27 extra-base hits. Matty Alou won a title hitting two home runs.

Still, Revere would easily be the "worst" batter to win a batting title. Here are the players with the lowest OPS (on-base plus slugging) to win a batting title:

Ben Revere, 2014: .696
Rod Carew, 1972: .749
Zach Wheat, 1918: .755
Dick Groat, 1960: .766
Tony Gwynn, 1988: .787
Matty Alou, 1966: .793
Pete Runnels, 1960: .795
Willie Wilson, 1982: .796

Those numbers don't adjust for the offensive environment of the season. OPS+ adjusts for that as well as home park. The worst five in this category, via

Groat, 1960: 110
Runnels, 1960: 114
Billy Goodman, 1950: 117
Wilson, 1982: 118
Freddy Sanchez, 2006: 119

Revere's OPS+ is 96 -- below league average.

Under this method, Groat qualifies as the worst hitter to win a batting title. He hit .325/.371/.394 that year with two home runs and 32 extra-base hits. The average wasn't a complete fluke as he hit .300 three other times in his career. To show how times have changed, however, Groat also won the NL MVP Award as the Pirates won the pennant. Yes, he played shortstop and was regarded as the team leader (and wasn't a terrible choice with a 6.2 WAR that ranked seventh among NL position players), but the batting title most certainly helped.

Groat winning wasn't as strange as Goodman riding his .354 mark for the Red Sox to second place in the 1950 MVP vote. He was kind of the Josh Harrison of his day, playing all over for Boston, although he played in just 110 games and barely qualified for the title. Phil Rizzuto won the MVP but Goodman (four home runs, 68 RBIs) finished ahead of Yogi Berra, who only hit .322 with 28 home runs and 124 RBIs for the pennant-winning Yankees.

Anyway, if you like to follow the batting races, this year's NL race could certainly end up being one to forget. Although on the bright side it gives Phillies fans something to cheer for (although didn't they want to run Revere out of town last summer?).
1. A big night in the AL Central.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Cubs are worth watching down the stretch.

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

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

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

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

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

5. Give these guys Gold Gloves.

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

Maybe the three best defensive players in the game.

One of the byproducts of sabermetrics has been the change in how we view managers. For starters, general managers are now the off-the-field face of the organization. There was a time when Earl Weaver had a big role in determining his 25-man roster or Davey Johnson could tell Frank Cashen he wanted a 19-year-old Dwight Gooden on his team. Now the general manager pretty much says, "Here are the players I'm giving you." As a result, we discuss general managers and roster building and the like as much as we discuss in-game decisions. Where we used to rail against managers, we demand that GMs be fired.

Think about this also: We talk about managers in terms of, well, managing. How they manage players and their egos. How they manage the bullpen. How they manage pitch counts. How they manage a young player. How they manage the media.

Less often, we talk about them in terms of strategy and tactics. This picks up in the postseason, of course, as we scrutinize every pitching change and sacrifice bunt and realize nothing Ron Washington does seems to make sense, but the regular season is dissected and analyzed more in a big-picture mindset.

Then sabermetrics piles on and says a lot of the decisions managers make aren't really all that important: Lineup order doesn't matter all that much, one-run strategies are overrated. Even all the shifting we see these days? That's coming from the front offices and the stat nerds, not the manager on the bench.

But then we get games like Wednesday night's at Citi Field between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, a reminder that the big picture consists of 162 little pictures, and some of those little pictures depend on a key decision from the manager. Score a big 3-2 win here for the Braves in their battle for the wild card, with a big tip of the cap to skipper Fredi Gonzalez.

Here's what happened. After Andrelton Simmons made perhaps the defensive play of the season to save a run in the bottom of the eighth, the Braves took that 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
[+] EnlargeCraig Kimbrel
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsCraig Kimbrel might be money in the ninth, but a little bit of tactical chicanery didn't hurt the Braves' chances on Wednesday night.

All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel came on and showed some of the wildness that has made him a little less dominant this season (his ERA entering the game was all the way up to 1.76, and he'd blown four saves). Eric Campbell singled sharply to right field on a 3-2 fastball. Matt den Dekker got ahead 3-0 and eventually walked on a 3-2 fastball.

Due up for the Mets: Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada and the pitcher, Flores hitting .224 and Tejada .228. With David Wright and Daniel Murphy both apparently unavailable with injuries, the Mets' bench was thin, so manager Terry Collins didn't really have any pinch-hitting options since he had to save a hitter for the pitcher.

Collins elected to bunt with Flores. That itself is debatable. I would have swung away, my theory being that getting the tying run to third base against Kimbrel is less valuable than against most pitchers because Kimbrel's strikeout rate is so high. Plus, he had just walked a batter and has been wild all season, so who knows what happens if you don't give him an out. I'd rather hope to go 1-for-3 than 1-for-2.

Flores got the bunt down and both runners moved up, bringing up the light-hitting Tejada, who has just 12 extra-base hits in over 300 at-bats. Gonzalez faced a tough decision: Bring the infield in to cut off the tying run but increase the probability of a grounder or line drive going through the infield and winning the game for the Mets, or keep the infield back to at least preserve a better chance of keeping the game tied and sending it into extra innings.

This is a situation in which the numbers can't provide a "right" answer. You could attempt to analyze the probability of Tejada hitting a ground ball (41 percent of the time when he puts the ball in play) against Kimbrel, who allows grounders on 43 percent of his balls in play. But then you have to factor in that Kimbrel didn't look sharp. And you'd have to factor in the odds of Tejada hitting a hard grounder or a slow grounder, let alone a line drive.

Oh, and you have about 10 seconds to make your decision. Good luck consulting the charts there.

Gonzalez had to make a snap decision. Maybe it wasn't that difficult; after all, with Kimbrel you have a good chance of a strikeout anyway, even against a solid contact hitter like Tejada. But it's one with enormous risk, no? Most managers are going to play it safe there; managers, by nature, are risk-averse. If Tejada hits a seeing-eye single through the drawn-in infield, the Braves lose and Gonzalez is vilified by the fans and the media.

I'm guessing that Gonzalez's primary consideration was that Tejada doesn't hit the ball hard. With that in mind, he brought the infield in.

It worked. Tejada hit a slow-roller to third base and the Braves got the out at home plate. Kimbrel then got pinch hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis to fly out to shallow left and the Braves were a win closer in the wild-card standings, one game behind the Cardinals.

Sabermetricians often talk about the "process" -- stick to the right process and things will eventually go in your favor. Sometimes a right decision will backfire and a wrong decision will work. But it's the process that matters.

Well, sometimes it's the result that matters. Fredi Gonzalez went for the win and got it.

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

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


Do you want to see the Yankees make the postseason?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,653)

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

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

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

My answer is no. And not because I'm a Yankees hater. There are simply teams with better October stories to tell. Jeter's has already been told, legend intact. I'd like to see Felix Hernandez or Mike Trout or Alex Gordon tell theirs.

Meet the ace of the Nationals

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Doug FisterAP Images/Alex BrandonDoug Fister has shown himself to be up to the challenge in 2014 with a 2.38 ERA.

It was a little more than nine months ago in this space that we made a bold prediction that new Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister would be a good sleeper choice for the NL Cy Young Award.

Fister doesn't have the dominance of Clayton Kershaw or the numbers of Johnny Cueto, but you could make a case for his appearing in the No. 3, 4 or 5 spot on the ballot should he continue pitching the way he has.

Fister has been everything the Nationals could have hoped for when they obtained him in a steal of a trade from the Detroit Tigers last winter. He enters Wednesday's start against the Phillies at 12-4 with a 2.38 ERA, the latter of which would rank third in the NL, but for his being a few innings shy of qualifying for the ERA title (which should correct itself after this game).

"Efficiency, groundballs, strikes, strikes and more strikes," Baseball Tonight analyst Dallas Braden said about Fister's success. "He's like a poor man's Roy Halladay."

In between his first start of the season, which came after missing a month with a lat injury (he allowed seven runs to the Athletics), and his most recent start, which came after having a small skin cancer removed from his neck (he yielded four runs to the Giants), Fister had a 1.82 ERA over 17 starts.

Fister’s numbers are similar to those from the first time he was traded, by the Mariners to the Tigers in midseason 2011. He went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and five walks in 70 1/3 innings down the stretch for a team that would lose to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS.

"I don't think there's anything different about him from when he was in Detroit," said Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty.

When we made our prediction in December, we cited a few different factors as to why we liked Fister. One was that the Nationals would be a good team and would provide him the support to succeed. They've done so on both the offensive and defensive end. On offense, they've scored 88 runs for him in 19 games (4.6 per game). Defensively, they've done a much better job than the Tigers at turning batted balls into outs.

Opposing hitters had a .299 "reached-base" percentage on groundballs against Fister last season. This season, playing with an infield that rates much better defensively, that has dropped to .244. Similarly, opponents' reached-base percentage on balls hit in the air has dipped from .394 to .316.

Our other theory was that a move to the National League would help him significantly on two fronts -- through the benefit of facing lesser hitters (including the pitcher) at the bottom of the lineup and through the unfamiliarity factor that NL hitters would have with Fister's curve.

Score us partially right on this one.

The familiarity factor came into play, not with his curveball, but with his overall arsenal. Fister has actually cut back on his 12-to-6 curveball in favor of more two-seamers. Though his heater rarely exceeds 90 mph, Fister's 6-foot-8 frame and funky deliver hides the ball well.

Fister's fastball has among the most horizontal movement as any pitcher in the sport. What does that mean in practical terms? Here’s four ways of looking at it.

From McCatty: "Eighty-seven with sink and movement is harder to hit than 95 and straight."

From Braden: "Everything he throws is in, then out of the zone. He has a lot of moving parts in his delivery, but he does a great job of keeping a hitter off-balance."

From "Baseball Tonight" analyst Eduardo Perez: "He pitches to his strengths rather than the hitter's weaknesses."

From a major-league scout: "He gets great extension and finished his pitches. The closed landing makes it look like he's throwing around the corner. All his pitches look the same."

He's been able to command his fastball extremely well. The video-tracking service we use that rates batted balls as soft-hit, medium-hit, or hard-hit has Fister with an 11 percent hard-hit rate on his fastball, best of anyone with at least 100 innings pitched. His 1.1 walks per nine innings ranks best in the National League and third-best in the majors.

And those who do get on base don't go anywhere. Opposing batters are hitting .239 with men on against him. And the next stolen base he allows will be the first he's yielded.

Given that he was out for a month, Fister should be pretty fresh heading into the final month of the season and beyond. He's posted a 2.15 ERA over the last three September/Octobers. Even a bad start for him is now one in which he allows four runs, like his last one against the Giants.

Fister has shown his ace-like status in five games in which he pitched in the seventh inning or later with either the score tied or his team up by one or two runs. In those high-leverage moments against the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Giants, Braves and Rockies, he's faced 16 hitters, retired 14, and allowed no runs.

"Nothing bothers him," McCatty said. "He always seems very relaxed. When he's playing baseball, he's having fun."

And perhaps making a few Cy Young ballots to boot.

1. Madison Bumgarner says, "Don't you forget about the Giants."

Strange question from my chat session on Tuesday: "Time to blow up the Giants? Keep Posey, Bumgarner and start over?" I mean ... the Giants are holding one of the wild cards and at five games behind the Dodgers remain in shouting distance of the division title.

Anyway, while Clayton Kershaw has owned all the publicity allowed for left-handers on the West Coast, Bumgarner has quietly put together another Bumgarner season. It seems like he must be 30 years old already, but he just turned 25 earlier this month. He's young enough that if you were to bet on one active pitcher to win 300 games, you'd probably bet on Bumgarner; him or Felix Hernandez, I guess.

[+] EnlargeBumgarner
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner mowed down the Rockies with his characteristic pitch efficiency.
All that is a way of getting to Tuesday's game. It may not have been Bumgarner's most impressive performance of his career -- he did, after all, pitch eight shutout innings of three-hit baseball in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series as a 21-year-old rookie -- but it was certainly was the most dominant from a pure statistical point of view. Bumgarner took a perfect game against the Rockies into the eighth inning (with help from a great catch in left field by Gregor Blanco and a close call at first base that the Rockies didn't challenge), ruined when Justin Morneau lined a leadoff double into the right-field corner on a 1-2 curveball. It was actually a pretty good pitch, down below the knees, but Morneau managed to hook it just fair with sort of a half swing.

Bumgarner's final line: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K's. Similar to Kershaw's no-hitter against the Rockies in which he struck out 15 with just the one runner reaching via error. Bumgarner's Game Score of 98 is second-best in the majors behind Kershaw's 102; unfortunately for Bumgarner, that's kind of par for the course for him -- just behind Kershaw. Although I'm sure Kershaw wouldn't mind owning Bumgarner's two World Series rings.

Bumgarner threw just 103 pitches against the Rockies, never more than 15 in one inning; that's his trademark, efficiency. He's usually able to pitch to deep into games without running up big pitch counts, although Bruce Bochy has taken the reins off a little this season and Bumgarner should sail past his career high of 208.1 innings in 2012. He was able to dominate the Rockies primarily with his fastball -- 30 two-seamers and 42 four-seamers, 57 of those 72 pitches for strikes. Nothing fancy going on here. It was really pitching at its most basic: Move your fastball around all quadrants of the zone, throwing nothing down the middle, mixing in a few offspeed pitches (although eight of his 13 K's came on fastballs).

While the Dodgers remain the heavy favorite to win the West, the Giants do have six games remaining against their rivals from Southern California. Certainly, the Giants' rotation is in scramble mode with Matt Cain out for the season and Tim Lincecum demoted to the bullpen -- at least for one start -- but one hot stretch by the Giants will make late September very interesting.

2. Alex Gordon: Sleeper MVP candidate.

Gordon had the biggest hit of the night in a night of big hits -- a two-run walk-off home run to give the Royals the 2-1 win over the Twins. Our pal Mark Simon writes that Gordon has the combination of offensive and defensive numbers to warrant MVP consideration.

Realistically, of course, Gordon has no shot. As good as he is in left field, the voters aren't going to give that a lot of emphasis. He ranks 18th in the AL in OBP, 21st in slugging, 19th in runs and 29th in RBIs. As we saw the past two years with Miguel Cabrera, the MVP Award is an offensive award ... although if the Royals make the playoffs, that will certainly help him finish in the top five.

3. Pennant fever slow to catch on in Kansas City and Baltimore.

The Royals and Orioles are in first place and played at home on Tuesday. The Astros outdrew both teams.

4. Javier Baez has a lot of growing to do.

In non-pennant race news, the heralded Cubs rookie went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the Cubs' 3-0 win over Johnny Cueto (Anthony Rizzo with his 30th home run). Baez has seven home runs in 21 games, but has also struck out an astounding 40 times in 90 plate appearances and already has four four-strikeout games. He's hitting .198 with just four walks. The talent is enormous and he's very young, but there's a chance he's more Dave Kingman in the long run or, as a reader compared on Twitter, a second-base version of the Astros' Chris Carter (which would be a valuable player, just not a huge star).

5. Put the fork in the Blue Jays.

Seven runs in the 11th inning? Ouch. The Jays lost 11-7 to Red Sox (they made it interesting with four runs of their own) to fall to .500. They're now 6.5 out of the second wild card with four teams ahead of them. Too many games, too many teams. The promise of early June -- they led the division by six games on June 6 -- is long gone.

I'm not sure it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' biggest win of the season, but watching from afar it sure felt like it. It may not even have been Ike Davis' biggest pinch-hit home run of the season -- back on April 5, he hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Reds -- but considering the opponent, the time of the season and how the game unfolded before Davis crushed a three-run shot to center field in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and deliver the Pirates a 5-2 win over the Cardinals, it was one of the blows to remember if this season turns to roses for Pittsburgh.

A few small-picture and big-picture thoughts off this game. ...

1. Andrew McCutchen departed in the sixth inning with discomfort in his left rib, the injury that forced him to recently miss two weeks. He left two innings after making a leaping grab against the wall that preserved the no-hitter Gerrit Cole was working on at the time. He batted one more time after the catch, striking out. Obviously, the MVP candidate isn't at full strength, although he did homer on Monday. Hopefully, this was more precautionary and not a severe re-aggravation. Despite missing the two weeks of action, McCutchen stands a good chance of winning back-to-back MVP honors, especially with a big September that pushes the Pirates into the postseason.

[+] EnlargeGerrit Cole
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesGerrit Cole flirted with no-hitting the Cardinals, the latest proof he's the Pirates' indispensable starting pitcher.
2. Gerrit Cole looked terrific. In his second start since returning from a six-week stint on the DL with soreness in his right lat (he also missed three weeks in June with a sore shoulder), the hard-throwing second-year righty was dominant, with a no-hit bid until Kolten Wong doubled with two outs in the sixth. He averaged 95.7 mph on his fastball, maintaining the velocity he had in his last start, a good sign that he's healthy.

Leading 2-0 in the seventh, Clint Hurdle let Cole start the inning against Matt Adams, the Cardinals' lefty masher. Cole was at 105 pitches entering the inning, so it was a curious decision in this day in which pitchers rarely go much past 110. Why not bring in a lefty to face Adams to start the inning? By the time Adams doubled and Jhonny Peralta singled, the Pirates were in trouble. Tony Watson couldn't escape the inning as the Cards hit a sac fly and soft looper to center -- reminiscent of Monday's rally when a few seeing-eye singles gave the Cards a late comeback.

3. Ex-Mets great Davis to the rescue. With Pirates fans sensing doom and gloom after McCutchen's departure and the blown lead, Davis entered for Watson with two outs against righty Seth Maness and hit a 2-2 change to deep center -- a definite no-doubter that Davis watched and admired for a split second. Considering Davis is hitting .100 against lefties this year (granted, that's in just 32 plate appearances), it was a little surprising Mike Matheny didn't bring in Randy Choate, although maybe he suspected Hurdle would have countered with a right-handed bat. But considering McCutchen and also Pedro Alvarez (foot injury) had left the game, the Pirates' bench was already thin by then; I doubt Hurdle would have wasted Davis in a tie game.

Anyway, the other option would have been to have Pat Neskek and his 0.86 ERA pitch the eighth instead of Maness, but Matheny figured Maness could get through the bottom of the Pittsburgh order. Maness is certainly a serviceable middle guy, he just hasn't pitched at Neshek's level. You hate to lose games like this without getting your best guys in there. (Neshek had thrown 18 pitches on Monday, didn't pitch on Sunday, threw 16 pitches on Saturday but hadn't pitched in four days before then, so he appeared to be rested enough.)

4. First base and right field. As for Davis, he hasn't provided a ton of power in his platoon role at first but at least he has been getting on base with a .352 OBP. Last year, first base and right field were offensive problems for the Pirates (rectified somewhat late in the year with the additions of Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd) and Davis was supposed to help that production as was rookie midseason call-up Gregory Polanco.

Their first basemen have a .232/.320/.376 line this year versus .264/.346/.422 last year (Garret Jones hit when he played first but not right field); their right fielders are hitting .247/.305/.345 compared to .242/.299/.385 last year and Polanco was just sent down to the minors.

The Pirates are scoring more runs this year (4.24 runs per games compared to 3.91), but it's not because they've upgraded their production from those two spots. Most of that credit goes to Josh Harrison and Russell Martin and a bench that has been more productive (in part because of Harrison).

5. Oscar Taveras needs to start hitting for the Cardinals. Part of the reason for trading Allen Craig in the John Lackey deal was the Cards' faith in their rookie right fielder, but Taveras is still muddling along at .233/.272/.306 with two home runs in 180 at-bats. Considering the Cards are still last in the NL in home runs, they desperately Taveras -- or somebody -- to start popping a few home runs.

Anyway, good game. It's not September yet, but it certainly had that September feel to it. The best part: Same two teams Wednesday afternoon, Adam Wainwright versus Jeff Locke, as Wainwright tries to turn around his second-half slump. The Pirates are 3.5 behind the Cards in the wild-card race, so it's a bigger game for them. Let's hope McCutchen is out there in center field.

Rangers chasing dubious record

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
It wasn't supposed to go down like this. Following four straight 90-win seasons, two of which provided the Texas Rangers with the first two World Series appearances in franchise history, all signs -- or most, depending on how you viewed the offseason moves by the front office -- pointed up for the 2014 team. Then the avalanche of injuries began.

First, it was Derek Holland tripping over his dog, requiring knee surgery, an injury he has yet to return from, although he is currently set to complete a rehab assignment as early as Thursday. Then came news that Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto would both miss approximately half the season with shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. The season had yet to start, and already the Rangers were without their No. 2 starter from 2013 and their projected starting second baseman and catcher.

Profar, as it turns out, will end up missing the entire season, one in which he was expected to replace Ian Kinsler. As for Soto, he played in just 10 games for Texas before being traded over the weekend to Oakland for cash considerations. In other words, the Rangers agreed that the season was so lost, and Soto almost certainly wasn't returning in 2015, that it was better to deal him away for something, even of minor value.

In response to that trade, Texas brought up Triple-A catcher Tomas Telis for a five-week audition in which he'll get the opportunity to show he deserves an opportunity to log some more major league time in 2015. He's also the 58th player that the Rangers have used on the season.

To put this all in perspective: The Rangers have used 36 pitchers and the aforementioned 58 total players. The MLB record for pitchers used is 37 set by the San Diego Padres in 2002. Three clubs hold the MLB record for total players used in a season at 59: San Diego in both 2002 and 2008, and Cleveland in 2002. Texas is one shy of the record. And it's not even September.

When rosters expand from 25 to 40 come Sept. 1, the Rangers will have a plethora of additional options to make those records a reality. Sure, you might see a hot prospect like Jorge Alfaro added to the 40-man roster, but there's not a realistic expectation that he'll see any playing time. The Rangers will instead be getting a head start on spring training auditions for 2015.

The pitchers who have fallen victim to the disabled list for Texas in 2014 are Holland, Yu Darvish, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Pedro Figueroa, Joe Saunders, Joseph Ortiz and Nick Martinez.

Regarding potential September additions, Holland could make a return, barring any setbacks. From there, you could see Ortiz, who is rehabbing an offseason foot injury. Spencer Patton, the reliever acquired by Texas from Kansas City in exchange for Jason Frasor, has put up an ERA of 0.69 and FIP of 1.08 in 13 innings for Triple-A Round Rock. You can pretty much count on him getting some time in Arlington. Luke Jackson, bound for the 40-man roster over the winter, might get a look, even despite his recent struggles. That would put the Rangers at 39 pitchers on the season before even considering other possible additions like Will Lamb and Jerad Eickhoff. Corey Knebel, acquired for Joakim Soria in July, would have been a lock had a UCL strain not ended his season early.

Position players who have landed on the DL this season are Mitch Moreland, Donnie Murphy, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jim Adduci, Profar, Engel Beltre, Soto, Shin-Soo-Choo, and Jake Smolinski. Only Beltre, Adduci, Murphy, and Soto returned from the DL. Murphy and Soto are no longer with the organization. While Beltre is battling for a potential batting title, Adduci has found himself mired in an ineffective slump.

Regarding potential September additions, Ryan Rua, who the Rangers have played exclusively in the outfield of late, has fared well in Triple-A. Given that he will be a virtual lock for the 40-man roster over the winter, it would be surprising if he doesn't see some time down the stretch, especially now that Choo has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. With the Rangers cutting ties with catchers Chris Gimenez and Soto in the past week, it's also possible that Brett Nicholas might get a quick peak of major league action.

A conservative estimate of the above would have the Rangers using at least 39 pitchers and 63 overall players, which would both set MLB records. If Texas were to decide to get creative and truly hold "open auditions" in anticipation of 2015, both records could be put into a realm in which they might stand for a very, very long time.

So next time you think your team is injury-riddled, the likes of which has never been seen, simply recall the 2014 Texas Rangers. In being a virtual lock to shatter records for players used in a season, it’s no wonder that the current 25-man roster is sitting right about where you’d expect: Last place.

Brandon Land runs the One Strike Away blog on the Rangers.

It's another edition of Rapid Fire ... except this time I ask Eric the questions.
1. The Angels need Bartolo Colon.

Journeyman left-hander Wade LeBlanc, replacing injured ace Garrett Richards in the rotation, was shelled in a 7-1 loss to the Marlins, giving up six runs and getting knocked out in the fourth inning. Do the Angels give him another start? Trouble is, that would come this weekend against the A's. Other internal options don't look much better than LeBlanc: Randy Wolf? Chris Volstad? Triple-A Salt Lake is 57-80, so you know there isn't much help down there. That brings the Angels to Colon. According to reports, Colon cleared waivers, meaning the Mets can trade him to any team. But if the Mets didn't trade Colon at the non-waiver deadline, are they going to be any more interested now?

2. Giancarlo Stanton is still in the MVP race.

He launched a long three-run home run off Cory Rasmus, his NL-leading 33rd -- and became just the 12th player to reach 150 career home runs before turning 25 (seven of the first 11 are in the Hall of Fame and the other four are Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Albert Pujols). He also leads the NL in RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and tops NL position players in WAR. MVP voters historically don't go for players on non-playoff teams, but in a year where the leading candidate may be a pitcher who missed an entire month of action, Stanton needs to be heavily considered.

3. Michael Pineda looked good.

Here's the scary thing about the Yankees: If they do somehow get to the postseason, don't underestimate them. Pineda hasn't been healthy enough to make many starts this year, but when he's been out there, he's been effective. He beat the Royals, allowing one run, five hits and no walks in 6.1 innings, the one mistake a Mike Moustakas home run. In 37 innings, he has a 1.95 ERA. Against the Royals, Pineda averaged 93.9 mph with his fastball (2.6 mph faster than his final start in April before he went on the DL), and in his three starts since coming off the DL he's thrown more 70 percent strikes all three outings. He's not the flamethrower with sometimes shaky command he was as a rookie in Seattle but has turned into a guy who can spot his fastball, with just four walks in those 37 innings. If Masahiro Tanaka returns at 100 percent and with the way Brandon McCarthy has pitched since coming over from Arizona, that trio suddenly looks playoff-caliber.

4. The Pirates suffered a tough loss.

John Lackey allowed just one run in seven innings, but the Pirates actually hit him pretty hard, with seven hits and several hard-hit outs. But the Cardinals turned four double plays behind Lackey (give him credit for inducing the groundballs), turning what could have been another shaky outing into a solid line in the box score. Meanwhile, after Francisco Liriano tossed six scoreless innings, the Cardinals scraped together three runs in the seventh off Jared Hughes, with a walk and some seeing-eye singles. Andrew McCutchen's home run in the ninth made the final score 3-2, but it's one of those games you lose a little sleep over if you're a Pirates fan.

5. The Mariners' punishing travel schedule may have affected them.

No team will travel more miles this year than Seattle and after playing in Boston on Sunday, they had to fly across the country to host the Rangers. They got shut down by Miles Mikolas, who entered with a 7.48 ERA and tossed eight scoreless innings. This is the kind of series the Mariners have to win against the worst-in-baseball Rangers, so the pressure is on these next two games, and the Mariners already announced that Felix Hernandez will be pushed back from Wednesday to Friday against the Nationals (Wednesday's starter is undecided, although it will likely be Erasmo Ramirez). The long plane ride isn't the only reason they lost 2-0, but it's one obstacle East Coast teams don't have to face nearly as often.

Eric and I discuss the St. Louis Cardinals and their chances of winning the NL Central.

The first time I saw Adam Jones play was in August 2007 at Camden Yards, but he was with the Seattle Mariners then and had recently been called up from the minor leagues for his second stint in the majors. I was there with my wife’s family and told them to watch out for this kid -- he’s a highly rated prospect who has a great arm. I looked pretty smart when Jones, playing left field, caught a line drive in the first inning and doubled Brian Roberts off first base. He’d go 3-for-4 at the plate and score four runs in a 13-5 Mariners' victory.

Seattle would win 88 games that year, and with a young Felix Hernandez on the rise and Jones’ arrival, you could envision a bright future for the Mariners … and then, that offseason, Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi traded Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and two other minor leaguers to the Orioles for Erik Bedard.

My friend Ted the Mariners fan sent me an email Monday night: “Watching Adam Jones is very depressing. Just robbed a home run, then gunned a runner trying to tag up for a double play.”

Ted’s sadness, however, is balanced by the joy of Orioles fans, who have enjoyed Jones’ hustle, enthusiasm, consistency and greatness over the past seven years.

I’ll admit: Despite my enthusiasm back on that cloudy August night years ago, I was slow to come around in appreciating Jones. I focused too much on his major weakness -- he rarely walks, which leads to league average-ish (or slightly below) on-base percentages -- and groused the defensive metrics didn’t agree with the Gold Gloves he was winning.

The sad thing about focusing too deeply or too much on the numbers is you can fail to fully appreciate a player. Jones is the kind of player any team would want, the kind of player baseball should do a better job of promoting: He’s charismatic, he plays with flair, he plays hard, he’s durable, and he’s good. He’s the kind of player every fan should love -- even Mariners fans.

The numbers say he isn’t quite a superstar; maybe not. He does make a lot of outs, and many Orioles fans I’ve conversed with in recent years have agreed with the defensive metrics that suggest Jones might be overrated in center field. OK, so maybe he’s not perfect. But there he was Monday, with the Orioles leading 9-1 in the sixth inning, tracing a fly ball to that short fence in Camden Yards, robbing Evan Longoria of a home run and throwing out Matt Joyce as he tried to tag from first base; he still has that arm I saw seven years ago.

Maybe the most underrated aspects of Jones’ game are his durability and consistency. After missing zero games in 2012 and just two last year, he’s played every game this season. When he got off to a slow start -- just one home run in his first 30 games -- it looked like he’d have a bad year, at least in the power department. Instead, here he is: Hitting in the .280s like he has the past four years and up to 24 home runs. In this day of carrying just 12 or 13 position players on a roster, having a guy who plays every day is more important than ever.

Jones isn’t unappreciated; he has started the past two All-Star Games, for example. But I’m here to finally say I’m on board.

* * * *

At the age of 23 in 2007, Nick Markakis hit .300 with 23 home runs, 43 doubles and 112 RBIs. The next year, he hit .306/.406/.491 with 20 home runs, 48 doubles and 99 walks and led American League position players in WAR (he was rewarded with not even one 10th-place vote in the MVP voting). He was kind of the opposite of Jones: A player statheads loved with all those walks, that doubles power, the cannon arm and the good defense in right field.

[+] EnlargeNick Markakis
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesNick Markakis may not be a prototypical speedy leadoff man, but he provides the Orioles with plenty of value.
He was just 24, and everyone wondered how good he’d be if he ramped up that home run output just a bit.

Then a funny thing happened. In 2009, tight as Markakis was entering what should have been his peak years, the game started changing: Offense declined across the league and pitchers began dominating, and as Markakis failed to replicate those numbers from his early seasons, he began to be viewed as a disappointment. Where was the power? Where were the 100-RBI seasons? He was no longer underrated but forgotten.

But here’s the thing: He has remained a good player, an above-average offensive performer other than in 2013. He still has a strong arm (he leads the AL in assists from right field), and while he no longer fits the conventional mold of a 25- or 30-homer right fielder, he has provided the Orioles good production from the leadoff spot with a .348 OBP and his 12th home run Monday.

A lot of teams might have given up on Markakis at some point and traded him for some pimply-faced kid in A-ball who throws 96, after viewing him through the lens of what they thought he’d be, as opposed to what he is.

Buck Showalter had some issues figuring out what Markakis had become as well. In 2012, he batted Markakis third the first part of the season, then moved him into the leadoff spot. He was having a solid season with a .293 average and .363 OBP when he got injured in September and missed the Orioles’ postseason appearance. Despite that success in the leadoff spot, Markakis hit all over the place in 2013 -- he started in six different spots in the lineup. This year, like Jones, he has played every game while starting in the leadoff spot.

Like Jones, that durability is a hidden asset. Other than in 2012, Markakis has been out there almost day, having played 160-plus games in five of his other six full seasons and 157 in the other. Think of all the time lost to injuries this season by star players across the league and remember that durability is as much a skill as hitting, running or throwing. The Orioles have two guys they know they can count on every game.

So maybe Markakis didn’t develop into a superstar hitter. You can debate why -- the pitching, decreased bat speed, something else -- but appreciate him for what he is: A solid player on a division-leading team. The Orioles have a $17.5 million team option for him next year; that might seem a lot for a guy who has never made an All-Star team, but you know what? I’d pick it up.
With the pennant races heating up, I'm thinking of trying this each morning the rest of the season: Sort of a quick-hitting look at some key results from the previous night and what may mean or not mean. Let's see how it goes.

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

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

2. Brewers' rotation depth is paying off.

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

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

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

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

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

5. The Yankees aren't dead yet.

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

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