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Monday, July 2, 2012
Clearing the bases: Yankees' new ace

By David Schoenfield

First base: Don't look now ... With CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte on the DL, the Yankees need Phil Hughes to step it up and pitch deeper into games to help save the bullpen workload. On Sunday, he went eight innings for the second straight game in the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the White Sox, allowing two runs and striking out eight with one walk. Hughes has now allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his past 10 starts. True, the other two starts were blow-up outings -- six runs against the Braves, seven against the Angels -- but he seems to be settling into some consistency. Hiroki Kuroda has also quietly lowered his ERA to 3.17, ninth among AL starters. With those two pitching well, the Yankees can be patient in getting Sabathia and Pettitte back.

Second base: Slumping Rays. The Rays lost 5-3 to the Tigers on Sunday, dropping them to 41-38. After going 15-8 in April, they've gone 26-30 since and have been outscored on the season. The team's issues go beyond injuries at this point. Desmond Jennings, expected to produce in the leadoff spot, has a .303 OBP. B.J. Upton's continues to cost himself millions as an upcoming free agent, with a woeful .240/.298/.358 line. Jeff Keppinger batted cleanup on Sunday and the lineup included Hideki Matsui (.177) and Jose Molina (.198). Evan Longoria, please come back. It's worth noting, perhaps, that the Rays were only three wins better a year ago at this point at 44-35, but went 18-10 in August and 17-10 in September.

Third base: Plouffe power. Trevor Plouffe hit two more home runs for the Twins and now leads all major league third basemen with 18. Not bad for a guy who started only 10 games in April and didn't hit his second home run until May 16. Since that date the Twins are 23-19 and averaging 4.9 runs per game. It's hard to see them climbing back in it considering their terrible rotation -- even at just 8.5 games behind the White Sox -- but at least they've becoming an interesting team to pay attention, a far cry from the April team that looked headed for 100 losses.

Home plate: Tweet of the day. After being shut out five times in six games (and hitting .163 over that span), the Dodgers exploded for eight runs on Sunday night. Thanks to three Mets errors, six of the runs were unearned.
The Dodgers are undefeated in July!

— YCPB (@cantpredictball) July 2, 2012