SweetSpot: Houston Astros

The lament of Cabrera and Fielder

November, 4, 2013
When the Detroit Tigers look back on the opportunities they bungled in the 2013 ALCS, their biggest regrets on the offensive side are going to be the strikeouts by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder with one out and runners on first and on third, trailing by a run in the eighth inning of Game 3.

Tigers fans, you are not alone in your laments. There is company in your misery when it comes to missed opportunities of that nature.

We pondered and came up with a few sets of fans who can sympathize.

1986 Angels fans: The lament of DeCinces and Grich
As bad a memory as the Dave Henderson home run is for Angels fans, it could have all been an afterthought had the Angels finished off the series in the bottom of the ninth.

After Henderson's home run gave the Red Sox the lead, the Angels tied the game in that frame and loaded the bases with one out, needing only a well-hit fly ball to end the series in five games.

But an overeager Doug DeCinces swung at Steve Crawford's first pitch and hit a fly ball to shallow right, not far enough out to challenge the best arm in the American League in Dwight Evans.

Grich would then hit a soft liner back to the pitcher and the game would go extra innings, with the Red Sox winning on a Henderson sacrifice fly. They would romp in the next two games to win the series in seven.

1988 Mets fans: The lament of Strawberry and McReynolds
Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS is best remembered for the game-tying homer hit by Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia against Dwight Gooden in the ninth inning.

But the game did not end there. The Dodgers scored in the 12th on Kirk Gibson's homer, but the Mets had a great threat in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with one out for their two best run producers.

Tommy Lasorda brought Jesse Orosco in from the bullpen and he coaxed a popout by Darryl Strawberry and then Orel Hershiser made a cameo appearance (after starting the previous game) to get Kevin McReynolds on a blooper to center on which John Shelby made the game-ending catch, evening the series, 2-2.

The Dodgers would go on to win the series in seven games.

1991 Braves fans: The lament of Smith, Gant and Bream
The instant classic that was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series presented both teams with opportunities to break a scoreless tie.

The Braves could have and should have, but didn't score in an eighth inning with multiple regrets. The first was when Lonnie Smith, who was on first base, got deked out by the Twins infield and was forced to hold at third on Terry Pendleton's double into the left-center gap.

Second and third and nobody out still presented the most golden of opportunities, but Jack Morris got the outs for which he became a legend (and a debatable Hall of Fame candidate), getting Ron Gant to ground to first, and after an intentional walk, Sid Bream to hit into a 3-2-3 inning-ending double play.

The Twins would win in 10 innings on Gene Larkin's single, winning a memorable series in seven games.

1996 Braves fans: The lament of Lopez and Polonia
Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS was very similar to Game 5 of the 1996 World Series between the Yankees and Braves, with Justin Verlander playing the role of tough-luck loser John Smoltz.

Similar to how the Tigers threatened in the eighth inning, the Braves had their chance down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth after Chipper Jones doubled and Fred McGriff advanced him with a groundout.

Catcher Javy Lopez could not get the tying run home though, grounding to third against John Wetteland.

After an intentional walk to Ryan Klesko, pinch-hitter Luis Polonia hit a fly ball into the right-center field gap that looked like it would be a game-winning double.

But Paul O'Neill raced back, made a running catch and punched the outfield fence in delight as the Yankees headed home with a win, and a 3-2 series lead.

1999 Astros fans: The lament of Everett, Eusebio and Gutierrez
This one's not so much on the hitters, though Carl Everett, Tony Eusebio and Ricky Gutierrez did strand the bases loaded after no one was out in the 10th inning of a tie game of Game 3 of a 1-1 NLDS between the Astros and Braves.

This one is more remembered for Walt Weiss' amazing defensive play on Eusebio's grounder (which sandwiched Everett's forceout and Gutierrez's strikeout).

Weiss' diving stop and throw home for the out thwarted the Astros' hopes of a walk-off win and extended the game. The Braves would win in the 12th and send the Astros home after another year of postseason frustration.

2003 Yankees fans: The lament of Boone and Flaherty
Aaron Boone had the greatest moment of his career with his walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox.

But his second opportunity at baseball glory didn't go as well.

The Yankees led the Marlins 2 games to 1 in the 2003 World Series. In the 11th inning of Game 4, with the score tied 3-3 and the bases loaded with one out, Boone came up against Braden Looper, but couldn't get the run in that would have put the Yankees ahead, striking out after a long at-bat. John Flaherty popped up and the game continued.

The Marlins would win in the 12th on Alex Gonzalez's series-knotting homer and would not lose again, beating the Yankees in six games for their second championship.

2013 Athletics fans: The lament of Reddick, Vogt and Callaspo
The Tigers did what was done to them unto others, in this case the Athletics in Game 4 of this year's ALDS.

Max Scherzer's great escape in the eighth inning protecting a one-run lead with the bases loaded and nobody out by striking out Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, and getting Alberto Callaspo to fly to center, is one fond memory for Tigers fans to take into this offseason.

It could have been fonder though, had Cabrera or Fielder come through just that once.
Yesterday, I mentioned there have been just three come-from-behind walk-off home runs in postseason history: Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter in the World Series and Lenny Dykstra in the 1986 National League Championship Series.

Visiting players can't hit walk-off home runs, of course, but there have been four ninth-inning, come-from-behind home runs hit by visiting players. In order:

Jack Clark, Cardinals, 1985 NLCS, Game 6
The Dodgers led 5-4, trying to remain alive in the series, but the Cardinals had runners on second and third with two outs and Clark, one of the best hitters in the league, up at the plate. Tom Niedenfuer was pitching. Andy Van Slyke was on deck. Tommy Lasorda could have intentionally walked Clark but elected to stick with a righty-righty matchup instead of Niedenfuer versus the lefty Van Slyke. Lasorda was criticized immediately for pitching to Clark, but was it the wrong move? Not necessarily.

One way to look at this: You're comparing Clark's batting average (the Cardinals need a hit) versus Van Slyke's on-base percentage (a walk ties the game). Niedenfuer's splits that year were pretty even -- .222 versus righties, .224 versus lefties, although he allowed just one home run to righties all season, five to lefties. Clark hit .261 versus right-handers that year, Van Slyke had a .360 OBP versus righties. Based on the numbers, Lasorda made the right call. Based on what happened ... the wrong one.

Dave Henderson, Red Sox, 1986 ALCS, Game 5
The Angels led 5-2 heading into the top of the ninth, just three outs from reaching the first World Series in franchise history. The Red Sox, of course, were trying to slay their own demons. Starter Mike Witt was still pitching for the Angels. Bill Buckner singled and with one out Don Baylor homered. Witt then retired Dwight Evans. Manager Gene Mauch brought in lefty Gary Lucas to face Rich Gedman. It's hard to argue with the move: Gedman had hit .186 against lefties that year. But Lucas hit him, Donnie Moore came on and with two strikes, Henderson hit his famous home run.

People forget that Hendu's home run didn't end up winning the game as the Angels actually tied it in the bottom of the ninth, with Steve Crawford escaping a one-out bases-loaded jam. The Red Sox would win in 11 innings, with Henderson's sacrifice fly scoring the go-ahead run.

Ed Sprague, Blue Jays, 1992 World Series, Game 2
The Braves had won Game 1 behind Tom Glavine's four-hit complete game and veteran closer Jeff Reardon, who had come over late in the season from Boston, was in to finish off Atlanta's 4-3 lead. With one out, pinch hitter Derek Bell walked. Sprague, who had just 50 plate appearances and one home run in the regular season, hit for pitcher Duane Ward. Sprague swung at the first pitch and launched a two-run homer to left field. The Braves got two on in the bottom of the ninth against Tom Henke but Terry Pendleton popped out.

The Blue Jays would win Games 3, 4 and 6 ... all by one run. In Game 3, they scored runs in the eighth and ninth (Reardon gave up the winning hit). In the clinching Game 6, they won in 11 innings.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2005 NLCS, Game 5
Astros up 4-2, trying to wrap up the series, Brad Lidge on for the save. He strikes out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, but David Eckstein singles to left and Jim Edmonds walks. And then this happened. Lidge could have pitched around Pujols to pitch to Reggie Sanders, but he elected to go after the big guy.

The Astros did win Game 6 behind Roy Oswalt to reach the World Series -- where Lidge would lose two more games.

The year in happy Astros quotes

September, 30, 2013
The Houston Astros were not very good in 2013. In fact, they were only the fourth team since World War II to lose more than 110 games in a season.

The Astros weren’t very good in 2011 or 2012 either. They have lost 106 or more games in each of the last three seasons.

But none of this is news. And why dwell on the negative? Sure, the Astros lost 111 games, but they also won 51 games against major league teams. Let's look back at the positive, happy and excited quotes that followed each of Houston's remarkable 51 wins this year.

Know hope. And admire the Astros for making it through another season without giving up.

Win 1: 8-2 vs. Rangers, March 31
"To sit at 1-0 right now feels pretty darn good, and we've just got to go back out there on Tuesday and play some more baseball." -- pitcher Bud Norris

Loss 1
Loss 2
Loss 3
Loss 4
Loss 5
Loss 6

Win 2: 16-9 at Mariners, April 9
"We showed today what the team really has. I guess the guys wake up today. I look at it that way." -- second baseman Jose Altuve

Win 3: 8-3 at Mariners, April 10
"Everyone's confidence was still rolling into today." -- first baseman Chris Carter

Win 4: 5-0 at Angels, April 12
"[Bud Norris] is a No. 1 starter and he's pitched a lot of big games. I think his best years are definitely ahead of him. He's growing up right in front of our eyes, and it's a pleasure to see." -- manager Bo Porter

Loss 7
Loss 8
Loss 9
Loss 10
Loss 11

Win 5: 3-2 vs. Indians, April 19
"I'm very proud of the guys tonight." -- Porter

Loss 12
Loss 13
Loss 14

Win 6: 3-2 vs. Mariners, April 23
"Every win is big." -- reliever Hector Ambriz

Win 7: 10-3 vs. Mariners, April 24
"I wanted to be a professional ballplayer and play at the highest level and being an Astro is just the icing on the cake." -- outfielder Robbie Grossman

Loss 15
Loss 16
Loss 17
Loss 18

Win 8: 9-1 at Yankees, April 29
"I know they can do it. You're just waiting for it to happen night in and night out and be consistent. That's why we stay positive, because we know it's in there." -- Porter

Loss 19
Loss 20
Loss 21
Loss 22
Loss 23
Loss 24

Win 9: 7-6 vs. Angels, May 7
"Losing two tough games to Detroit last series and getting swept by them, just winning this game I think helped the team a lot." -- Carter

Win 10: 3-1 vs. Angels, May 8
"[Jimmy Paredes] is a guy that we know can add some excitement to our ballclub. It's a combination of speed, it's power. I think this guy; he's turned the corner and allowed his ability to play. It's a joy to watch." -- Porter [Paredes finished the season with one home run and four stolen bases in 48 games.]

Loss 25
Loss 26
Loss 27
Loss 28
Loss 29
Loss 30

Win 11: 7-5 at Tigers, May 15
"Sometimes we pitch good but we don't hit. Sometimes we hit but we don't pitch good. Sometimes we put it together like today. We've been scoring some runs. It takes things like this to turn around some things." – catcher Carlos Corporan

Loss 31

Win 12: 4-2 at Pirates, May 18
"Even though we've had our share of bumps and bruises, we're going to hit a stretch where we start playing well and put together a string of games like we played tonight. It's a tremendous group of guys in that clubhouse." -- Porter

Loss 32

Win 13: 6-5 vs. Royals, May 20
"I'm trying to figure some things out and be more consistent. I've been able to get some big hits, and hopefully, the average will be there by the end of the year." -- third baseman Matt Dominguez, who finished the season with a .241 average

Loss 33

Win 14: 3-1 vs. Royals, May 22
"The bullpen had been taxed for a while, but the starters have definitely hit their groove." -- Porter

Loss 34
Loss 35
Loss 36

Win 15: 3-2 vs. Rockies, May 27
"I think these kind of wins are definitely something that can catapult you forward from just an energy standpoint. Finding a way as a team and to come out on top, that momentum can carry over." -- Porter

Loss 37

Win 16: 6-3 at Rockies, May 29
"That was good baseball there." -- Porter

Win 17: 7-5 at Rockies, May 30
"Normally when you make four errors, especially in a ballpark like this, you're probably looking at a bunch of crooked numbers. We did a good job of minimizing the damage." -- Porter

Win 18: 6-3 at Angels, May 31
"We're just trying to ride this out. We're going out there and playing hard-nosed baseball. We're playing good defense, our pitching's been outstanding and we've been getting big hits when we need them." -- outfielder Brandon Barnes

Win 19: 2-0 at Angels, June 1
"This group has come together. Day in and day out, these guys are picking each other up -- from the bullpen to the bench players -- and the coaching staff has pushed that out of us. Everybody is picking up their end of the bargain, and it's been pretty good to see." -- Norris

Win 20: 5-4 at Angels, June 2
"It says that we can beat anybody in this league. If we can compete with the Angels, then we can compete with anybody." -- Ambriz

Win 21: 2-1 at Angels, June 3
"I feel like we're playing really good baseball. We had been playing good baseball, but now we're starting to win those crucial break points. ... I look at the talent in that room. I know the potential we have. You're starting to see we're coming together." -- Porter

Loss 38

Win 22: 11-7 vs. Orioles, June 5
"It's a blast. We all pull for each other. We have a pretty good group. I think we all get along very well and we genuinely pull for each other, so when someone else has success it's like everyone is just enjoying it." -- designated hitter Carlos Pena

Loss 39
Loss 40
Loss 41
Loss 42
Loss 43
Loss 44

Win 23: 6-1 at Mariners, June 12
"It was definitely good to see the guys break out and put together some good at-bats." -- Porter

Win 24: 2-1 vs. White Sox, June 14
"That is what you call straight effort baseball. Guys just legging out infield hits and giving it everything they have hustling on the bases. Just an all-around tremendous job." -- Porter

Win 25: 4-3 vs. White Sox, June 15
"I'm extremely happy." -- Porter

Win 26: 5-4 vs. White Sox, June 16
"The starting pitching has been tremendous." -- Porter

Loss 45

Win 27: 10-1 vs. Brewers, June 18
"I think this is what we're capable of doing. I'm not talking about scoring 10 runs, but putting nice run support up for our pitchers. If they go and do what they are supposed to and give us a quality start then we have a chance to win. Today is one of the days that we show our potential as a team. It definitely feels good to see it actually happen." -- Pena

Loss 46

Win 28: 7-4 vs. Brewers, June 20
"What a ballgame. What a game. What a great homestand. I thought we were in every single game. This is a lot of momentum moving forward." -- Pena

Loss 47

Win 29: 4-3 at Cubs, June 22
"They keep battling, they keep fighting and we find a way to either get ourselves back into the game or make it a ballgame every night." -- Porter

Loss 48
Loss 49

Win 30: 4-3 vs. Cardinals, June 26
"For us to come out and battle and hang with them ... it's reassuring and it's good for the morale around here." -- catcher Jason Castro

Loss 50
Loss 51
Loss 52
Loss 53
Loss 54

Win 31: 4-1 vs. Rays, July 3
"Pure joy." -- Norris [The Astros traded Norris to the Orioles 28 days later.]

Loss 55
Loss 56

Win 32: 9-5 at Rangers, July 6
"One of the goals, along with winning the World Series, is playing in the All-Star Game. It's still kind of surreal." -- Castro

Loss 57
Loss 58
Loss 59

Win 33: 2-1 at Rays, July 12
"My whole family (was) here. I've got about 15 to 20 friends. My girlfriend's here. It's crazy." -- rookie pitcher Jarred Cosart on his major league debut

Loss 60
Loss 61
Loss 62
Loss 63
Loss 64
Loss 65

Win 34: 5-4 vs. A's, July 23
"It speaks to the resilience of that group in there. Every once in a while good things like this happen because you put yourself in position when you just keep fighting." -- Porter

Loss 66
Loss 67
Loss 68

Win 35: 8-6 at Blue Jays, July 27
"It was a good win for a ballclub that obviously has played well but not well enough to get over the hump." -- Porter

Loss 69
Loss 70

Win 36: 11-0 at Orioles, July 31
"What a tremendous job. It's amazing what happens when you throw strikes and don't put people on base." -- Porter

Loss 71
Loss 72
Loss 73
Loss 74

Win 37: 2-0 vs. Red Sox, August 5
"We have some guys who can create problems." -- Porter

Loss 75
Loss 76
Loss 77
Loss 78
Loss 79
Loss 80

Win 38: 5-4 at A's, August 13
"It's a big boost for the club and a big boost for the bullpen to get some big outs." -- Porter

Win 39: 2-1 at A's, August 14
"We've been playing pretty good. Things are going our way now. It's our turn." -- Corporan

Loss 81

Win 40: 8-2 at Angels, August 16
"We're playing hard and having fun." -- Carter

Loss 82

Win 41: 7-5 at Angels, August 18
"At some point, we're going to start to get our breaks. We're swinging the bats real well, and we're getting good starting pitching." -- Porter

Loss 83
Loss 84
Loss 85

Win 42: 12-4 vs. Blue Jays, August 23
"It's good when you have days like this. Everyone seems to be clicking on all cylinders. These are fun games. Everybody's upbeat and happy about this, and you'll sleep well at night when you have games like that." -- outfielder L.J. Hoes

Win 43: 8-5 vs. Blue Jays, August 24
"It's been a little while since we had a winning series at home, so that's been nice." -- Castro

Loss 86

Win 44: 10-8 at White Sox, August 26
"I couldn't be more proud of them." -- Porter

Loss 87
Loss 88
Loss 89
Loss 90
Loss 91

Win 45: 2-0 vs. Mariners, September 1
"Outstanding with a capital O." -- Porter

Loss 92
Loss 93

Win 46: 6-5 vs. Twins, September 4
"That's winning baseball." -- Porter

Win 47: 3-2 at A's, September 5
"These guys came into this series knowing what's at stake baseball-wise. [The A's] are fighting for a playoff spot, and obviously this is where we want to be as an organization. I think it's a great atmosphere for our players." -- Porter

Loss 94
Loss 95
Loss 96

Win 48: 6-4 at Mariners, September 9
"Young team learning how to win games, we did that today." -- outfielder Trevor Crowe

Win 49: 13-2 at Mariners, September 10
"That's the kind of night you wish you could have every night. When everyone's clicking on all cylinders." -- Hoes

Win 50: 6-1 at Mariners, September 11
"Definitely we want to finish strong. All the guys are coming together." -- pitcher Brad Peacock

Win 51: 9-7 vs. Angels, September 13
"I think this is the best complete baseball we've played all year from a starting-pitching standpoint, to an offensive standpoint, to hitting with men in scoring position, situational hitting, the bullpen coming in in tight situations and getting those crucial outs. As far the team goes, I think this is the best all-around baseball we've played." -- Porter

Loss 97
Loss 98
Loss 99
Loss 100
Loss 101
Loss 102
Loss 103
Loss 104
Loss 105
Loss 106
Loss 107
Loss 108
Loss 109
Loss 110
Loss 111

So we ended up with the quite the finish here. Lots of bad baseball down the stretch. Lots. Remember: The top 10 picks are protected if you sign a free agent who is given a qualifying offer. Plus, the worse you finish in the overall standings the more money you get to spend in the draft. Yay, incentivized losing!

1. Astros: 51-111
Just in case they were worried about the Marlins catching them, they lost their final 15 games to ensure the No. 1 pick for the third draft in a row.

2. Marlins: 62-100
Kudos to Henderson Alvarez for his final-day no-hitter. In fact, the Marlins swept the Tigers in that season-ending series and won five of their final six, allowing just seven runs over those six games.

3. White Sox: 63-99
Tried hard to catch the Marlins, going 7-21 in September and losing five of their final six. Went 2-17 against the Indians, although no truth to the rumor that the Indians will share their playoff shares with the White Sox.

4. Cubs: 66-96
Ended up tied with the Twins, but get the higher pick based on 2012 record. And boy did they fight hard to get that fourth pick. Lost six of their final seven and 12 of their final 15.

5. Twins: 66-96
Lost 10 of final 11. Too bad they beat the Tigers in extra innings on Sept. 23 or they would be drafting one slot higher. In Sunday's finale, ensured defeat with three errors. In the sixth inning. Nice job, Twins!

6. Mariners: 71-91
Went 6-14 over their final 20 games to slide from a bubble team securely into a top-10 position. Lost their final eight extra-inning games, proving there's an art to successful tanking. Namely: A bad bullpen helps.

7. Phillies: 73-89
It looked like they would jump out of the bottom 10 but then lost nine of their final 11. No wonder Ryne Sandberg got the job for next year! The final game was huge, as the Phillies came up big with a 12-5 loss to the Braves.

Now, this is where things get really interesting. We had a four-way tie for spots 8 through 11. The tiebreaker is 2012 record. So ...

8. Rockies: 74-88
Those two one-run wins over the Dodgers on Saturday and Sunday didn't help, but the tiebreaker gives them the edge. Not that they'll be pursuing Robinson Cano or anything.

9. Blue Jays: 74-88
How nervous was GM Alex Anthopoulos watching the Jays nearly rally from a 7-0 deficit on Sunday? They did beat the Rays twice on the final weekend but still lost 12 of their final 19.

10. Mets: 74-88
The Mets had the most to lose if they finished out of the top 10, since they presumably could be pursuing some of the big free agents this winter. Luckily the offense came through with three straight 4-2 losses to the Brewers (before winning the season finale 3-2).

11. Brewers: 74-88
Well, this is what a 15-12 record in September will do to you. No Kyle Lohse for the Brewers this offseason!

12. Padres: 76-86
Yes, Padres fans, there were 11 teams worse than yours.

13. Giants: 76-86
The Giants went 10-5 over their final 15 to at least avoid becoming just the second World Series winner (after the 1997 Marlins) to finish in last place the next season. So there's that.

14. Angels: 78-84
A 21-7 stretch in August/September ruined any chance the Angels had of finishing with a top-10 pick. So if they went to throw $250 million at Cano, it will cost them their first-round pick.
Bud Selig has officially announced that he'll step down as commissioner in January 2015. Jerry Crasnick will assess his legacy (hey, if Bowie Kuhn made the Hall of Fame I suspect Selig will eventually as well), but here are five key issues for the next commissioner to address.

1. Instant replay and quality of umpiring

We finally get expanded replay next season, so that should help resolve some of the controversial and blown calls. It remains to be seen how effective and efficient the system will be, but it can be adjusted as necessary. Just as importantly, the new commissioner has to work to improve consistency of ball/strike calls and reduce the episodes of ump rage.

Right now, the best umps (Eric Cooper, Chad Fairchild, Phil Cuzzi) get about 90 percent of ball/strike calls correct, according to our pitch data; the worst umps (Wally Bell, Tim Welke, Kerwin Danley, Jerry Meals) are at 86 percent. That difference may not seem like a lot, but that's a spread of 10 incorrect calls per 250 pitches. Even a 90 percent correct rate means the best umps are missing about 25 to 30 ball/strike calls a game. Maybe the human eye can't do better, but MLB needs to pay its umpire better, and in particular pay minor league umpires a living wage, so you can recruit from a wider field of candidates.

2. To DH or not to DH?

This ridiculousness has gone on too long. You simply can't have one sport with two leagues playing under different rules. The answer seems to be pretty obvious: Get rid of the designated hitter. There were only four full-time DHs this year: David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales. They all batted at least 500 times as a DH. Nobody else even had 300 plate appearances (including Adam Dunn, who played a lot of first base). With so few teams actually using a DH, the resolution should be pretty clear. OK, so Butler is the youngest of those four and signed through 2015. No DH starting in 2016.

3. Oakland and Tampa Bay stadium issues

Look, both organizations have shown they can compete and win in spite of their lousy ballparks and low revenue. Part of the problem is that other teams are tired of propping up the Rays and A's. "The key here is to recognize that without the revenue-sharing dollars, we wouldn't even be able to compete or do what we're doing," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in August. "The other owners are looking at this and saying, 'How many years is this going to be? How much money is this going to be to a failing situation?'"

Oakland's problem is more easily solved. The A's want to move to San Jose; the Giants hold territorial rights to Santa Clara County (given to them years ago by the A's). A three-quarters majority vote of all owners can return those rights to the A's, but Selig has refused to call for a vote, wanting unanimity, including the Giants. Well, of course, the Giants would vote against it. The new commish should side with the A's here and get them, literally, out of the sewage.

4. Tanking

I've written about this issue. Buster Olney addressed it the other day. The current collective bargaining agreement makes it beneficial for teams to lose -- either to get a higher draft position (and thus more money to spend in the draft) or finish with one of the 10 worst records and thus have a protected first-round pick when signing free agents. What kind of sport essentially encourages tanking for 10 or more teams?

This season, we'll likely finish with 10 teams and maybe 11 winning 90 games ... and seven to 10 losing 90 games. You don't want to read too much into one season, but it's possible we'll see more seasons like this: Contenders and non-contenders, which makes for a less interesting sport. Back in 2004, only five teams won 90 and six lost 90. That's a healthier sport.

But the draft rules tie into another problem. For the most part, the owners love the new rules and capping the amount teams can spend in the draft. Why give more money to amateurs when you can pocket some of that money instead and buy new leather seats for your private jet? The long-range issue here is obvious: You risk talented athletes choosing other sports as signing bonuses decrease. The new commissioner should find ways to get more athletes playing baseball, rather than potentially pushing them towards a different sport.

5. The schedule

Nobody likes the fact that interleague play is now a constant throughout the season, but that's unavoidable with 15 teams in each league. But the unbalanced schedule creates issues of teams competing for the same thing (a wild-card spot) while playing vastly different schedules.

My own personal pet peeve is that the season drags too long into October. Last year's World Series games in Detroit were played in brutally cold weather. Depending on which teams advance, you're often playing your most important games of the year in your worst weather. The World Series can be as much a test of ability as a test of weather fortitude. There isn't a good solution, unless your shorten the regular season or the playoffs, add some doubleheaders, or -- god forbid -- play some World Series games during the day. The weather in Detroit in the afternoon last October was quite lovely. At night? Not so much.

Positive aspects of the Astros' season

September, 18, 2013
Jason CastroHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJason Castro, 26, posted an .835 OPS before a knee injury prematurely ended his season.
The Houston Astros took their 100th loss of the season on Tuesday night, making it three years in a row beyond the century mark in the loss column. Before this run of ignominy, the Astros had never lost 100 games in a season, no easy feat for any team, especially an expansion club. It might have seemed a singularly awful day in Astros history, taking a 10-0 shellacking from the Cincinnati Reds after they'd already had to shut down All-Star catcher Jason Castro for the season because of knee problems.

And nevertheless, things are looking up for the Astros as an organization. As general Jeff Luhnow, with his usual relentless pragmatism, reflected a few weeks ago, "If I look at our organization and where we are today versus where we were a year ago, I think we've made substantial progress towards our ultimate objectives."

Ultimate objectives? These presumably including not losing 100 games a year every year in the Luhnow era, right? Nothing so modest: "Our objective is to develop our own talent and win multiple championships, and I think we've gone a long way towards that," said Luhnow, leaving you to think the unspoken third bullet point involves lasting world domination. Just give him time; it's probably on the list, with a secret volcano fortress on the list of options.

But kidding aside, Luhnow is right, about this year and about the organization he's rebuilding: The shape of things to come is already here. All four of the Astros' full-season affiliates made the playoffs; Quad Cities won the low Class A Midwest League's title and Tri-City won the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. Take these bits of glory won on distant, dusty fields as further proof of Luhnow's ability to rebuild a farm system. Already. Because remember, this marks the completion of just the second season with the new regime in charge, and this past June was just his second bite at the apple of the Rule 4 draft with the Astros. Given the speedy results and a farm system that has already gone from one of baseball's worst to one of its 10 best, if the draft is supposed to be a crapshoot, Luhnow apparently plays with loaded dice.

Luhnow looks at the immediate of results matter-of-factly: "Our draft from last year is really faring well, the players are doing well in competition. It's kind of like stocks, you're not always going to pick all of the ones that go up and all of the ones that go down, but most of our prospects have gotten better, guys like [outfielder George] Springer and [shortstop Carlos] Correa."

Rookie mania
[+] EnlargeJarred Cosart
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJarred Cosart has a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts since being promoted to the majors in July.

Which is not to say that the Astros aren't also interested in what their big-league team has been doing, although they deliberately blurred the lines between the majors and minors as the season progressed. In August, before rosters expanded, the Astros already had 14 rookies on the team.

"That was done by design. We brought some guys in here in spring training to lend some veteran presence and some leadership," manager Bo Porter commented, remembering Opening Day Astros like Carlos Pena, Ronny Cedeno and Jose Veras. "At the beginning of the year, that was needed, but as we moved towards the back end of the season, we really needed to identify who our key pieces are, based on major league performance. We knew coming into the season that our number one goal was to properly evaluate our talent at the major league level. And to be able to do that, we had to allow them to play."

Does Luhnow feel any reservations about a ballclub staffed with so many rookies right now? As if.

"In the past, an organization might bring up one guy at a time, to limit their exposure," Luhnow said. "For us, this might mean some more losses now, but I think that ultimately it speeds up our development cycle. We learn a lot more about these players, and the players themselves develop more quickly."

Take the development of third baseman Matt Dominguez, a 2007 first-round pick of the Marlins who came over a year ago in the Carlos Lee trade. He's hit 20 home runs in a .241/.284/.408 season. That won't float you're fantasy team, but so what? As an investment in Dominguez's upside, it's easy to see how he might turn into a Joe Crede-type of player, someone you can win with.

"He's only 23 years old," said Porter. "You may be looking at a 30 home run, 90 RBI guy, playing Gold Glove defense -- that's a pretty good player."

More clinically, Luhnow observes, "The power is nice, I think we've discussed it with our coaches in that he still has some gaps in his game -- like his on-base percentage -- but the defense has been excellent this year. He's just a very unique player, because his sabermetric defensive ratings aren't as good as what you see when you watch him. You have to understand that analytical measures are flawed, they aren't perfect. Different metrics give you very different answers, but you talk to our coaches, pitchers, opponents, they all think he's an above-average third baseman."

Arms race

The pitching staff has taken a beating, but it too has looked better of late. Looking over his roster, Luhnow says, "Brett Oberholtzer was a surprise for some of our people internally, in terms of how well he has performed and how consistent he's performed well. Those are the types of guys who we're going to need; he might not be considered a No. 1 because of his stuff, but he can sit there in your three or four spot, chew up 200 innings, win 15 games, that's exactly what you need."

And Oberholtzer is far from alone.

"Jared Cosart, everybody thought that he had the stuff to eventually be a dominant starter," Luhnow said. "He came out of the gate dominating, and that's fun to see. But I don't think we need a number one yet. All six of these young guys we're starting believe that they can be the number one, and that's probably the best position that we could be in."

Which is another way of saying that the Astros are starting to assemble a team of players that their fans should start committing to memory. Take Jonathan Villar, added from the Phillies, and just 22 years old. Since coming up in late July, Villar has given the Astros a strong OBP and a needed bit of energy, and being able to evaluate him now is one of the big components for the Astros deciding what they'll have to work with in 2014.

"He's one of those players with a lot of tools," Luhnow notes, "and my experience is that a lot of times players with a lot of tools may or may not translate into actual performance at the major league level. He's becoming a complete player: He's taking walks, he's able to play small ball, steal bases, defensively he has all the tools and capabilities to be an above-average shortstop. That's huge. He just injects an energy into the club that was needed and important, because you want guys to really feel that they've got a chance to win."

Wait, what? Win? The Astros? Luhnow isn't that surprised by the idea.

"It's definitely coming together," Luhnow said. "It's not entirely reflected in the record. We're hoping we finish strong, but the final record probably isn't going to be much different than it was last year. I think we're much more poised now to have a better year. There's a lot of excitement internally; I've had some coaches come up to me and tell me, like it's a secret, we might improve by 20-30 games next year. That's excitement."

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
The New York Mets' rotation right now includes Daisuke Matsuzaka, who owns the worst ERA since 2009 of any pitcher with at least 300 innings. They just signed Aaron Harang, released by the Mariners after posting a 9.12 ERA in August.

Why would a team playing out the string give starts to two washed-up veterans?

It's pretty simple: The Mets have come down with injuries to their rotation and they want to limit Zack Wheeler's innings, so they'll use a six-man rotation in September to space out his starts. Unwilling to use some of the younger pitchers already on the 40-man roster -- who would have their own innings limits -- the Mets dug up whoever they could to fill their holes.

But it's not quite so simple; there's more to it than just protecting Wheeler. The Mets want to lose. Or, at least, I think they want to lose, because there is incentive to lose ... or lose often enough to finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball.

Remember last winter when the Mets wanted to sign free agent Michael Bourn? And Bourn apparently wanted to play with the Mets? Bourn ended up signing with Cleveland because the Mets held the 11th pick in the first round -- and only the first 10 picks are protected if you sign a free agent who has been given a qualifying offer by his previous team. The Mets decided that signing Bourn and losing the pick wasn't worth it; the Indians, drafting fifth, signed Bourn and Nick Swisher, two free agents tied to qualifying offers.

Basically, by tying draft picks to free agency, MLB is encouraging tanking. No team wants to finish with the 11th- or 12th-worst record and lose that first-round pick if they sign an elite free agent -- which this offseason could include the likes of Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence, Matt Garza, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Ervin Santana. You don't think the Mets would be interested in a couple of those outfielders?

True, free agency has always been tied to draft picks, but two things happened in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. First, it used to be that the top 15 picks were protected when signing the old "Type A" free agent; there is a big difference, however, between the 10th-worst team, which is a team that usually finishes well under .500, and a middle-of-the-pack team, which is usually one on the fringes of the playoff race. This year, for example, the No. 15 team is Washington, currently a game over .500. The second major change was that each team is given a draft budget, based on money allocated for each pick. Finish worse and you get more money to spend on the draft.

That means September baseball will include Matsuzaka and Harang pitching their hearts out to help the Mets. You see, the Mets currently own the 10th-worst record in the majors. They are right on the border of no-man's land, "leading" the Phillies and Blue Jays by just one game. In fact, the race for the 10th spot is going to be nearly as heated as the race for the playoffs. Here are the standings in the race for No. 10 -- starting with the Astros and including how many games behind each team is from the team below them:

Team W L Pct. GB
1. Astros 45 92 .328 ---
2. Marlins 51 85 .375 6.5
3. White Sox 56 80 .412 5
4. Cubs 58 79 .423 1.5
5. Brewers 59 78 .431 1
6. Twins 60 76 .441 1.5
7. Padres 61 76 .445 0.5
7. Giants 61 76 .445 0.5
9. Mariners 62 75 .453 1
10. Mets 62 74 .456 0.5
11. Blue Jays 63 75 .457 1
11. Phillies 63 75 .457 1
13. Rockies 65 74 .468 1.5
14. Angels 64 72 .471 0.5

The Twins, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Mets, Blue Jays and Phillies -- sixth-worst to 12th-worst -- are separated by just two games. In the 2013 draft, the Marlins drafted sixth and had a draft budget of $9.5 million. The Mariners drafted 12th and had a budget of $6.1 million. It's going to be a mad, mad scramble to lose just the right amount of games. Not that front offices right on the border will ever admit that.

The final standings are particularly crucial to clubs like the Mets, Phillies, Giants and Mariners, who would be willing to spend the money to dip into the free-agent market to plug holes. Like the Mets, the Mariners are desperate for outfielders. Ellsbury, an Oregon native, would be a perfect fit for their center-field hole; Choo would look great in a corner outfield slot. But the risk of losing that pick if you finish No. 11 has to be weighed.

Look, there's risk in tanking. The Astros tore everything apart a couple of years ago in beginning a complete overhaul of the organization, but how many fans will they lose with years of bad baseball and how many years will it take to win them back? But that's an extreme example. We're really talking only a few wins here -- 74 wins instead of 77. That's not going to have an effect on your fan base or season-ticket sales. (There's an argument that finishing over .500 provides more hope and could lead to more ticket sales over the winter, but right now none of these teams are pushing .500.)

So if you're a Mets fan or Phillies fan or Mariners fan, you have some standings to pay attention to in September. Enjoy the tanking.
The Houston Astros have the worst record in baseball and are on pace to finish this season with their third consecutive season of 106 losses or more.

But according to a report by Forbes, the 2013 Astros will be the most profitable team in Major League Baseball history, clearing an estimated $99 million in operating income this year. (The Astros denied the Forbes numbers.)

Unfortunately, being horrible and having an active payroll under $13 million is probably not for every team. But there are easy ways for MLB teams -- even the ones that are good at baseball -- to make a nice profit.

Increase stadium advertising

There’s a fine line between maximizing advertising space and deluging fans with corporate signage. But it's a line that can be straddled with a goal toward increased profits.

If the outfield wall and the scoreboard are already filled with ads, where to go next? Try the seats. Every night a team like the Marlins could get tens of thousands of ads seen if they sold space on seat backs. You think those are 30,000 empty seats? No, those are 30,000 tiny billboards. Ka-ching!

And why are the Cubs not utilizing the rats at Wrigley Field? They could be branded with corporate logos or outfitted with sandwich boards. It's found money.

Increase stadium retail space

Teams can always wring more money out of fans if they really want to. For example, every entrance to Target Field in Minnesota should require fans to walk through a Target. It's impossible to get out of one of those places without dropping a hundred bucks. That's a fact. So the Twins could get an extra $200 out of every fan who enters and exits their stadium.

And how about buying a hot dog or beer at a game? You signal to the vendor what you want and it starts getting passed down the row to you. All this time, he's waiting on your money to make it make to him. Is that not a loan he's floating you? How is CitiBank not charging fans at Citi Field 29.99 percent interest on purchases from stadium vendors?

Try pay-for-play fan contests

I have attended minor league games where you buy a bag of five tennis balls for $5. At the end of the game, trash cans are set on the field, and if you successfully throw one of your tennis balls into a can from the stands, you win a prize.

MLB teams could do this. Or they could do something even better: Sell fans bags of cotton candy for $50 and allow them to throw the cotton candy at busted PED users -- Ryan Braun, A-Rod, et al. What's more than a fortune? That's what would be made.

Add to the stadium experience

Kauffman Stadium has fountains outside the center-field wall. Neat. But do they make the Royals a single dollar? Nope. In fact, all it does is increase their water and electricity bills. Call it a family water park and charge fans 40 bucks to get in. Now those fountains will spout both water and money.

Fenway Park has a giant green wall in left field. Screw some hand-holds on there, call it a rock-climbing wall, and let fans scale the thing during games for 10 bucks. (And make even more money on online video ads when people flock to LOL at the wall-climbing fans getting drilled by line drives off the Monster.)

Every stadium has opportunities like this. Tropicana Field, for example? Quiet, dark and joyless, it should be bringing in huge profits for the Tampa Bay Rays as a rental location for funerals.

Build stadium movie theaters

Hollywood makes a fortune gouging the populace on movie tickets; baseball teams can do the same. Let's be honest: Many fans at a baseball game have no interest in watching the actual game; many others lose interest when the score gets lopsided. Why not give fans the opportunity to pay an extra $10 for a seat at an in-stadium movie theater?

Of course, only movies matched to the home team would be shown. The Indians would always show "Major League." The A's would always show "Moneyball." The Angels would screen "Angels in the Outfield." And the Mets would show "The Road."

Don't sign old, past-their-prime players to huge, guaranteed, long-term contracts

This is a fairly complex one that only people with advanced degrees in finance and economics might understand, but it could really work for franchises such as the Yankees and Angels.

When Alex Rodriguez got caught off second base on Ichiro Suzuki's line drive back to the pitcher in the 10th inning, I was sure the Tampa Bay Rays would win.

When Joba Chamberlain walked Jose Molina leading off the bottom of the 10th, I was sure the Rays would win.

It just seemed like one of those classic Tampa Bay games -- Joe Maddon pulls the right moves -- like not pinch hitting for Molina -- and the Rays scratch out the victory.

But the New York Yankees also know how to scratch, and Boone Logan got a double play, Alfonso Soriano doubled and stole third (stole third!) and scored on a sac fly and Mariano Rivera went 1-2-3 and the Yankees managed to avoid a sweep.

Soriano gave one of the great quotes of the year about his surprise, one-out steal, which he swiped even while stumbling: "Being the DH, my leg is not loose 100 percent. My mind is 100 percent but legs are not."

A lot of legs aren't 100 percent this time of year, making the final stretch run so exciting: Which teams and players will wobble to the finish line, and which will sprint across it? Here are some predictions for the final five weeks:

1. The Yankees finish two wins short of the wild card. They've made it interesting, which is a remarkable feat, but I'm still having trouble seeing them passing three teams to win a wild-card spot. On the other hand, if they stay in it, their final four series are against the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Rays and Houston Astros, and three of those teams will be playing out the string. Can you imagine the uproar if the Yankees make it … and then Rodriguez plays in the postseason and leads the Yankees to the World Series title and Bud Selig has to hand him the World Series MVP trophy?

2. The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers will finish with their respective league's best record. It's a great battle for best overall record in both leagues, and I'll go with the Braves and Tigers to lock up home-field advantage, but what's the value in that? Let's check the past 10 seasons:

2012: Yankees (lost ALCS); Washington Nationals (lost NLDS)
2011: Yankees (lost ALDS); Philadelphia Phillies (lost NLDS)
2010: Rays (lost ALDS); Phillies (lost NLCS)
2009: Yankees (won World Series); Los Angeles Dodgers (lost NLCS)
2008: Los Angeles Angels (lost ALDS); Chicago Cubs (lost NLDS)
2007: Boston Red Sox (won World Series)/Cleveland Indians (lost ALCS); Arizona Diamondbacks (lost NLCS)
2006: Yankees (lost ALDS); New York Mets (lost NLCS)
2005: Chicago White Sox (won World Series); Cardinals (lost NLCS)
2004: Yankees (lost ALCS); St. Louis Cardinals (lost World Series)
2003: Yankees (lost World Series); Braves (lost NLDS)

So, five of 20 reached the World Series, and two won. Basically, home-field advantage doesn't mean anything. Going all-out to avoid the wild-card game makes sense, of course, but the playoffs are too much of a crapshoot to worry much about home-field advantage.

3. One team currently out of the playoffs will make it. My pick: the Indians.


Which team currently OUT of the playoff race will make it?


Discuss (Total votes: 9,980)

OK, I actually have no idea. It could be the Baltimore Orioles or the Yankees. But we have about 32 games remaining, and checking the similar point in the schedule reveals we should see at least one team currently out of the playoff picture climb its way in. The NL seems pretty locked in with the Diamondbacks now seven games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card, although recent history (see list below) suggests even that isn't an impossible number.

So it's more likely to be an AL team, and nobody seems to be talking about the Indians, who are just 1½ behind the Oakland A's for the second wild card. They do have a tough road trip this week to Atlanta and Detroit and then a home series against Baltimore, but if they survive those nine games, their final seven series are against the Mets, Kansas City Royals, White Sox, Royals, Astros, White Sox and Minnesota Twins.

Question is: Do they catch the A's? Or do the A's catch the Texas Rangers for the AL West title and the Indians then catch the Rangers for the wild card?

2012 -- AL, one of five (Tigers came back from three behind White Sox); NL, none
2011 -- AL, one of four (Rays 8½ games from behind Red Sox); NL, one of four (Cardinals 9½ games from behind Braves)
2010 -- AL, none; NL, one of four (Giants from six behind the San Diego Padres)
2009 -- AL, one of four (Twins came from 4½ games behind Tigers); NL, none (Colorado Rockies were tied with the Giants)
2008 -- AL, none; NL, two of four (Phillies were a half-game behind the Mets, Dodgers from three games behind the Diamondbacks)

4. Max Scherzer will finish 23-1. I know -- and I know you know -- that win-loss records for starting pitchers are overrated and dependent, to a certain extent, on run support. Still, 23-1 would be pretty freakin' awesome, no matter how much you dislike pitcher wins. Scherzer is currently 19-1, which breaks the all-time single-season winning percentage currently held by Roy Face, who went 18-1 as a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959. The best winning percentage for a pitcher who won at least 20 games is Ron Guidry's .893 mark (25-3 record) with the Yankees in 1978.

Scherzer, of course, has received great run support, but he's also been amazingly consistent, never allowing more than five runs and allowing four or five runs just five times in 26 starts. That doesn't mean there hasn't been some good fortune; he's 3-1 in those five starts and is one of just three starters with three wins in such games (Erasmo Ramirez is 3-0 and Tommy Milone is 3-5). Patrick Corbin and Mat Latos, both 2-1, are the only others with at least two decisions who don't have a losing record.

Scherzer should get six more starts. Assuming the Tigers stick to a five-man rotation, giving Scherzer four or five days between starts, his remaining starts should line up like this … with predictions:

Thursday, Aug. 29: vs. A's (win)
Tuesday, Sept. 3: at Red Sox (no-decision)
Monday, Sept. 9: at White Sox (win)
Sunday, Sept. 15: vs. Royals (win)
Friday, Sept. 20: vs. White Sox (win)
Wednesday, Sept 25: at Twins (no-decision)

That final start could also be pushed to Friday, Sept. 27, putting Scherzer on track to start the first game of the postseason.

5. Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout: Here we go again. Well, sort of. In reality, this debate is stuck in three feet of mud and going nowhere. While Trout now leads Cabrera in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs wins above replacemnet (WAR), Trout has no chance to win the AL MVP Award. This season would actually be a more interesting debate than last, when Trout was clearly the better -- and more valuable -- all-around player. The two major things that make this argument a nonstarter for voters: (A) The Angels haven't even sniffed the playoff races and (B) Cabrera is hitting .422 with an .867 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position.
[+] EnlargeAndrew McCutchen
Brad Mangin/MLB/Getty ImagesIf Andrew McCutchen sizzles down the stretch, there's hardware that should have his name on it.
6. Andrew McCutchen locks up the NL MVP Award with a big September. My vote would still go to Clayton Kershaw, but with just 13 wins, he's probably a long-shot MVP candidate for the voters. Look for McCutchen to finish strong and lead the Pirates to their first playoff trip since 1992, a storyline MVP voters will fall in love with.

7. Nobody will blame a mattress if they miss the playoffs. No crying in baseball, unless your team blows a nine-game lead in September.

8. Jon Lester leads the Red Sox to the AL East title. Clay Buchholz didn't pitch well in a rehab assignment on Sunday, throwing 38 pitches and walking three batters while recording just two outs. While Buchholz's return would bolster Boston's division title hopes if he pitches like he did the first two months -- over which he went 9-0 -- Lester has been doing his best pitching since before Boston's infamous September 2011 collapse. He's 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break, having allowed more than three runs only once and just three home runs. He's been throwing about nine more fastballs per start and fewer cutters, which is interesting because many analysts have suggested he fell in love with the cutter too much the past two seasons.

Anyway … Red Sox win the East, Rays win the wild card.

9. Tigers versus Dodgers in World Series. It the Year of Miggy. It's the Year of Kershaw. Maybe it's World Series destiny.

10. The World Series will go seven games. Kershaw versus Scherzer? Tie game in the ninth, Kershaw still pitching, Cabrera up …
I just wrote about the National League Rookie of the Year debate and one of the fun things about the players involved is their ages -- Yasiel Puig is 22, Jose Fernandez just turned 21, Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran are 22. These guys are already very good and still very young.

Last week, Joe Posnanski wrote about all the young talent in the majors today and pointed out we could end up with 13 or 14 players in their age 23-or-younger season who could end up with 3.0 WAR or higher. The "record" for this category, according to Posnanski (I assume he was searching on Baseball-Reference.com) was 1978, when 14 players did it. The catch: Joe was writing about position players only.

Topping the list would be Mike Trout, with Manny Machado, Andrelton Simmons, Jean Segura, Freddie Freeman, Puig and Nolan Arenado already above the 3.0 mark. Jason Heyward is at 2.9 and on a hot streak. Eric Hosmer is at 2.7 WAR. That's nine guys who should get there with Anthony Rizzo, Brett Lawrie, Salvador Perez, Jose Iglesias and Bryce Harper between 1.9 and 2.1 WAR. Wil Myers has 1.7 WAR in about two months of play. This list doesn't even include Giancarlo Stanton, still just 23, but having a disappointing season with 1.3 WAR after leading the National League in slugging percentage last season.

So that's a lot of young talent without even talking about the pitchers.

Anyway, Joe didn't mention all the 1978 guys in his piece, so I thought it would be interesting to check out that list and see what happened the rest of their careers. Indulge me as I revisit the players of my youth, when I first started watching baseball and kept baseball cards in shoe boxes, wrapped in rubber bands.

Jack Clark: 5.9 (52.9 career WAR)
Clark finished fifth in the 1978 NL MVP vote and became one of the best hitters of the '80s (sixth in OPS+ for the decade behind Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Pedro Guerrero and Darryl Strawberry). He couldn't stay healthy, however -- during his age 27-to-30 peak years he averaged just 96 games per season. Couldn't keep his mouth shut either. Still can't keep his mouth shut.

Willie Randolph 5.8 (65.6)
Underrated player due to his defense and walks; a borderline Hall of Fame candidate by his career WAR total but fell off the ballot after one year and would appear an unlikely Veterans Committee candidate.

Jason Thompson 5.6 (24.8)
The 23-year-old first baseman for the Tigers hit .287 with 26 home runs and walks and made his second All-Star team. Looked like he'd be a big star for a long time, but it didn't happen. After a slow start in 1980, the Tigers dumped him to the Angels for Al Cowens, and then after hitting .317/.439/.526 the rest of the season for the Angels, he was traded to the Pirates for Ed Ott and Mickey Mahler -- 29-year-old part-time catcher and nobody pitcher. The Pirates were then supposed to trade Thompson to the Yankees -- basically for $500,000 in cash -- but the commissioner vetoed that trade so he was stuck with Pittsburgh. Anyway, not sure why nobody wanted him. Defense? Bad breath? Not sure the story there. Made the All-Star team in 1982 but was done by age 31.

Ellis Valentine 5.5 (16.9)
Hit .289/.330/.489, 25 home runs, 35 doubles, won a Gold Glove thanks to his cannon arm. Part of the young Expos outfield with Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie. Hit in the face by a pitch on May 30, 1980. They say he was never the same again ... except after returning in July he hit .331 the rest of the season. Injuries and drug and alcohol problems cut his career short after that, although he straightened himself out after his retirement from baseball.

Robin Yount: 5.0 (77.1)
Was just 22, but already in his fifth season in the majors after starting for Milwaukee at age 18. Would of course go on to win two MVP Awards and get elected to the Hall of Fame. Now, looking at his season you probably wouldn't have projected him as a Hall of Famer -- he hit .293 with nine home runs and 147 hits in 123 games. But a 22-year-old with ability can sometimes take a big leap forward and Young did that in 1980.

Chet Lemon 4.9 (55.3)
A superb defender in center, although he never won a Gold Glove Award. He hit .304/.386/.482 with the White Sox from 1978 to 1981, but after a trade to the Tigers for Steve Kemp never hit .300 again, even though he was just 27 at the time of the trade. He ranks eighth among position players in WAR during his 1977-1984 peak. Pretty underrated player.

Andre Dawson 4.7 (64.4)
In his second season, hit .253/.299/.442, but with 25 home runs, 28 steals and good defense. Here's a question: At that moment in time, would you rather have had Dawson or Valentine? Valentine had the better season and both were 23, but Dawson was faster and more athletic. Neither walked much, although Dawson struck out a lot more. I think it would have been a tough call.

Eddie Murray 4.3 (68.2)
Hit .283 with 27 home runs and 70 walks at age 22, good enough to finish eighth in the AL MVP vote.

Lou Whitaker: 3.8 (74.8)
The AL Rookie of the Year in 1978, he's a slam-dunk Hall of Famer if you go strictly by WAR. Hit just 12 home runs his first four seasons but eventually topped 20 four times. Effective enough into his late 30s that even in his final year he posted an .890 OPS in a platoon role with the Tigers.

Terry Puhl: 3.7 (28.4)
He was just 21 and hit .289 for the Astros with 32 steals, a few walks and was solid defensively. Never developed too much beyond that -- hitting home runs in the Astrodome was near impossible in those days anyways -- but he was a prototypical Astros outfielder of that period with good speed and the ability to hit for average.

Lee Mazzilli: 3.3 (15.4)
A pretty good player from 1978 to 1980, when he was the toast of a bad Mets franchise -- hailing from Brooklyn made him even more popular with the Mets' faithful. Hit a big home run in the 1979 All-Star Game. Started suffering back and elbow injuries and was never the same, although the Mets squeezed Ron Darling and Walt Terrell from the Rangers in a steal of a deal.

Steve Kemp: 3.3 (19.5)
Good hitter whose career was eventually derailed by injuries. The 1978 Tigers had Thompson, Whitaker and Kemp, plus 20-year-old Alan Trammell, 22-year-old Lance Parrish and 23-year-old Jack Morris. They won 86 games. It took them only six years from there to win a World Series.

Ozzie Smith 3.2 (76.5)
He hit .258 and swiped 40 bases to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote to Bob Horner (who went straight from Arizona State to the majors). Ozzie's bat stalled for his next three years in San Diego before a trade to St. Louis -- and turf -- helped him become respectable at the plate.

Garry Templeton 3.0 (27.7)
Most career hits through age-24 season since 1970: Yount, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Cesar Cedeno, Edgar Renteria, Roberto Alomar, Miguel Cabrera, Templeton.

So that's the 14. It doesn't even include Trammell (2.8 WAR), Paul Molitor (2.7) or Carney Lansford (2.6).

You still hear a lot that players are rushed to the majors these days. There's no evidence this is actually true. In 1978, there were 21 players who were 23 or younger and batted at least 500 times and 27 who batted at least 300. In 2012, those figures were 14 and 20. In 1978, 28 pitchers 23 or younger reached 100 innings compared to 12 last year. There are reasons for this -- more guys go to college now (1978 was right before the boom in college baseball), some guys are now held back in the minors to save on service time, innings are limited and so on. But it's also because the talent level is a little higher than it was 35 years ago; there's less room for a 21-year-old kid to play regularly these days.

Not all these kids today will turn into stars ... but four of those 14 from 1978 did turn into Hall of Famers.
Eric Karabell and myself once again pinch-hit on the Baseball Tonight podcast and we had much fun talking about the great Yu Darvish, the AL Cy Young race, A.J. Pierzynski's ejection, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto's RBI total compared to Brandon Phillips' RBI total and, of course, Nick Punto!
Throughout July we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central so far, and are now on the AL West.

THE TEAM: Houston Astros

THE YEAR: 2004 (No, not the Jeff Bagwell trade. That happened on Aug. 30, 1990, past the July 31 deadline.)

THE SITUATION: We wrote about the Randy Johnson trade with the Mariners in 1998, and while Johnson was great for the Astros -- 10-1 in 11 starts -- Houston did give up talent in that deal in Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen.

In 2004, the Astros were scuffling along in late June, a few games over .500 and five games out of first place. They had finished in first place four times in five years from 1997 to 2001 but had missed the playoffs with second-place finishes in 2002 and 2003. The Astros had traded Richard Hidalgo to the Mets on June 17, and Bagwell and Craig Biggio were starting to age, so the end of this era of Astros teams looked near. The offense needed a boost, particularly in the outfield. The Royals had Carlos Beltran available.

THE TRADE: In a three-team deal, the Astros acquired Beltran from the Royals while trading reliever Octavio Dotel to Oakland and minor league catcher John Buck to Kansas City.

THE AFTERMATH: Beltran would play well for the Astros, hitting .258 but slugging 23 home runs and knocking in 53 runs in 90 games while going 28-for-28 stealing bases. The trade didn't pay immediate dividends, however, as the Astros soon plummeted out of the race, dropping to 56-60 and 19.5 games behind the Cardinals by Aug. 14. The Astros then went on one of the great stretch runs in history, going 36-10, including a 15-1 stretch, to win the wild card by one game over the Giants.

Beltran would really make his mark in the playoffs, having one of the greatest postseasons of all time, hitting .435 with eight home runs, 21 runs, 14 RBIs and six steals while playing spectacular defense in center. Alas, as in 1998 with Johnson, the Astros fell short, losing Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals. They'd reach the World Series the next year without Beltran, who signed with the Mets as a free agent.
Throughout July we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central so far, and are now on the AL West.

THE TEAM: Seattle Mariners

THE YEAR: 1998

THE SITUATION: Contract talks with Randy Johnson had stalled and the Mariners were a disappointing 15 games under .500 by the end of June after winning the division title the year before. Johnson was vocally unhappy with management -- in part, because he believed the team hadn't offered proper condolences when his father died -- and Johnson didn't always appear focused on the mound with a 4.33 ERA. As it became apparent Johnson wasn't going to re-sign with Seattle, Mariners management began using that against him in the media to help sell the upcoming deal.

THE TRADE: Moments before the July 31 deadline, GM Woody Woodward traded Johnson to the Astros for minor leaguers Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama (a player to be named later). The deal for the three generally unknown prospects was widely panned in the press and Woodward whined that there wasn't much interest in Johnson ... who was only averaging 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings at the time. Garcia would be Baseball America’s No. 61 prospect before the 1999 season, Guillen No. 73.

THE AFTERMATH: The Mariners are known for their bad deadline deals (Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard), but this one worked out as Garcia and Guillen, and Halama to a lesser extent, helped the Mariners reach the postseason in 2000 and 2001 and win 90-plus games in 2002 and 2003, as well. It also worked out for Houston, as Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, although the Astros would lose to the Padres in the Division Series (Johnson lost both of his starts, though he pitched well). Johnson would sign with Arizona after the season and win four straight Cy Young Awards and the 2001 World Series.

NL players to watch

July, 18, 2013
Arizona Diamondbacks: Martin Prado

Prado was the key player the Diamondbacks got in return for Justin Upton in a trade with the Braves last offseason. Since playing more or less every day at a number of positions from 2009-12 in Atlanta, Prado posted a 109 adjusted OPS (100 is average). In his first year in Arizona, however, it is a meager 83. The D-Backs expected a lot more from him than they are getting, and if they intend to maintain their lead in the NL West, they will need Prado to bounce back.

Atlanta Braves: B.J. Upton

Before injuries decimated their outfield right before the All-Star break, the Braves were quite fine even with B.J. Upton failing miserably in the first year of his five-year, $75.25 million contract. B.J. himself (strained adductor muscle) joins brother Justin (calf strain), as well as Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Jordan Schafer among key position players who are injured. B.J. can mitigate a lot of that lost offense by recapturing his offensive prowess from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro

The Cubs thought they had one of the league's future stars at shortstop in Castro, but he has significantly regressed in his fourth season in the majors. His OPS is down by more than 120 points, he isn't stealing bases with nearly the same frequency, and his defense has by many accounts gotten worse. He is only 23 years old, but the Cubs signed him through 2019 on a seven-year, $60 million extension. Castro flaming out would be devastating to the restructured Cubs, so he needs to use the second half to put himself back on the map.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips

Phillips may be the team's top RBI guy, but he leaves plenty to be desired offensively. His current .413 slugging percentage is a career low dating back to 2006 when he started playing regularly. While he has hit plenty of home runs (12), he is only sitting on 15 doubles. Additionally, he stole 15 bases in 17 attempts last season, but has stolen only one base in three attempts this year. Phillips would be deserving of the accolades he has received this year if he were to rediscover his power and baserunning skills.

Colorado Rockies: Michael Cuddyer

The Rockies are still in it despite being four games under .500. A big reason they are even where they are is because Cuddyer is having a career year at the age of 34. His current .330 average, .391 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage all represent career highs, vastly exceeding his previous career bests. Some of the success is because of his home ballpark, and some of it is because of plain old luck, but the Rockies won't be able to keep up in a mediocre but highly competitive NL West if Cuddyer regresses.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig

Everything turned around for the Dodgers after Puig made his major league debut June 3. Since then, they have gone 24-15, moving up from fifth place to second place while cutting into their first-place deficit by five games. Puig hit so well in a month-plus (1.038 OPS) that it merited a serious discussion about his inclusion in the All-Star Game. The Dodgers have been ravaged by injuries, particularly in the outfield, including Puig himself battling a sore hip. The Dodgers will need Puig healthy and in top form for the next two and a half months if they have aspirations to take over the NL West.

Miami Marlins: Jose Fernandez

You can watch Giancarlo Stanton, too, and you'll have exhausted all of the reasons to watch the Marlins. True, they have been playing significantly better since June than they did in the first two months, but they're still 18 games out and already making plans for 2014. Fernandez, as you may have seen in the All-Star Game, has electric stuff and at 20 years old, has a bright future as a potential ace ahead of him. Seeing him pitch once every five days is a privilege which fans of many other teams do not have.
Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez

The 2013 season has been dismal for the Brewers as they are already 18 games under .500 and 19 1/2 games out and in last place in the NL Central. One of the few pleasant surprises, though, has been Gomez. After years of fumbling around as a failed prospect, Gomez decided to toss out years of coaching advice and become a power hitter. It worked. He is setting career highs across the board and along with his great defense and baserunning, is one of the top candidates for the NL MVP award. Gomez, only 27 years old, could brighten things up for Brewers fans by taking home some hardware at the end of the season.

New York Mets: Ike Davis

If it wasn't for B.J. Upton having a terrible year, Davis would have been talked about more as he heads into the second half with an OPS barely above .500. The Mets demoted him to Triple-A Las Vegas to work on his mechanics. Under the tutelage of 51s manager Wally Backman, Davis posted a 1.091 OPS in 21 games, earning a promotion back to the majors July 5. In eight games leading up to the All-Star break, he went back to his old ways, getting only five hits (all singles) in 32 trips to the plate. Davis is only 26 years old, but the Mets can only afford to give him so much rope before they are forced to make a tough decision about his future.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels

The Phillies will likely go into the July 31 trade deadline as buyers, as they are currently only 6 1/2 games out of first place in a very winnable NL East. They may add a center fielder to replace Ben Revere and they may add a reliever to back up Jonathan Papelbon. What they likely will not add is a starter, despite Hamels' very disappointing season in the first year of a six-year, $144 million contract. He leads the NL in losses with 11 and he has a 4.05 ERA. There is some strong evidence that his changeup -- his calling card -- is not the out-pitch it used to be, and he will have to recapture the feel for it if the Phillies want to have a second-half surge.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Jeff Locke

There is some solid evidence based on sabermetric defense-independent statistics that a lot of Locke's first-half success is fluky, based heavily on a paltry .228 batting average on balls in play. He has neither the swing-and-miss stuff nor the pristine control emblematic of most pitchers with an ERA in the 2.15 area. A regressing Locke could start another second-half swoon for the Pirates.

San Diego Padres: Everth Cabrera

Cabrera may be one of the most surprising stories of the 2013 season. He was never considered to be a future star, but he is hitting .291 with a NL-leading 34 stolen bases in 42 attempts. Naturally, there is some skepticism about his ability to keep it going over a full season, and carry it over into 2014. Cabrera could assuage a lot of skepticism by maintaining his current level of play over the final 66 games.

San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain

The Giants are in a similar position with Cain that the Phillies are with Hamels. Cain is sitting on a 5.06 ERA in the second year of a six-year, $127.5 million contract. He is only 28 years old, so his 2013 season could very well be a fluke, but his control has been at its worst over the past five years and he has been more homer-prone than at any other point in his career. A rebounding Cain in the second half would mean the Giants remain contenders in the NL West.

St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter

The Cardinals are really good. They are so good that no one player really strides ahead in terms of importance, not even Adam Wainwright or Yadier Molina. Chris Carpenter, however, is working his way back from back and shoulder issues and made his first rehab start Monday. Getting him back, whether as a starter or a reliever depending on his durability, could give the Cardinals the same boost he gave them at the end of the 2011 season.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg was kept out of the postseason last year as part of a predetermined plan to reduce his innings pitched. The Nationals had reached the playoffs for the first time since moving to Washington, D.C., and for the first time as a franchise since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos. It seemed as if the assumption was that Strasburg would have plenty more postseasons in which to pitch, including 2013. The Nationals have arguably been baseball's biggest disappointment, but Strasburg can help power them into playing in October with a strong second half.

Bill Baer is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog. He runs the Crashburn Alley blog on the Phillies.
MoRobert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsMariano Rivera was the man in the spotlight for Tuesday's All-Star Game.
NEW YORK -- Here's a fun piece of All-Star trivia: At 24, Matt Harvey is the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Dwight Gooden, also of the Mets, who was 23 in 1988.

How Harvey will fare in front of the home fans is one of the big story lines heading into the game. Let's hope he does better than the last pitcher to start at his home ballpark; Roger Clemens of the Houston Astros started in 2004 and allowed six runs in the top of the first inning, including home runs to Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

Harvey, 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA, will face off against Detroit Tigers' right-hander Max Scherzer, 13-1 with a 3.19 ERA. As far as historical All-Star matchups go, this one is hard to call considering Harvey's youth. I'd give it a solid A for entertainment value, however, as both are two of the most exciting pitchers to watch, with upper-90s heat.

Pregame introductions
Mets fans don't disappoint, booing loudly when all Braves, Phillies and Cardinals players are introduced, although they do give a nice round of applause to former Met Carlos Beltran. Not that they've forgiven that strikeout to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Many players are wearing bright glow-in-the-dark orange shoes, including Adam Jones and David Wright, leading my colleague Matt Meyers to quip that the Mets should make them their regular shoe color. Why not?

First inning
Top: The AL lineup is pretty lethal, arguably one of the best All-Star starting nines we've seen in years: Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Adam Jones, Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy. Maybe not quite what the AL rolled out in 1934 -- eight future Hall of Famers -- but pretty impressive.

Trout leads with a double just inside the first-base bag. In case you've forgotten, Trout is good.

Harvey hits Cano on the kneecap with a 96 mph fastball. Yankees fans just realized their season could get worse. Harvey recovers to strike out Cabrera on a 92 mph slider, but Dustin Pedroia now enters to run for Cano. Can Derek Jeter play second base? Davis pops out to center. Fun factoid No. 2: He bats fourth in this lineup but fifth on his own team. I believe Buck Showalter may be overthinking that one. Anyway, Bautista fans on another slider. Good job by Harvey to escape what could have been a nightmare top of the first.

Also, the conspiracy theorists point out that Harvey is a Scott Boras client and Cano just dropped Boras as his client.

Bottom: The NL lineup has an obvious flaw in that Bruce Bochy decided to hit his worst hitter leadoff, but, hey, the game only determines home-field advantage for the World Series, something Bochy should know a little something about: Brandon Phillips, Carlos Beltran, Joey Votto, David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Yadier Molina, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, Bryce Harper. That's right, the Rockies have three players in the starting lineup. They're 46-50.

Scherzer has a 1-2-3 inning. Bochy's secret genius idea to hit Phillips leadoff fails to work.

Second inning
Top: Harvey has a 1-2-3 second inning, including a strikeout of Jones on 98 mph high heat. He leaves to a nice ovation from Mets fans. Job well done, Matt. Now back to your day job -- working for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

Bottom: Well, Chris Sale is on for the AL. Looks like we're going to be treated to a long list of AL relievers later in the game. Brett Cecil! Glen Perkins! Steve Delabar! Greg Holland! What, that doesn't get you excited to watch All-Star baseball? To be fair to Jim Leyland, it's a strategy that could work. Sale mows down the National Leaguers with a nine-pitch inning.

Third inning
Top: Clayton Kershaw on for the NL. He's pretty good, too. He goes 1-2-3. Kershaw or Koufax? I guess Kershaw still has to do it in the World Series. Maybe he will. This year.

Bottom: Sale back in for a second inning! That crafty old fox Leyland! Sale strikes out Tulo, Cuddyer bounces back to the mound and Harper lines out sharply to Cabrera. Twenty-four pitches for Sale, 17 strikes. Nine up, nine down overall. I think you can make an argument that Sale is the best pitcher in the AL. And, no, the White Sox are not going to trade him.

X-rays on Cano a negative. He meets the media outside the AL clubhouse wrapped in 88 pounds of tape and Alex Rodriguez's contract.

Fourth inning
Top: Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks enters. All he has to do is face Cabrera, Davis and Bautista. Unfortunately, we don't get to see Kershaw versus Cabrera, which, apologies to Corbin and his family, is what an All-Star Game is supposed to be about. I'll predict this is the inning the AL breaks this 0-0 tie.

Cabrera drills a 1-2 slider to deep right-center for a leadoff double. Davis singles hard off the top of Votto's glove to move Miggy to third and then Bautista delivers the sac fly. Corbin escapes further damages with a 6-3 double play. He's a nice young pitcher and I wasn't trying to be rough on him, but Bochy probably should have called on a right-hander to start the inning with Cabrera leading off.

Bottom: Here comes the King! Felix Hernandez in for the AL and he's very happy that Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse aren't in the outfield behind him.

After leadoff hero Phillips grounds out, Beltran singles past a diving Hardy for the NL's first baserunner. Perfect game foiled. Andrew McCutchen in to pinch run for Beltran. And steals second! Never underestimate Bochy! Votto bounces out so it's up to hometown hero Wright and his magic orange cleats. Wright tops it to third, with Miggy making a nice play to show off his baseball athleticism. I mean, let's not get carried away, that's a play major league third basemen are supposed to make, but it was a nice play.

Fifth inning
Top: Paul Goldschmidt replaces Votto at first base. This is why I thought Goldschmidt should have started at DH. He and Votto have been two of the best hitters in the NL this year. Bochy could have gotten six plate appearances from the two, but now he'll get two from Votto, maybe one from Goldschmidt and maybe one for Allen Craig if he wants to get him in the game as well. Of course, I'm overthinking all this; the managers just want to get everyone in the game, which is understandable.

The AL pushes across another run against Cliff Lee. Adam Jones' orange shoes double to left, Mauer singles on a play Tulowitzki should have/could have made and Hardy's fielder's choice scores the run. At least we won't have the second 1-0 All-Star Game in history (not shockingly, coming in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher).

Bottom: Matt Moore with a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the inning. I think the only ball the NL has hit hard was Harper's lineout to Miggy at third base.

Sixth inning
Top: Glad to see Jose Fernandez of the Marlins get an inning. He's absolutely the real deal, a kid who will start one of these games in the future. He strikes out Pedroia and Davis around a Cabrera pop fly. Impressive. Note that Leyland left in Cabrera and Davis for a third plate appearances. Absolutely the right move considering they've been the two best hitters in the majors. Think somebody wants home-field advantage ... you know, just in case a certain team gets there.

Seventh inning
Top: David Wright still in the game. Starters aren't allowed to play seven innings! Bochy obviously wants to get him a third at-bat, but it also makes sense from a strategic standpoint. Pedro Alvarez is the backup third baseman and if Bochy brings him in, it would give Leyland a nice matchup of using lefties Glen Perkins or Brett Cecil to face Alvarez and Domonic Brown (now batting fifth), neither of whom hit lefties very well.

Bottom: Manny Machado with a nice play off a tricky hop to throw out Paul Goldschmidt from foul territory. Then the fun starts. David Wright singles off Greg Holland, so Leyland brings in Cecil to face Brown. If Bochy had some guts here, he’d pinch hit Allen Craig, but that kind of move doesn’t happen in an All-Star Game. Brown whiffs.

Leyland brings in Steve Delabar to face Buster Posey. Delabar was homer-prone last year (12) -- a reason the Mariners traded him to the Blue Jays -- but he has allowed just one this season. He fans Posey on a 2-2 slider. Good job, Leyland. If you have 13 pitchers, may as well use them. He still has Justin Masterson and Chris Tillman in reserve if the game goes extra innings, plus relievers Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins and Mariano Rivera.

Eighth inning
Top: Tweet of the day from Sam Mellinger: Salvador Perez’s hit was the first by a Royal in the All-Star Game since Bo Jackson in 1989 (although not his home run; that came in the first inning and he singled in the fourth). Jason Kipnis then doubles in Perez and it's 3-0 AL.

Bottom: Rivera in for the bottom of the eighth. Apparently, Leyland is worried that if the other relievers blow the lead this inning, Rivera wouldn’t get in the game. And a goosebump moment as the AL All-Stars remain off the field as Rivera begins his warm-ups; the most universally respected and beloved player in the game. Rivera gets a little weepy as the crowd gives him a big ovation and he doffs his cap.

By the way … Torii Hunter replaces Trout in center. He’s played one game there since 2010. Questionable move. Would Hunter really be crushed if he didn’t get into this game?

Anyway, beautiful pitching from Rivera, that effortless delivery that we’ll remember long after his retirement. He gets hugs from the entire AL team as he heads to the dugout. As J.J. Hardy said yesterday, "It’s great just to share a locker room with him for one day. It’s something I’ll tell my grandchildren about."

Ninth inning
Top: Prince Fielder leads off with a triple, but is stranded at third. (Yes, a triple.)

Bottom: Joe Nathan on for the save, the AL still up 3-0. No matter what happens, I’m pretty sure the most discussed aspect of the game will be Leyland’s decision to use Rivera in the eighth instead of the ninth. Me? I’ll just remember him warming up, a singular man in the middle of a baseball field, throwing a baseball.

(Nathan got the save and Rivera was named MVP. The AL wins with a three-hit shutout. Home-field advantage to the Tigers … or the A’s … or the Red Sox … or maybe, miracle of all miracles, the Yankees and Rivera.)