SweetSpot: Jason Giambi

Carlos Santana settling in at third base

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
Starting with the standard “just a 10th of the way into the season” caveat, one of the things that’s been interesting to check out about the Indians is how much Carlos Santana has been inked into the lineup at the hot corner. That’s because the big offseason experiment with getting Santana in gear to be their in-house answer at third base was one of those things where it would really last.

So far, the Indians have put him out there only 50 percent of the time, giving him eight starts. Five starts at DH and another three behind the plate as the backup catcher have kept him in the lineup every day.
[+] EnlargeSantana
Scott W. Grau/Icon SMIEarly on, it looks like Carlos Santana has adapted to life at the hot corner.

How does that happen? Making every roster spot work for you, even in the reliever-crowded rosters of the present. The rest of the playing time at third has been spread between Lonnie Chisenhall (when he isn’t the DH) and superutilityman Mike Aviles (when he isn’t spot-starting at second, short or left field). There are a lot of moving parts, plus the need to spot lefty-killer Ryan Raburn wherever he fits in any given day (either outfield corner, DH and maybe second base in a pinch).

It’s the natural outgrowth of a playing-time plan where, instead of marooning one guy in the regular DH role, Terry Francona is keeping his 11 best bats rotating through his lineup, with seven-position reserve Elliot Johnson representing his lone true bench player. That will change when Jason Giambi reprises his gray eminence gig once he’s activated from the DL (reportedly Monday), but the G-man won’t get more than 200 at-bats this year.

Now that the games count, Santana hasn’t looked too shabby at third. A lone error, a league-average rate of plays made, nothing too appalling in terms of the early returns from Baseball Info Solutions’ Plus-Minus, Baseball-Reference.com’s Total Zone or FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating. Yes, it’s only eight games, but none of the interpretive metrics have gone Russian judge on us when evaluating Santana’s performance.

So, so far so good. As one AL insider put it to me this spring, “Can he really be worse than [Miguel Cabrera]?” Even if Santana turns out that badly playing just half the time, he still will likely do more than enough damage at the plate to make up for it. His homer Friday got him off the schneid in that department, and the experiment’s looking good early on.

Making the comparison to Miggy makes sense, because just as Cabrera’s move to third base in 2012 was about adding Prince Fielder’s bat to the Tigers’ lineup, the Indians’ decision to give Santana a shot at third is about getting their best bats into the mix. You can see it as comparable to the decisions about where to put Bobby Bonilla in the lineup in the 1990s: No, he wasn’t a great third baseman, but if you found a right fielder who hit better than your alternatives at third base, you could still contend with Bobby Bo at the hot corner -- as the Pirates did -- or win it all, as the Marlins did.

Making a defensive sacrifice at one of the corners is more affordable than ever today, thanks to the game’s offensive environment: More strikeouts than ever mean that the positions that get the fewest chances have even less of an opportunity to affect outcomes on the field. The Giants won in 2010 with a DH (Aubrey Huff) in the corners, the Cardinals won in 2011 with a DH on the field (Lance Berkman), and the Giants won again in 2012 despite Pablo Sandoval’s immobility at third base. Santana? He’s just the latest example of an adaptive strategy to get runs from your lineup while runs are getting more scarce.

The other half of the proposition was that Yan Gomes had to show he could handle playing regularly as the club’s catcher. Here again, the answer’s a happy one, echoing Gomes’ second-half breakout for the Indians last year. At the plate, he’s hitting for the same kind of power, with an Isolated Power clip in the .180s. Behind it, he’s an asset, according to the new catcher framing metrics, plus he’s deterring the running game, with less than one steal being attempted every nine innings, while he has thrown out 4 of 11 attempts already.

The Indians might have other issues as they try to repeat last season’s success, but Carlos Santana at third base? So far, that ain’t one of them.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Joy, nausea and then euphoria in Cleveland

September, 25, 2013
CLEVELAND -- As a Cleveland Indians fan for about 30 years, I've learned to master the art of crushing disappointment. I always joke that it's not a matter of "if" the Indians will let you down, just a matter of when, and just how heartbreaking it will be this time. So while I'm thrilled to see the Tribe in the heat of a pennant race, I'm cautiously optimistic about their postseason chances. I think a lot of other fans may feel the same way, and it could explain the reluctance to pack Progressive Field on a nightly basis.

So when Chris Perez gave up two ninth-inning home runs last night to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza, making a 3-2 Indians lead a 4-3 deficit, I immediately thought "Here we go." You suddenly had a vision of just how the wheels were going to fall off this time. I was at the game and fans were booing and jeering Perez. My friend and I just sat quietly in our seats, feeling sick and wondering how another season could come crashing down yet again.

Then something amazing happened. I don't even think amazing is a strong enough adjective to describe what took place at Progressive Field, because it was one of the greatest moments I've ever witnessed in person (and I attended the "bug game" in the 2007 Division Series against the Yankees). Michael Brantley, who was a hero in his own right in the game, was on second base with two outs. Matt Carson, the owner of the walk-off hit last Thursday against the Astros, was due at the plate. We saw Jason Giambi on deck, and had to admit that while we liked the odds of a red-hot Carson (he's hitting .700 since he was brought up a few weeks ago from Columbus for an ailing Ryan Raburn), Giambi has already played hero several times this season. You secretly hope that Giambi can do something, but how often will a 42-year-old hitting .177 really be able to play hero?

We now know that he had at least one more in the tank. This was a game that went from a nail-biter, to disappointing as the White Sox pulled ahead 2-1, to euphoric as Brantley homered to tie the game and Jason Kipnis singled to make it 3-2. After the Perez collapse it went to nauseating, and then beyond euphoric when Giambi hit the home run. After Perez was pulled from the game in the top of the ninth, I saw fans streaming for the exits. This game was the textbook reason of why you should never, ever do that. I know a lot of overly pessimistic Indians fans, and it's not that they don't love the team or don't want to see them succeed, but after you've had your heart broken so many times, how much more can your brain and heart take? If you don't get attached, if you keep them at a distance, then you'll be able to better handle the ensuing disappointment.

About two weeks ago, I agonized over whether or not to purchase potential Indians playoff tickets. I was afraid of jinxing them, and I was also trying to minimize later pain. I still have a PDF of 2007 Indians World Series tickets sitting on the desktop of my old computer. It's been six years and I still haven't had the heart to delete the file. Did I want a full strip of potential unused playoff tickets sitting around my house staring at me all winter? In the end, we decided to purchase the tickets. Because even though there's often disappointment as an Indians fan, there are also moments like last night that makes it all totally worth it. No matter what, you have to dream big.

Stephanie Liscio writes about the Indians at the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" blog.

One moment, you're crying and cursing out Chris Perez for blowing the game by giving up two home runs.

The next moment, you're crying and hugging the person in the seat next to you, or hugging and dancing with your brother or your wife or maybe just your dog: Jason Giambi, old man Giambi, just hit a dramatic, walk-off, two-run, emotionally draining home run to help get your Cleveland Indians one game closer to the playoffs.

Or maybe you're not an Indians fan. Maybe you're just a baseball fan, rooting for drama and surprise and fantastical things. Giambi's home run was all of those.

Considering the circumstances, it was the game of the year so far: the Indians going from a heartbreaking blown lead in the top of the ninth to Giambi swatting a two-out, pinch-hit home run to beat the White Sox 5-4 and stun -- in a deliciously good way -- a Cleveland fan base that has understandably grown accustomed to expecting the worst kind of misery, no matter the sport.

[+] Enlarge Jason Giambi
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJason Giambi's blast might be his last, but it's one to remember.
But it happened. Believe it, Cleveland. Terry Francona sent up .177-hitting, gray-haired, one-homer-since-July Jason Giambi to do one thing, and Giambi did it, belting a 1-1 slider from Addison Reed deep to right field.

Maybe it's difficult to get sentimental over a player like Giambi, with his steroids-stained past, but call me sentimental: It was one final great moment from a player I've always enjoyed watching. It very well may be the last home run Giambi ever hits in the major leagues, and if so, what a way to go out. The Indians could still miss the playoffs, or they could make the wild-card game and lose it, or maybe Giambi doesn't even make the postseason roster (he'd had just 19 plate appearances in September before Tuesday).

Maybe Reed shouldn't have thrown that 1-1 slider; Giambi's bat speed obviously isn't what it was during his MVP days with the A's, and as they say, don't help speed up a slow bat by throwing a slider. On the other hand, Giambi had just three hits off sliders all season -- 3-for-28, a .107 average -- but two of those hits were home runs. Now he has four hits off sliders; three of them were home runs, and two of those were walk-offs, both of them against the White Sox.

Remember when Giambi interviewed for the Rockies' managing job in the offseason? He lost out to Walt Weiss and instead signed with the Indians, one last gasp of a baseball career for a guy who had hit .225 with one home run with the Rockies in 2012. He’s 42 years old, and it's hard to give up this sport.

There had been cries to cut Giambi loose throughout the season, considering his average hovered below the Mendoza Line much of the season and he'd been hitting .136 since the All-Star break. But Francona kept him around, probably for his clubhouse presence as much as his ability to provide power off the bench. A left-handed bat with home run power isn't the worst thing to have around as your 25th guy.

The Rangers beat the Astros 3-2, so Cleveland's lead over Texas remains a slim one game. The biggest loser on Tuesday was the Royals, who needed the Indians and Rangers to lose.

That's the joy and heartbreak of a playoff race; Jason Giambi delivered joy to the Indians and heartbreak to the Royals with one memorable swing.

Game of the year? I say so. But, hey, we still have five days left in the regular season.

Takes a Tribe to grind down Verlander

May, 12, 2013

Say you’re the Cleveland Indians. You’ve been one of baseball’s hottest teams, but you’re in Detroit against the defending pennant winners, you got routed in the first game of the series, and you’re facing Justin Verlander, who’s still on top of most people’s lists for best pitcher on the planet.

How to beat all of those seemingly insuperable challenges and pull off a win? Easy: It takes the whole Tribe.

Consistent with what has worked for the Indians so far this season, that’s how they pulled off an upset 7-6 victory Saturday in the Motor City to make it clear that the American League Central is a race that has months to run. Put on the spot, Cleveland's offense did the best things possible against Verlander: The Indians scored early and often, but most of all, they used him up to get to the Tigers bullpen early. The Tribe had already pushed Verlander to 90 pitches through the first four innings. Even allowing for Jim Leyland’s understandable willingness to let his ace achieve feats of strength racking up big pitch counts, that’s not what long nights from your best pitcher are made of.

Getting four runs off Verlander through five innings was big, but getting the next three runs with nine baserunners against the Tigers’ bullpen over the following three innings was the decisive reward, an opportunity created by a top-to-bottom lineup that, even as some hitters have struggled, is doing a good job of creating shark attack-like feeding frenzies in-game.

That might sound easy enough, because the Indians rank second in the league to the Tigers in runs per game, and they’re first in OPS for the time being. Those numbers create an illusion of strength this lineup has not yet made good on, though: As my old Baseball Prospectus compadre Joe Sheehan noted last week in his excellent newsletter, the Tribe has been far from consistent in terms of scoring -- plating two runs or less in 12 of their first 34 games -- but thanks to 13-0, 19-6 and 14-2 wins in the early going, they project as a statistical powerhouse only in the aggregate.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsNick Swisher helped the Indians wear down Justin Verlander, working two walks off the Tigers ace.
However, look at that info, and it would be easy to overstate their failings, because Cleveland's offense has qualities most teams would kill for. The Indians are grinding down opposing pitchers, they’re exploiting the flexibility and depth they built up over the winter, and what problems they do have are ones that can be fixed.

Consider their grinding approach on offense. The Indians are next-to-last in the league in swinging strikes, and fourth in the league in pitches per plate appearance. Which is not to say they’re enjoying perfect success; their walk rate of 8.0 percent is below league average. But walks aren’t the sole goal of getting deep into counts -- they’re just one of the positive outcomes, but getting your pitch and simultaneously using up the opposing starter are the others. The Indians extend their at-bats and make opponents work, but it’s interesting to note that they’re not collectively watching strike three go by: Unlike the sabermetrically-beloved Rays and their league-leading 30 percent clip for being called out by those oh-so-human umps on their whiffs, the Indians are down around league average at 25 percent.

One of the other cool features of the Indians’ assemblage is that theirs is a lineup stocked with moving parts. Nick Swisher rotating from first to right field to designated hitter from night to night is no surprise, but he’s not the only roving corner in Terry Francona’s playing-time scheme. Mark Reynolds has split his time among first, DH and third. (To some of us among the chatterati, Reynolds might have initially seemed like a free agent signed too soon for too much, but with a league-leading homer tally and that value at multiple lineup slots, the Indians may well get the last laugh.) Carlos Santana is doing his variation on a Buster Posey theme by moving to first or DH when he isn’t catching. Mike Aviles provides considerably more power than your average utility infielder, which is why he starts more regularly than one.

That flexibility could come even more into play as we get deeper into the season. Now that Michael Bourn is back from the disabled list, you might wonder how much Francona will still be able to keep all of his hitters active and sharp with an everyday player back in the mix. But the silver lining of losing Bourn for a couple weeks to injury might just be getting to (over)expose Drew Stubbs for what he is, now that he’s 28 and been doing this for years: A fine defender and baserunner, but not a regular at a corner.

That isn’t the Indians’ only lineup issue: Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall’s early-season struggles force the question of whether he’s going to turn the corner and stick as an everyday player. He came into Saturday with a career .288 OBP in 466 PAs; if he fielded like Brooks Robinson or slugged like Rob Deer, that’s a survivable blemish, but he doesn’t do those things. He’ll need to improve, or risk losing at-bats to some combination of Aviles and Reynolds.

If players like Stubbs and Chisenhall come around, that’s great. But if not, the Indians already have the depth on hand to make some hard choices. If Francona wants to keep putting pressure on opposing pitchers, that will continue to mean expanded playing time for his duo of handy platoon bats from the bench -- lefty thumper Jason Giambi at DH and lefty-masher Ryan Raburn -- thanks to the position flexibility his other starters and semi-regulars possess. And if the Indians still don’t have a happy answer by the end of July, renting a free agent-to-be at the trade deadline wouldn’t cost much in talent or treasure.

That’s because the Indians shouldn’t have to indulge Chisenhall or Stubbs their struggles all season, not as a contender. Because that’s what these Indians should be: Contenders. Maybe just for the AL Central title, and maybe because the Tigers fail to run away with it. But contenders just the same.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
What a day in baseball on Wednesday! Eric Karabell and myself could have done a two-hour Baseball Today podcast. Here are some highlights of a jam-packed show. Eric even tricked me into comparing Jose Altuve to Al Kaline and Alex Rodriguez. OK, maybe I did that to myself.

1. We discuss Jered Weaver's no-hitter, of course, and wonder how many more no-hitters we'll see this season.

2. We discuss that wild, improbable game in Atlanta between the Phillies and Braves. Are there reasons to be concerned about Roy Halladay?

3. That's only the tip of the iceberg of a crazy night -- bad calls, Jason Giambi's walk-off homer, Jake Arrieta dominating the Yankees and more.

4. We answer some emails about Mat Gamel's injury and other stuff.

5. Finally, we look ahead to Thursday's action and I declare that Jose Altuve is a batting title contender.

Check it all out on Thursday's Baseball Today podcast, and don't miss Friday's show with Mark Simon and awesome guests Jayson Stark and Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Baseball is awesome. Did we need to say anything else? Do we need to hire Terry Cashman to write a ballad about this day? Do we need to pen epic poems about Chipper Jones and Jered Weaver and Bryce Harper and the intentional walk?

Man, I need to catch my breath.

How do you sum up the wildest game of the season so far? I guess pretty simply: The Phillies, a team that scores runs with about the same frequency of a Serie A soccer team, totaled 13 runs ... in a game Roy Halladay started ... and lost.

The Phillies led 6-0, the Braves scored six off Halladay in the fifth (including a Brian McCann grand slam) and then took an 8-6 lead (the first time he's allowed eight runs in a game since Aug. 24, 2009). The Phillies surged back ahead 12-8, the Braves took a 13-12 lead with five runs in the bottom of the eighth (as Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon apparently isn't allowed to pitch more than one inning or three days in a row), the Phillies tied in the ninth on Shane Victorino's two-out infield single, and then ...

Well, then, Larry Wayne Jones stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning. He hammered a 2-2 slider from Brian Sanches down the right-field line, but it hooked a few feet line. I tweeted, "Dang, a Chipper walk-off would have been pretty cool on this wild day."

Two pitches later, he crushed a 3-2, 88-mph meatball over the center-field fence, watching the ball fly away into the Atlanta evening and flipping his bat in a dismissive swagger. "I may be 40 years old with creaky knees, but don't try and slip that mediocre slop by me," he seemed to say.

Braves 15, Phillies 13.

It was the 458th regular-season home run in his career. Few have felt sweeter, especially since the Braves had lost eight straight games to the Phillies.

"I wish everyone could experience that feeling right there," Jones said on postgame on-field TV interview, trying to catch his breath after enduring the mosh pit at home plate. "That game, without a doubt, takes the cake as far as my career goes. You figure with Halladay and [Tommy] Hanson, it's going to be a 2-1 game."

When Jones says he's never seen a game like it, you know what it was something amazing.

And here are a few more adventures from not just another Wednesday in early May:
  • Oh, yeah, as I was finishing this piece, Jered Weaver was flirting with a no-hitter through the sixth … seventh … into the eighth … and he did it. You know, Weaver is pretty good at baseball. The highlight: MLB Network cameras showed Weaver leaving the dugout in the eighth inning to use the bathroom. How do you risk a no-hitter by leaving the bench? As he said after the game, "I had to pee so bad."
  • In an afternoon tilt at Coors Field, we saw the worst call of the season (Jerry Hairston Jr. was called out on this play) and Carlos Gonzalez homered twice off Clayton Kershaw (only the second time Kershaw has allowed two home runs to one player in a game, Adam Dunn having done so in 2010). But that stuff was merely a prelude to a wacky ninth inning. With two outs and a runner on first, Jim Tracy elected to intentionally walk Matt Kemp to pitch to Dee Gordon. You can debate the merits of the decision -- Kemp's home run rate was three times that of Gordon's extra-base hit rate, and extreme fly ball pitcher Rafael Betancourt was on the mound -- but Gordon hit a soft liner into right-center. Third-base coach Tim Wallach sent Kemp, who should have been thrown out by 10 feet, but Troy Tulowitzki biffed the relay with a wormburner throw home. Game tied and Tracy looked like the goat until the ancient Jason Giambi hit a three-run homer off Scott Elbert in the bottom of the ninth. How awesome is that the Giambino is still swatting game-winning home runs at age 41?
  • The Nationals ended a five-game losing streak in dramatic, walk-off fashion as well. Wunderkind Harper -- who had just missed his first major league homer earlier in the game with a double off the top of the wall in right-center -- led off the bottom of the ninth with another double to center, his third hit of the game. With Nationals fans dreaming delirious dreams of Harper's future, J.J. Putz then struck out Wilson Ramos and Rick Ankiel. But Ian Desmond blasted a 1-1, 93-mph fastball over the fence in left-center. Only one of the best wins in Nationals' history.
  • The Royals looked like they were going to beat Justin Verlander, leading 2-0 in the eighth, only to have Brennan Boesch tie the game with a two-run homer. So they settled for a victory off Joaquin Benoit in the ninth, the go-ahead run scoring on Chris Getz's two-out infield single.
  • Jake Arrieta threw eight shutout innings against the Yankees in one of the best outings of the year for a pitcher: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB 9 SO. The Orioles took two of three in the series, they're 16-9, and Baltimore fans are starting to believe.
  • Jeff Suppan made his first major league start since 2010 and tossed five shutout innings as the Padres blanked the Brewers 5-0.
  • Johnny Damon played his first game for the Indians, and while he went 0-for-3 with a walk, having Damon back in the bigs is certainly worthy of a round of applause.
  • Carlos Beltran had seven RBIs through three innings and for a time we could conjure up scenarios where he would drive in 10 ... 11 ... maybe even a record-tying 12 runs.
  • Lost in the excitement of Chipper's dramatic walk-off homer, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz also had seven RBIs.

One day in baseball. I say we do it again.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.


Ian DesmondJoy R. Absalon/US PresswireAs Ian Desmond comes home after his game-winning walkoff shot, he was understandably pleased.

This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:
So the New York Daily News reports that the Yankees drank beer in the clubhouse and dugout as well. But not this year, of course!

And it was just Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi, according to a source. (Talk about two guys easy to throw under the bus.)

There is, however, one major problem here. The story reports that "Jose Canseco wasn't much of a drinker, according to the insider, but he once drank a can of light beer, went out and hit a home run, went back into the clubhouse and drank another can, hit another home run, and did the same thing a third time. Three lights, three homers."

This is easy to check. Took me about five seconds on Baseball-Reference.com. Canseco never hit three home runs in a game while playing for the Yankees. Canseco, in fact, never even hit two home runs in a game with the Yankees. He did it only twice in his career -- in 1994 with the Rangers (in a game he batted six times) and in 1998 with the A's (in a game he batted eight games).

Now, the story didn't exactly specify that the Canseco did his beer trifecta with the Yankees, so it's either shoddy writing, the source is lying or the source has inside information from Canseco's days with the Rangers or A's, which wasn't made clear in the story.

I'm going with this: Don't believe everything you read.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
In reality, every game counts the same. A win in September isn't more important than a win in April. A home run in September isn't worth more than a home run in May. When it comes to the MVP voting, however, a big final month can put a player over the top in a close race. This season is no different. If Curtis Granderson has some big moments down the stretch and the Yankees hold on to their AL East lead, that could be a difference-maker for him over Jacoby Ellsbury or Justin Verlander or Jose Bautista. Likewise, if Ellsbury has a hot final two weeks and the Red Sox catch the Yankees, maybe that gives him in an edge.

Here are five guys who cleaned up in September and won the MVP Award as a result:

1. Vladimir Guerrero, 2004 Angels

Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz had similar hitting statistics to Guerrero's final .337/.391/.598 line. They all made the playoffs ... but not in dramatic fashion like the Angels, who entered the final series of the season tied with Oakland for first place. The Angels won the first two games to clinch the division. In the clinching game, Guerrero hit a two-run homer off Barry Zito in the sixth to tie the game at 2. His final line for the month: .363/.424/.726, with 11 home runs and 25 RBIs in 28 games.

2. Jason Giambi, 2000 A's

With the A's fighting the Mariners for the AL West title, Giambi had a monster September: .396/.536/.844, with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs. The A's went 22-7, won the division by a half game (the Indians also missed the playoff by one game). In a tight race, Giambi had carried his team, and he edged out Frank Thomas of the White Sox and Alex Rodriguez of the Mariners in the MVP vote.

3. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves

Chipper hit .307 with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs the final month, with 22 walks and only 11 strikeouts. But it was the memorable series against the Mets that crystallized his MVP status for many voters. The Braves and Mets were battling for the NL East title with 11 games remaining when they met for a three-game series. In Game 1, Jones hit two solo homers, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Braves won 2-1. The next night, he hit a two-run homer in the first and the Braves won 5-2. In Game 3, trailing Al Leiter 2-1 in the fifth, he blasted a three-run homer. The Braves won 6-3 and went on to capture the East crown. Chipper hit .319/.441/.633 that year, but they were other strong candidates. Mike Piazza had 40 homers and 124 RBIs for the Mets; Jeff Bagwell had 42 homers, 126 RBIs and 143 runs; Mark McGwire hit 65 home runs and drove in 147; Sammy Sosa hit 63 home runs. But none of them had that September moment and Chipper ran away with the vote.

4. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres

Caminiti hit .326 with 40 home runs and a 1.028 OPS, but that was nothing unusual in the NL in 1996: Eight guys hit at least 40 homers and five had an OPS higher than a 1.000. So why did Caminiti win unanimous MVP honors? The Padres were battling the Dodgers for the NL West flag and he hit .375/.465/.750 the final month, including nine home runs and 23 RBIs. In the season's final series, the Padres entered trailing the Dodgers by a game, but Caminiti went 4-for-4 with a game-tying homer in the eighth and go-ahead double in the 10th. The Padres won and swept the series to win the division. That final moment pushed Caminiti over the top.

5. Willie Stargell, 1979 Pirates

The beloved veteran leader of the "We Are Family" Pirates hit only .222 for the month, but did deliver eight home runs and 18 RBIs in September. Most importantly, he came up big against the Expos, who the Pirates ended up beating out by two games for the division title. On Sept. 18, before more than 56,000 fans at Olympic Stadium, Stargell cranked a game-winning two-run homer off Dale Murray in the 11th inning. On Sept. 25, the Expos led the Pirates by a half-game. Stargell hit a two-run homer off Scott Sanderson in the bottom of the first and homered again in the fourth. The Pirates won 10-4, won again the next night and the division was theirs. In the MVP vote, Stargell's numbers didn't compare to Keith Hernandez (they ended up tied) or other candidates like Dave Winfield, but his leadership and big September home runs gave him the extra credit he needed.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Many cool, interesting topics were discussed on Friday's wacky, wonderful Baseball Today podcast with myself and Mark Simon, among them:

1. Jason Giambi goes all Babe Ruth on the Phillies, which of course came totally expected from a guy who had never hit three home runs in a game before, and barely plays. Do we blame it all on Kyle Kendrick?

2. The Seattle Mariners win in sun-off fashion -- is it really a walk-off? -- against Torii Hunter, Scott Downs and the Angels. Look, sometimes life and the box scores just aren’t fair, folks.

3. Perhaps you're not a fan of interleague play, but find out which one of us loves it and which one merely likes it and why. OK, I can't wait, it's awesome, but Mark and I explain why.

4. Former pitcher Esteban Yan continues to get more attention from our show than he probably ever got when he was an active player, but hey, he did something historic, and we can't stop discussing it!

5. We describe the pitching matchup of the weekend, which creates a potentially difficult situation for our Mets, um, Rays fan.

Plus excellent emails as always, Mark has some homework for Monday, Dillon Gee is compared to a former New York Met, if history is a guide, Albert Pujols should see his numbers spike this weekend and we remind you what Mark Quinn and Adam Greenberg did, all on a packed Friday Baseball Today! Enjoy your weekend!

PHILADELPHIA -- Yes, we know the Major League Baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, but the Colorado Rockies sure spent a lot of time in spring training obsessing over their form in the starting blocks. After going 40-57 over the past four Aprils, they’ve grown tired of spending five months each year in come-from-behind mode.

All that emphasis on hard work and attention to detail in Arizona paid off when the Rockies rolled out to an 11-2 start, which makes it a little disconcerting that they have been 12-17 since. Maybe it’s just a case of too much lactic acid buildup.

“Since I’ve been here, everybody said, ‘If the Rockies get off to a good start, it’s gonna be lights-out for them. They’re going to run away with this thing,’” shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. “I’ve always said that it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to finish strong just because we start fast. That’s not the way baseball works.”

Here’s the way baseball works: The Rockies were forced to change course Thursday night when Todd Helton, the team’s most consistent hitter this season, arrived at the park with a cranky back. Manager Jim Tracy filled his spot in the lineup with Jason Giambi, popular clubhouse elder, valued pinch hitter and, lately, master cobweb collector.

While Helton is enjoying a second wind in his age-37 season, Giambi entered the Rockies-Phillies finale with three hits in 26 at-bats this season, an average of .115. That doesn’t mean Giambi, still young at heart at age 40, can’t look spry when his mechanics are in sync.

“He’s one good swing away from saying to himself, ‘There it is,’” Tracy said of Giambi while briefing reporters in his office before the game.

Three good Giambi swings into Thursday’s game, the Phillies were saying, “There it goes.”

Giambi homered in his first two at-bats against substitute starter Kyle Kendrick, then deposited a third homer -- the 419th of his career -- into the right-field seats against Danys Baez. Throw in a masterful seven innings by Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin, and Colorado left Philadelphia with a 7-1 victory and a split of the teams’ two-game series.

Chalk up Giambi’s feel-good performance to patience and a little intervention by Tracy and hitting coach Carney Lansford. Before the game, they told him he needed to stand more upright in his stance to give him more latitude to turn on inside fastballs. The tip paid off, as Giambi joined Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Reggie Jackson as only the fourth 40-year-old to hit three homers in a game.

The teams played through a driving rain for two or three innings, but the umpiring crew never called a halt to the proceedings.

“We were just hoping to get the game in,” Giambi said. “Trust me, about the fifth inning, I was going, ‘God, please let’s get through the fifth.’”

Ultimately, if the Rockies plan to make the playoffs for the third time in six seasons, they’re going to need a big effort from the young franchise mainstays and 2010 MVP candidates, Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Right now, they’re works in progress. Gonzalez, who left Thursday’s game with tightness in his left groin, has a pedestrian .728 OPS in 41 games. And after laying waste to National League pitching in April, Tulowitzki is hitting 12-for-68 in May.

At the moment, Gonzalez, the 2010 NL batting champion, is struggling to embrace his heightened profile in baseball’s new-world order. A FanGraphs.com breakdown reveals that he’s seeing fewer fastballs this year (about 49 percent compared to 55 percent in 2010), as opponents are throwing him more breaking balls and changeups. He’s hitting a lot more balls on the ground, and some Rockies-watchers think he got into some bad habits trying to jack too many balls into the right-field seats in the first month.

If Gonzalez feels any extra pressure to produce because of his new seven-year, $80 million contract, he’s not about to share it publicly.

“I don’t really think about the contract,” Gonzalez said. “It hasn’t changed me at all. I still show up at the ballpark and try to work twice as hard as anybody else. I don’t think money makes you happy. What makes you happy is doing what you love to do -- what your passion is. And my passion is baseball.”

Funny, but Tulowitzki also uses "passion" to describe his approach to the game. If he has a tendency to take the fallow stretches to heart, it’s because he’s naturally inclined to push himself harder than anyone else ever could.

“I play this game with so much passion and care so much about it, I probably take it harder than the normal person,” Tulowitzki said. “And it’s not gonna change, because I care. I think it hurts me sometimes, but I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t like that.”

While Tulo and CarGo keep grinding, the Rockies have other concerns. They need to fill the lineup’s black hole at third base, where Jose Lopez, Ian Stewart, Ty Wigginton & Co. are hitting a combined .149. Where have you gone, Vinny Castilla? And Colorado desperately needs a return to form by staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who finished third in the Cy Young Award race last year and ranked second to Albert Pujols in the NL with a wins above replacement of 6.7. Three weeks into May, Jimenez is 0-3 with a 6.14 ERA.

“Anytime your ace isn’t pitching like you wish he was, that’s a big question mark for a team,” Tulowitzki said. “But we have full confidence that he’s going to get back to a place where he was last year.”

Confidence is a good thing for a hyped team that’s performing in fits and starts. The Rockies have faith they’ll reach their ultimate destination this season. But they’re ready for a lot of twists and turns along the way.


Alex RiosJerry Lai/US PresswireDon't blame it on Rios, the force was with Carlos Santana on this play at the plate.
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email. Follow him on Twitter: @jcrasnick
Carlos DelgadoDavid Seelig/Icon SMICarlos Delgado hit 473 home runs and drove in more than 1,500 runs in his career.
Carlos Delgado officially announced his retirement, in slightly less dramatic light than Manny Ramirez.

He was a great hitter, a player worthy of some random thoughts ...

1. Delgado came up through the minors as a catcher and everyone knew he could hit -- he ranked as Baseball America's No. 4 prospect in 1993 and No. 5 in 1994. He caught two games in the majors but the Blue Jays originally tried him in left field before he settled in at first base. The attempt to make him a catcher meant he spent two seasons in Triple-A when he was ready for the majors (and probably cost him 500 career home runs).

2. Long home runs. Outside of maybe Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa (ahem), did anyone in the past 15 years hit longer home runs than Delgado? Loved that left-handed power stroke, like he was using a big sledgehammer.

3. The four-homer game against Tampa Bay in 2003. Delgado had taken antibiotics for a cold earlier in the day and homered in all four trips to the plate. His fourth homer was a mammoth blast to center field off Lance Carter.

4. His 99 extra-base hits in 2000 -- he had 57 doubles, a triple and 41 home runs -- tied for 16th-most in one season. Delgado hit .344/.470/.664 that season -- and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Yes, there was a lot of offense that year.

5. His one season with the Marlins. Actually, I don't remember this much at all.

6. Finally making a postseason appearance with the Mets in 2006 -- and raking. He hit .351/.442/.757 in 10 games, with four homers and 11 RBIs. In Game 7 of the NLCS, the Cardinals wanted nothing to do with him -- they walked him three times.

7. He only made two All-Star teams (2000 and 2003). What? The same number as Scott Cooper? How is this possible? Well, here are the first basemen who got selected in his prime years ...

1998: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Mo Vaughn.
1999: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Ron Coomer ... yes, Ron Coomer! ... plus THREE DHs (Harold Baines, John Jaha and Jose Canseco).
2001: John Olerud, Tony Clark, Jason Giambi, Mike Sweeney.
2002: Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, Mike Sweeney.
2004: Jason Giambi, Ken Harvey ... yes, the immortal Ken Harvey.
2005: Derrek Lee, Albert Pujols. This one was weird. The NL selected only two first basemen, but Pujols started at DH. Third baseman Morgan Ensberg ended up playing first base. But Cesar Izturis and Felipe Lopez were All-Stars that year.
2006: Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard, Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar was hitting .358 at the break.
2007: Delgado had a bad year.
2008: Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez. This was the year Delgado had a monster second half.

Anyway, I'm not saying he deserved to make it all those years, but it's surprising he was only a two-time All-Star. Heck, Bruce Benedict was a two-time All-Star.

8. His stance against the war in Iraq. Not an easy decision, but I applauded his courage to take a political stand with thought and conviction.

9. He finished with a career WAR of 49.1 via FanGraphs, 44.2 on Baseball-Reference. I'd thought it would be higher, but he's being compared against some great first basemen from his era. That places him about 26th among first basemen (minimum 50 percent of career games at first base) since 1901, similar in career value to guys like Orlando Cepeda, Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly and Boog Powell. He loses a lot of value for baserunning (terrible) and fielding (below average). Based on hitting value alone, he's about 13th to 15th among first basemen.

10. Hall of Famer? Not quite.

Is Jim Edmonds a Hall of Famer?

February, 20, 2011
Jim Edmonds announced his retirement on Friday, his 17 season career finally grounded by an Achilles' tendon injury. Edmonds is best known for his highlight reel catches in center field, but the remainder of his play has been oddly underrated over the years.

So we can begin the debate on whether Edmonds is Hall of Fame worthy. Some say yes (as Chad Dotson did here Friday), others no.

When we look at Edmonds' Hall of Fame credentials, we're struck by the numbers he put up in the five years after he was traded by Anaheim to St. Louis . Between 2000 and 2004, Edmonds put together a string of seasons that ranked him with baseball's elite. During this stretch, Edmonds averaged 7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) annually, and posted an OPS over 1.000. Consider that during this same period, a guy named Alex Rodriguez was putting together some of his best seasons as a ballplayer; only during this stretch A-Rod's OPS was 14 points below that posted by Edmonds.

During the complete sweet spot of Edmonds' career (1995-2005, which includes his abbreviated 1999 season when he only played in 55 games), Edmonds was among the very best in the game, ranked by cumulative WAR (from B-R.com):

Any random slice of data creates issues, we acknowledge this. So if you're curious about Edmonds' career numbers, his 68.3 WAR places him eighth all time among center fielders. Filtering for center fielders who played since baseball integrated (1947- present), Edmonds ranks fourth in WAR, behind Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr., and sixth in OPS+ at 132. Nice company.

[+] EnlargeJim Edmonds
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Edmonds was known for diving catches like this one for St. Louis in Game 7 of the 2004 National League Championship Series against Houston.
One unfortunate thing about the table above: Unless the attitudes of the Hall of Fame voters change dramatically, very few of these players are going to make it to the Hall of Fame. Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero have excellent chances to make it to the Hall. Jim Thome is a good bet to be elected to the Hall, thanks to what will likely be 600-plus home runs, not to mention being a Hall of Fame person. Bagwell's first year of HOF eligibility was shrouded in hints and allegations, putting him at 41.7 percent in his debut. Todd Helton might struggle, given concerns that his numbers were inflated by playing home games at Coors Field. [Larry Walker received a low 20.3 percent of Hall of Fame votes this year, presumably because of the Coors Field factor]. Pudge Rodriguez was named in Jose Canseco's book and will face increased scrutiny as a result. But Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, A-Rod and Sammy Sosa will likely be barred because of these players' association with performance-enhancing drugs, again, unless the attitudes of voters change. An entire generation of fans will have very few of the era's best hitters represented.

Edmonds might not have been the greatest player of his generation; he never finished higher than fourth in Most Valuable Player voting. He did not have 2,000 hits for his career, or 400 home runs, or hit .300, milestones that Hall of Fame voters tend to focus on. Still, it seems to us that this generation of players needs Hall of Fame representation -- if not Bonds and Sosa, then why not Edmonds?

Jason Rosenberg writes It's About The Money, Stupid, a blog about the New York Yankees. IIATMS can be found on Facebook, and you can follow Jason on Twitter. Larry Behrendt greatly contributed to this article and can also be followed on Twitter.

Replacing superstars through history

February, 14, 2011
Albert Pujols reportedly turned down the Cards’ last offer and we’re almost at his Wednesday deadline. Which suggests to me that there's a very real possibility that, at this time next year, we're going to be wondering what the Cardinals are going to do without him.

Great players change teams all the time, of course, whether via free agency or trades, and their former teams recover. But if Pujols leaves the Cardinals, it might be different. Because Pujols might be the best player in baseball. What happens when that guy leaves? What happens when the player who leaves is irreplaceable?

Using Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement leaderboard for every season since 1900, I've found eight players who led their respective league in WAR and moved on before the next season. Here are those players, and how their teams fared in the aftermath:

Jason Giambi, 2001 Oakland A's: In 2001, Giambi was 30 years old and absolutely destroying AL pitching. He hit .342/.447/.660 with 38 homers. He came in second in the AL MVP race, leading the A's to 102 wins and a wild-card berth. In 2002, with Giambi on the Yankees, the A's replaced him with Scott Hatteberg and upgraded to Mark Ellis at second base. They did even better, winning 103 games (although their run differential was worse) and the AL West. The A's went to the playoffs three times in the five years after his departure.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
AP Photo/Donna McWilliamAlex Rodriguez left Seattle for the Rangers (and $252 million) following the 2000 season, but the Mariners rebounded well.
Alex Rodriguez, 2000 Seattle Mariners: A-Rod's last season with the M's was his best year ever, as he hit .316/.420/.606 with 41 homers, 134 runs and 132 RBIs to finish third in the AL MVP race. The Mariners won 91 games and the wild card and advanced to the ALCS before being defeated by the Yankees. Amazingly, after plugging Carlos Guillen in at shortstop and reaching across the Pacific to bring over Ichiro, they would win 116 games in 2001, setting a record for the most regular-season victories ever.

Barry Bonds, 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates: Before he became the Home Run King and the face of the Steroid Era, Bonds was just the best player in baseball for the small-market Pirates. At 27, Bonds won the NL MVP by hitting .311/.456/.624 (a 205 OPS+) with 34 homers, 39 steals AND won a Gold Glove. The Pirates won 96 games, the NL East, and came within one out of going to the World Series. After the season, Bonds signed with the Giants. The Pirates never recovered. They replaced him with Al Martin, a good hitter but a poor all-around player, finished with 75 wins in 1993, and haven't finished above .500 since.

Sandy Koufax, 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers: Koufax suffered from incredibly painful arthritis and ligament damage, exacerbated by the incredible workload he shouldered. In 1966, Koufax gutted through an incredible season, winning 27 games and striking out 317 batters. His 1.73 ERA sparkled and he was worth 9.9 wins above replacement. The Dodgers won the NL pennant with 95 victories. Without Koufax in '67, the pitching was still good, but nowhere near as dominant as it had been, dropping from first overall in runs allowed to fifth. The Dodgers only won 73 games and finished eighth in the National League.

Enos Slaughter, 1942 St. Louis Cardinals: Slaughter was 26 when he hit .318/.412/.494 to class the National League. His Cardinals won 106 games and the World Series. But there was a war on, and Slaughter missed the next three seasons to military service. Thanks largely to the farm system Branch Rickey built, the Cardinals didn't feel the effects of missing their biggest stars like other teams did and won the next two pennants.

Ted Williams, 1942 Boston Red Sox: Like Slaughter, Williams entered the service after winning both the traditional and the sabermetric triple crown, hitting .356/.499/.648 (a 216 OPS+) with 36 homers. With him, the Sox won 93 games and finished second in the AL. In the three years he was gone, they finished no better than 77-77, and stumbled badly. When Williams came back in 1946, the Sox went to the World Series and came within a game of winning it all.

Rogers Hornsby, 1927 New York Giants: Hornsby played every game for the Giants, hitting .351/.448/.586 with 26 homers and went 22-10 as an interim manager. So when he was abruptly traded that winter for two relative unknowns, everyone was shocked. The New York Times called it "the most mysterious trade in baseball history." What happened? TCM will have the story later this week on his blog. The Giants actually improved from 92 to 93 wins, but still finished behind the Cardinals for the NL pennant. They would have won easily if they'd hung on to Rajah.

Babe Ruth, 1919 Boston Red Sox: Ruth was only 24 and a full-time outfielder for the first time when he hit .322/.456/.657, setting a new MLB record with 29 homers. While Ruth helped the Sox win the 1918 World Series, by 1919 Boston was not a good club, finishing five games below .500 and in sixth place in the AL. So contrary to popular belief, Frazee's sale of the Babe didn't ruin his club or break up a dynasty. But it sure didn't help either. The Sox wouldn't finish above .500 again until 1935.

So what did we learn from this exercise? First, that it's exceedingly rare for a player of Pujols' caliber to change teams. Most clubs, when faced with a choice about whether to keep or let their superstar leave, will find a way to get by. But of those who do part company, there’s a distinct difference between those who adequately prepare for the loss and those that don’t. So the next year will be crucial for the Cardinals to get their house in order.

The Common Man writes for The Platoon Advantage on the SweetSpot Network, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Did Rockies do enough to compete in 2011?

February, 12, 2011
Your view of Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd’s offseason moves depends on your perspective. If you work in the Rockies’ accounting department, you are acutely aware of the large trucks full of money delivered to both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez; ensuring two core pieces will breathe mountain air for many years to come. The Rockies also re-signed free-agent rotation mainstay Jorge De La Rosa and bullpen anchors Rafael Betancourt and Matt Lindstrom.

The biggest splash the Rockies made on the open market this winter was a move that wasn’t. The Rockies’ long-rumored interest in Rangers third baseman Michael Young hit a fever pitch when the Rangers “slugger” announced his desire for a trade. The Rockies and Rangers couldn’t get a deal together, and both sides stopped just short of pronouncing the deal dead this week. Instead, the Rockies opted for minor moves like acquiring Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton. The important question remains: Are they any closer to challenging for the N.L. West crown?

In a word: Yes. The 2010 Rockies won 83 games, finishing 9 games behind the Giants after a wild month of September. Entering the month trailing the division leading Padres (!) by 7 games, the Rockies lost two one-run games to the Giants before rattling off 10 straight wins -- powered solely by Tulowitzki’s hair and good looks. (Also his home runs: Tulo hit eight in that 10-game span.) Suddenly, the Rockies sat only 2.5 games out of the division lead. Unfortunately for Colorado, that was as close as it got. The Rockies slumped to the finish, eventually losing 15 of their 19 remaining games.

The Rockies proved they have the talent to take a run at the playoffs in 2010 and, by solidifying the core of their team, they’re able to add fringe pieces with potential like Lopez and Wigginton. Lopez wore out his welcome in Seattle with a (perceived) bad work ethic and poor plate discipline. Lopez was terrible at the plate in 2010 but can supply some pop -- especially after moving from spacious, right-handed-hitter killing Safeco to Coors Field. Not to mention his excellent defense across nearly all advanced metrics in his first full season at third base.

Wigginton posted equally dire numbers to Lopez at the plate in 2010, without the benefit of superlative defense. Serving as a right-handed utility bat to spell creaky first basemen Todd Helton and Jason Giambi would be the best option for Wigginton.

Getting full seasons from both Chris Iannetta and Jhoulys Chacin should only prove the Rockies have one of the best young cores in all of baseball. Adding veteran pieces to address specific concerns is the mark of a good GM. O’Dowd’s moves this winter might not be sexy, but his team is a solid pick to take down the Giants in 2011.

Drew Fairservice writes the Blue Jays blog Ghostrunner on First. Follow him on Twitter.