SweetSpot: Joey Votto
A quick warning about Jurickson Profar's call to the majors to replace the disabled Ian Kinsler: Do not expect Mike Trout; do not expect Bryce Harper; do not expect Manny Machado.
Yes, the performance of those three wunderkinds has, unfortunately, raised the expectations for all prospects, especially one deemed the best in the game entering this season.
In time, maybe Profar joins them as generational talents (I can see the corny nickname already: "The Four Tops"), but it would be unfair to believe Profar will hit like they have, at least right off the bat. Remember, he's only 20, and, while he held his own in Triple-A, hitting .278/.370/.438 with four home runs, HE'S ONLY 20 YEARS OLD. Most 20 year olds are still learning how to hit curveballs in the South Atlantic League.
That said, I'm excited to see the kid play for a couple weeks. While Profar didn't start Sunday and Ron Washington said he'll split time with Leury Garcia, I'm not sure the Rangers recalled Profar to play three games a week. Profar has a good approach at the plate, particularly for a kid so young, drawing 21 walks in 37 games at Round Rock, so that's a good sign that he'll come up to the majors and not get in trouble by being overly aggressive. And, as Washington likes to say, "He's not afraid of the game."
Kinsler had been one of the best players in the league so far, hitting .302 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 24 runs, so the Rangers will miss his production from the leadoff spot. But they have a comfortable lead in the AL West and there was no reason to push him through the injury.
Profar is likely headed back to Triple-A once Kinsler's DL stint ends. Of course, who knows, maybe Profar hits so well he leaves the Rangers no choice but to find a regular spot for him. I don't think that will happen, but I wouldn't be that eager to bet against him, either.
REST OF THE WEEKEND
1. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays. Down 4-0 after one inning to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Joyce hit a two-run homer in the third to get the Rays closer and then hit a two-run, go-ahead double in the ninth. On Sunday, Joyce's homer provided the insurance run in a 3-1 win as the Rays swept the O's.
2. Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies. The Rockies had many heroes in winning three of four against the San Francisco Giants at home, but Fowler jumpstarted the offense all weekend with 10 hits and seven runs scored. Not a bad four days: He raised his average from .252 to .286.
3. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians. Masterson tossed his second consecutive scoreless start, striking out a season-high 11 in seven innings against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday in a 6-0 victory. Masterson improved to 7-2 while lowering his ERA to 2.83. This is a different Masterson than we've seen the past couple seasons, with a much higher strikeout rate (25 percent versus 18 percent last season) but still keeping the home runs to a minimum (just three). While he's struggled in the past against left-handers, he's held them to a .226 average this season with a 36/19 K/BB ratio compared to 72/56 in 2012. And it's not all batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a fairly normal .285 so far. If he keeps getting lefties out, he's going to keep winning games.
Honorable mention star of the weekend
Have to mention Joey Votto for getting on base all six times in Saturday's win for the Cincinnati Reds -- he went 4-for-4 with two walks, a double and a home run. Only two players had a "6-for-6" day last season -- Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both went 5-for-5 with a walk and, like Votto, doubled and homered.
One more honorable mention star of the weekend
The Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins on Saturday as Brandon McCarthy pitched the three-hit shutout (no save!), but he had a lot of help from Gerardo Parra, who led off the game with this on the first pitch and then did this in the bottom of the first. Parra has one of the better arms in the majors, but his bat is a big reason the D-backs are in first place, as he's hitting .320/.385/.494 with 28 runs (11th in the NL). That batting line, combined with his outstanding defense, has Parra leading the NL in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), tied with Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw, at 3.1. Justin who?
Clutch performance of the weekend
Atlanta Braves rookie Evan Gattis keeps finding a way to get himself into the highlights. On Saturday, he pinch hit in the eighth inning against hard-throwing Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers with the Braves down 1-0 and a runner on and did this on a 2-2 fastball. The best part of the highlight is Freddie Freeman's "I don't believe that" reaction in the dugout.
The Dodgers bullpen, meanwhile, continues to implode. They followed Saturday's loss with another one on Sunday, giving up four runs in the eighth in a 5-2 loss. It has 13 losses, three more than any other team, and its 4.61 ERA is better only than the New York Mets and Houston Astros.
Unclutch performance of the weekend
Aroldis Chapman, step on down. Chapman entered with a 2-1 lead on Sunday and walked Delmon Young with one out. That was bad enough, but Cliff Lee pinch ran for Delmon (yes, a guy who plays the outfield regularly got run for by a pitcher) and got picked off for the second out of the inning. Game over, right? Nope. Erik Kratz homered on a 3-2, 98 mph heater. And then Freddy Galvis -- Freddy Galvis! -- hit the dramatic walk-off home run off a 95 mph fastball.
OK, it's pretty difficult to top that one. There were some wild games this weekend -- Tampa beat Baltimore 12-10 on Friday, the Indians gave up two home runs in the ninth to Seattle on Saturday only to win in the bottom of the inning -- but Friday's Washington Nationals-San Diego Padres game was a tough one for San Diego. Adam LaRoche homered twice off rookie Burch Smith, but the Padres tied it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Rafael Soriano -- with the help of another Ryan Zimmerman throwing error. (A situation that's becoming a serious problem for the Nationals, as that's nine errors for Zimmerman with his fielding percentage a Mark Reynolds-like .897.) Anyway, Chad Tracy hit a pinch-hit homer off Huston Street in the 10th to give the Nats a 6-5 win. That's already six home runs allowed for Street, whose trade value is shrinking with each home run.
Hitter on the rise: Jason Kipnis, Indians
He had a three-run, walk-off home run in the 10th inning on Friday and two hits on Saturday and Sunday, giving him nine in his past four games, all Cleveland victories. The Indians are 17-4 since April 28 and Kipnis has hit .305 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in the 20 games he's played. He won't start the All-Star Game with Robinson Cano in the American League, and the AL is loaded at second base with Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Kipnis at the All-Star Game.
Pitcher on the rise: Jeff Locke, Pirates
I'm not necessarily buying, but the lefty is now 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA after tossing seven scoreless innings on Sunday against the Astros in a 1-0 win. His K/BB ratio is a pedestrian 32/22, but opponents are hitting just .219 off him, thanks to a .230 BABIP. With that number likely to rise, Locke will need to record a few more whiffs to maintain success close to this level. Still, that's three scoreless outings this season and one did come against the Cardinals. Even though he's not this good, if he can give the Pirates 175 solid innings as a No. 4 starter, they'll take it.
Team on the rise: Pirates
The Pirates took two of three from the Astros to improve to 11-6 in May and 26-18 overall. They're second in the majors in ERA, and it's not necessarily a huge fluke as they're third in strikeouts. One thing to keep an eye on: Only the hapless Astros have needed more innings from their bullpen, so while the Pittsburgh crew has been outstanding, the workload is a possible concern down the road.
Team on the fall: Dodgers
The two bright spots this week were Zack Greinke's return and Matt Kemp's great catch on Saturday, but three losses in Atlanta reiterated that this isn't just a team ravaged by injuries: It's a bad team with a bad bullpen that finds ways to lose. Manager Don Mattingly said not to blame the bullpen. "You add on a run here or there, it takes a lot of pressure off a guy that you can't give up one hit that changes the whole game. I think we have to take this all as a group."
OK, then, we'll call it a team effort of a team on the fall.
The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. -- Mark Twain
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first. -- Mark Twain
* * * *
I went on ESPN Radio on Friday to discuss the slow start of the Los Angeles Angels, pointing out the obvious: The rotation was a concern heading into the season, was a bigger concern now with Jered Weaver on the disabled list, and that nobody should be surprised that Joe Blanton is pitching somewhere between awful and atrocious. I also said the offense will be fine. What I neglected to mention was that the Angels were heading into a big weekend home series against the Tigers, staring at a 4-10 record and facing the team many consider the best in the American League. Three more losses would put the Angels at 4-13 and put them in the same big hole as last season when they were unable to overcome a 6-14 start.
Well, three games does not rescue a season, but maybe it will help rescue the Angels' April. They took advantage of the good fortune of not facing Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and roughed up the Tigers 8-1 on Friday, 10-0 on Saturday and then won 4-3 on Sunday on Mark Trumbo's dramatic walk-off piece against Phil Coke in the 13th inning, following a bizarre intentional walk to Albert Pujols in the previous inning.
We learned something about the Angels this weekend; namely that their demise has been too quickly fabricated. But we also may have learned something about the Tigers, who are a mediocre 9-9 and exposing the same flaws as last year when everyone predicted them to run away with the AL Central and they didn't.
So, some random thoughts on the Angels and Tigers
1. As always, don't overreact to two weeks' worth of stats. Remember when Peter Bourjos couldn't hit three days ago and it was a huge mistake for the Angels to count on him as their regular center fielder (and Vernon Wells has been doing so well for the Yankees!)? Well, Bourjos had three hits on Friday, three on Saturday and another on Sunday and is hitting .302/.333/.491. Look, he's not a .300 hitter and the one walk is an issue, but he's probably not going to be awful.
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokAfter a slow start to the season Mike Trout has now raised his average to .307 and hit his first career grand slam on Saturday.
3. Josh Hamilton continues to struggle, enough that Jim Leyland had the left-handed Coke intentionally walk Pujols with two outs and the bases empty in the 12th. Hamilton struck out on three pitches but Trumbo led off the 13th and hit a 3-1 changeup deep into the left-field stands. So many things to discuss with that move: putting the winning run on base (crazy!), the complete lack of respect for Hamilton (how far has he fallen?), leaving Coke in for a third inning to face a string of righties (well, he didn't get through the first one). Interesting stuff there.
4. As for the Tigers, they're 9-9 and that's with a lot of things going well so far: Miguel Cabrera is hitting .355, Torii Hunter is hitting .392, Prince Fielder is hitting .333 and slugging .638. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta have been fine. Four starters have an ERA under 3.00. They lead the majors in strikeouts. The bullpen hasn't been great -- 20th in the majors in ERA -- but the Tigers have lost just one game they've led heading into the eighth or ninth. They've lost two extra-inning games, but those came in the 12th and 13th innings, hardly the fault of the bullpen, and have won a 14-inning game. The pen hasn't been great but isn't the reason the Tigers are .500.
5. Alex Avila: The new Rick Wilkins? Avila and the bottom of the Tigers' lineup have struggled -- the same problem as last year when Detroit's offense had two of the best hitters in baseball (and a superb Jackson) and was still inconsistent scoring runs.
6. Rick Porcello [n.]: A mushroom whose legend grows in the absence of light and rational inquiry.
We don't want to overreact to any of this. The Angels are still throwing Blanton out there every fifth game, and if they lose three in a row to the Rangers this week, we'll be right back asking, "What's wrong?" The Tigers have six games at home against the Royals -- that's the division-leading Royals -- and the Braves, which will potentially tell us more about the Tigers than this weekend's fiasco in Anaheim did. In the long run, I still believe the Tigers will end up benefiting from a weak AL Central, but after 18 games I don't think we can assume they're going to have an easy road to a third straight division title.
Oh, as for the frog quote above, that was just there to make you laugh. Or maybe to suggest that maybe neither the Angels nor Tigers are the biggest frogs in the American League this year many thought back in March.
REST OF THE WEEKEND
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers. Braun hit a first-inning, three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Cubs and a go-ahead, three-run shot off Scott Feldman in the sixth of Sunday’s 4-2 win. Suddenly, the Brewers have won seven in a row and are 9-8 after that 2-8 start.
2. Pirates pitching staff. After losing the series opener on Thursday, the Pirates cooled off the red-hot Braves with three straight wins, holding the Braves to three runs in the three games. Wandy Rodriguez threw seven innings of one-hit ball on Friday and the bullpen tossed six scoreless innings in relief of terrible Jonathan Sanchez on Sunday.
3. Matt Harvey, Mets. Harvey makes a repeat performance with his gem to beat Stephen Strasburg on Friday. Here’s everything you need to know about the hottest pitcher in baseball (4-0, 0.93 ERA, .108 average allowed).
Clutch performance of the weekend
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays. The Rays entered the weekend scuffling at 5-10, but swept the A’s at home. Hellickson outdueled Jarrod Parker 1-0 on Saturday, allowing three hits in seven innings, with Matt Joyce's home run standing up.
Red Sox 4, Royals 3 (Saturday). From the stirring pregame ceremony paying tribute to the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombing, to David Ortiz’s rousing speech ("This is our f------ city!") that even the FCC forgave, to Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline", to the Red Sox rallying for three runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 4-3, it was a game many in Boston won’t forget.
Hitter on the rise: Joey Votto, Reds.
I mean, Votto was already pretty good. But there were those worried about his power production, with just one home run in more than 50 games going back to last year. But he homered on Saturday and Sunday (going 7-for-11 in the two games) and is now hitting .328/.522/.516.
Pitcher on the rise: Garrett Richards, Angels
The Angels have always liked Richards’ power arsenal and he’s getting a chance to start with Weaver on the DL. His first start was a so-so effort against the Astros, but on Saturday he shut down the Tigers on two hits over seven innings. More impressively (and importantly), he struck out eight and walked nobody. Command has been the big question for him, and if the 24-year-old throws enough strikes he’ll hold on to his rotation spot when Weaver returns.
Team on the rise: Rockies
The Rockies blew a 4-2 lead to the Diamondbacks to end their eight-game winning streak, but at 13-5 are tied with the Braves for the best record in baseball. Yes, they’re 6-0 against the Padres and 3-0 against the Mets, so they’ve taken advantage of a soft schedule, but that’s what you have to do. Their next 19 games are against the Braves, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals, so let’s see where they stand on May 12.
Team on the fall: Mariners
The Mariners scored eight runs in six games, got shut out Friday and Saturday by the Rangers and haven’t won two in a row since starting the season 2-0. The Mariners are right back where they’ve been in recent years: 29th in the majors in batting average (.218), 28th in OBP (.285) and 26th in runs scored. A bad, boring, slow baseball team; you wonder how much longer manager Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik will have their jobs.
- Joey Votto finally homered, his first in 51 games going back to June 24 and first since his knee surgery last July. Even without the power, Votto has been reaching base -- a .542 OBP thanks to his MLB-leading 20 walks (Albert Pujols is second with 11) -- so is still an extremely valuable offensive player. Still, I'm sure the Reds like to see a little more pop; remember, this was a guy who third in total bases in the NL in his 2010 MVP season (when he hit 37 home runs) and fourth in 2011, and he still walked a lot those years. He was lining doubles all over the place last year before the injury. With his eye and willingness of pitchers to pitch around him, it means the guys following him in the lineup have to start producing. We mean you Jay Bruce: .255, no home runs, two walks, 18 strikeouts.
- It's been a great start for the A's at 9-4 but the one worrisome issue has been Jarrod Parker. The Tigers pounded him on Sunday to drop him to 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA after three starts. Parker hasn't just been unlucky; he's also been bad, with eight walks, 23 hits and just four strikeouts in 11.2 innings. Batters are 0-for-5 off his changeup, but he hasn't been able to get to enough changeup counts as batters are hitting .450 off his fastball. The velocity has been the same as last year, and Parker and manager Bob Melvin aren't concerned. "I made a couple of good pitches and they hit them, and I made a couple of bad pitches and they hit them," Parker told MLB.com. "I threw strikes. They were just up in the zone."
- Fourteen games were played on Sunday and we saw four shutouts and six other teams held to one run. The pitchers continue to dominate.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
For the second straight, the SweetSpot bloggers select Reds first baseman Joey Votto as their MVP favorite. Votto won pretty easily, collecting 24 of the 47 first-place votes, with the other 23 distributed among nine different players. Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has big expectations in his sophomore season and he finished second in the balloting, ahead of Ryan Braun and Buster Posey, the past two MVPs. Will the Pirates make the playoffs? Andrew McCutchen actually received the second-most first-place votes but finished fifth in the vote.
Points on a 14-9-8-7-6 basis.
1. Joey Votto, 524 points (24 first-place votes)
2. Bryce Harper, 271 points (3)
3. Ryan Braun, 238 points (2)
4. Buster Posey, 212 points (3)
5. Andrew McCutchen, 196 points (6)
6. Jason Heyward, 148 points (2)
7. Matt Kemp, 139 points (4)
8. Justin Upton, 120 points (1)
9. Giancarlo Stanton, 65 points (1)
10. Adrian Gonzalez, 36 points (1)
Others -- Troy Tulowitzki (34 points), Paul Goldschmidt (24), David Wright (24), Allen Craig (19), Ryan Zimmerman (14), Matt Holliday (7), Jay Bruce (6), Brandon Belt (6), Carlos Gonzalez (6).
The bloggers predict a two-way Cy Young race between Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw -- who won the award in 2011 and finished second last year -- and Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg, coming off a 15-6, 3.16 season in 28 starts. He received one more first-place vote than Kershaw, but Kershaw had more down-the ballot support to edge ahead. Six other pitchers received first-place votes, showing the depth of great starters in the NL.
Points on a 7-4-3 basis.
1. Clayton Kershaw, 229 points (18 first-place votes)
2. Stephen Strasburg, 214 points (19)
3. Cole Hamels, 56 points (4)
4. Matt Cain, 45 points (1)
5. Adam Wainwright, 30 points (2)
6. Cliff Lee, 17 points (1)
7. Gio Gonzalez, 14 points (0)
8. Mat Latos, 13 points (1)
Others -- Madison Bumgarner (12 points), Johnny Cueto (9), Jordan Zimmermann (7, one first-place vote), Yovani Gallardo (6), Jeff Samardzija (3), Roy Halladay (3).
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Twelve different players received first-place votes, so this race looks wide open. Obviously, playing time weighs heavily, so Shelby Miller of the Cardinals and Julio Teheran of the Braves, who won rotation jobs out of spring training, rank 1-2 in the balloting. The Cardinals have the potential for a great rookie class as Oscar Taveras, Trevor Rosenthal and Kolten Wong also received votes.
Points on a 5-3-1 basis.
1. Shelby Miller, 93 points (14 first-place votes)
2. Julio Teheran, 92 points (8)
3. Jedd Gyorko, 57 points (6)
4. Oscar Taveras, 39 points (5)
5. Adam Eaton, 36 points (4)
6. Travis d'Arnaud, 21 points (2)
7. Gerrit Cole, 15 points (2)
Others -- Yasiel Puig (10 points), Zack Wheeler (10), Billy Hamilton (9, one first-place vote), Tyler Skaggs (8, one first place), Trevor Rosenthal (7), Kyuji Fujikawa (6 points, one first place), Christian Yelich (5 points, one first place), Nolan Arenado (5 points, one first place), Hyun-Jin Ryu (3), Rob Brantly (2), Kolten Wong (1).
The final score read 9-4 in favor of the United States, and the U.S. moves on to the second round next weekend in Miami. But the game was much more tense than the score indicated. Some quick thoughts:
- Let's begin with Torre's lineup. He inserted Shane Victorino into left field and Ben Zobrist into right field, moving Ryan Braun to the DH spot, Joe Mauer to catcher and benching Giancarlo Stanton. While that added two switch-hitters to the Team USA lineup against Canadian right-hander Jameson Taillon, it meant sitting one of the game's premier sluggers for Victorino, who isn't the same presence in the lineup. I understand that Torre wanted to get Victorino into a game, but this isn't tee ball; there are no trophies and cookies handed out to the losing team for trying your best.
- Torre then had a strange sacrifice bunt attempt in the second inning with two runners on and no outs after David Wright doubled and Canada third baseman Taylor Green dropped an infield pop-up. Instead of going for a big inning against a 21-year-old who has pitched three games above Class A, Torre had Adam Jones bunt. It made no sense to play little ball there instead of trying to blow the game open against a pitcher who didn't exactly dominate the Florida State League in 2012. The bunt worked but Taillon worked out of the jam without a run. Play for one, get none.
- The U.S. fell behind when Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders continued his hot WBC streak with a two-run home run to right, yanking a terrible hanging slider from Derek Holland. Saunders had shown bunt on the first pitch, a ball in the dirt, then swung away. That's what can happen when you don't bunt.
- Down 2-0 in the fourth, Torre then bunted again with two on and no outs. The bunt "worked" when Green hesitated on Zobrist's bunt down the third-base line and Zobrist beat the throw to first. How rare is a bunt when trailing by two runs? Torre managed the Yankees from 1996 to 2007 and the Yankees had 13 sacrifice bunts when down two runs -- one by a pitcher, three by Miguel Cairo and the others by weak hitters other than two by Derek Jeter in 2004. In other words, Torre almost never bunted in that situation. It's like Torre was watching all the small ball played by the Asian teams and forgot he has the best lineup in the tournament. If Green makes the play, the U.S. scores only one run that inning instead of two. Good outcome, but the wrong call.
- In the eighth inning, after Jones delivered a big go-ahead double to give the U.S. the lead, Torre turned to Diamondbacks righty David Hernandez even though the heart of the Canada lineup -- Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Saunders, all left-handed hitters -- was due up. I can't quibble too much with that decision, even though lefty Jeremy Affeldt was available. I would have used Affeldt, as all three players had sizable platoon splits last year, but Hernandez was one of the game's best relievers in 2012 (although he held righties to a .145 average and lefties to a .240 mark). After Votto reached on an infield, Morneau struck out and Saunders laid down a perfect bunt single. Chris Robinson then singled to load the bases and Adam Loewen grounded out to make the score 5-4. Torre then brought in Marlins reliever Steve Cishek (of course, using Craig Kimbrel, the most dominant reliever in baseball with your tournament on the line was apparently out of the question) and had him intentionally walk Pete Orr (!) to load the bases. I never like that move, which gives a pitcher no room for error. Canadian manager Ernie Whitt also pinch-hit lefty Tim Smith to face the sidearmer. The intentional walk also guaranteed Votto would bat in the bottom of the ninth. Anyway, Cishek got Smith to ground out to second in what turned out to be the game's crucial at-bat.
- The U.S. broke it open in the ninth, with Whitt waiting too long to bring in Brewers closer John Axford, who served up a three-run double to Eric Hosmer. In the end, the U.S. bullpen depth proved key, as many expected it would before the game.
- One thing that needs to stop is the guarantees made to general managers that if their guy is selected to a squad, he needs to play. I'm not sure if Torre used Hernandez because he hadn't pitched in the previous two games -- and again, it wasn't that strange of a move, not like the two bunts -- and needed to get him some work. Same thing with Cishek. Or maybe Torre just wanted to get them into a game. But this isn't exactly an All-Star Game. It's not an easy job, but I'd like the U.S. managers to treat this a little more seriously and not guarantee playing time. It's easy enough for a reliever to throw on the side after a game and Victorino's season isn't going to be ruined by not playing for three days.
- Part of the fun of the World Baseball Classic is rooting for guys from your team, no matter which country they're playing for. As a Mariners fan, it was exciting to see Saunders have another big game. It was a rough day for Brewers fans, however. Green went 0-for-5 and his two miscues in the field led to at least two U.S. runs, Jim Henderson couldn't hold the 4-3 lead in the eighth, and then Axford let the game get away in the ninth. Even Braun went a quiet 1-for-5.
We've had a brawl, we've had upsets, we've had dramatic late-inning rallies and, thanks to one big swing from David Wright, we now get a monumental showdown between bitter enemies Canada and the United States to stay alive in the World Baseball Classic.
OK, maybe it's not quite Sidney Crosby and the Canadians taking on Ryan Miller and the Americans in the 2010 gold-medal hockey game at the Vancouver Olympics, and maybe Canada and the U.S. aren't exactly enemies on the diamond, but Sunday's game at Chase Field in Phoenix is probably the biggest baseball game for Canadians since the Blue Jays won their second straight World Series in 1993.
Baseball fans in the U.S. are still warming up to the whole idea of this tournament, and while a major goal is to help increase popularity of the sport in countries such as Brazil and China and Italy and the Netherlands, don't be fooled: The organizers want U.S. fans to get as passionate about the World Baseball Classic as those in Japan and Latin America. In large part because second-round games will be held in Miami, with the semifinals and finals in San Francisco, and the organizers want sold-out ballparks -- something more likely to happen if the U.S. keeps advancing.
With that possibly in mind, the U.S. was given a soft pool. While the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico were all placed together in Pool C, the U.S. drew lighter-weights Mexico, Canada and Italy. But when Italy beat Mexico and Canada, and then Mexico upset the U.S. on Friday night, it suddenly put pressure on the U.S. to win its final two games of pool play. Joe Torre's squad was actually helped when Canada beat Mexico earlier Saturday -- a game that featured a bench-clearing brawl in the ninth inning -- meaning the Americans now controlled their destiny.
That destiny took a turn for the worse when the surprising Italians took a 2-0 lead against Ryan Vogelsong, who didn't have his usual excellent fastball command. Most of the Italian players are from the U.S., including big leaguers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Denorfia and Nick Punto, but cleanup hitter Alex Liddi of the Mariners was born and raised in Italy and 23-year-old starting pitcher Luca Panerati is an Italian who played a few years in the Reds system, topping out in A-ball. Panerati nevertheless shut down the U.S. with his 86 mph fastball and offspeed pitches, leaving after three scoreless innings; he can tell his grandkids someday about the time he shut down a lineup of major league All-Stars. But the U.S. rallied with five runs in the fifth inning, capped by Wright's two-out grand slam off Matt Torra, an American who pitched in Triple-A for Tampa Bay’s organization last year.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsDavid Wright turned one around from Italy's Matt Torra for the key fifth-inning grand slam.
First, their lineup has some guys you've heard of: Former MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau. Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders went 4-for-4 in the 10-3 win over Mexico. The lineup was hurt by Brett Lawrie's injury in spring training and we’ll have to see if Pete Orr and Rene Tosoni, ejected after the brawl, will be suspended or not; the pitching is thin without guys such as Ryan Dempster, Scott Diamond and Erik Bedard participating. Still, Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon will start against the U.S., and while he hasn't reached the major leagues yet (he pitched in Double-A last year), he has major league stuff, ranking as Keith Law No. 20 preseason prospect. He's certainly capable of shutting down the U.S. lineup for his 65-pitch limit. After that, however, Canada's pitching thins out in a hurry, with Brewers closer John Axford and Phillies reliever Phillippe Aumont the two biggest names in the bullpen.
The U.S. will start Derek Holland, a good strategic move by Torre to get the lefty Holland in there to try to neutralize Votto, Morneau and Saunders. With Ross Detwiler throwing four scoreless innings of relief against Italy, that means the U.S. bullpen is well-rested. Look for Torre to use lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Glen Perkins against the middle of the lineup in the middle innings, and he still has Craig Kimbrel waiting to get some action.
The U.S. will be heavy favorite to advance. To use another Olympic hockey analogy, the Americans are the Soviets. Do the Canadians have a miracle in store? I'll be watching to find out. After all, it's about time we settle this border war with Canada.
Some thoughts on the Giants’ 2-1 victory:
- As dominant as Aroldis Chapman was in the ninth inning, getting two strikeouts while throwing just 15 pitches, I was a little surprised he didn’t come back out for the 10th inning. Chapman pitched more than one inning eight times this season, but only twice after becoming the closer, a 1.2-inning save May 27 and a four-out save Aug. 10. Factoring in the shoulder fatigue that sidelined Chapman for 11 days in September, maybe Reds manager Dusty Baker is wary about using Chapman for more than an inning. The trouble is it’s a big drop-off from Chapman to Jonathan Broxton. Of course, it’s a big drop from Chapman to just about any reliever not named Craig Kimbrel.
- As is, despite giving up two singles to start the inning, Broxton would have escaped the 10th if not for shoddy Reds defense. After he struck out Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady, Ryan Hanigan's passed ball allowed the runners to move up and then Scott Rolen mishandled Joaquin Arias' chopper to third base. The sloppy defense in this postseason continues. Giants manager Bruce Bochy made a couple interesting choices that inning: He let Belt swing away with two on and no out. I would say most managers would have bunted there about 99 percent of the time. I didn’t mind the call. Belt has never had a sacrifice bunt in his brief career and he was the Giants' best chance to deliver a hit. Bochy then let pitcher Sergio Romo hit with runners at first and second. Again, I liked the call. Romo is the Giants’ best reliever; Bochy had used the other relievers you might want to use. Plus, Bochy had used up his bench; only backup catcher Hector Sanchez was left.
- Xavier Nady and Xavier Paul. Discuss. Or not. Man, these two benches are horrible.
- Keith Law and Eric Karabell talked about an interesting point on the Baseball Today podcast today, wondering if the Yankees aren’t better off moving up Robinson Cano in the order. He hit cleanup on Monday, and was left in the on-deck circle as Alex Rodriguez made the final out. Keith’s point is that batting lineups don’t matter all that much, but one obvious benefit of stacking your best hitters at the top is you may get them one more plate appearance. That’s the problem with the Reds batting Zack Cozart and his .288 OBP second. He made the final out, leaving Joey Votto on deck.
- Not to bury Homer Bailey's awesome start. You can see why he pitched a no-hitter two starts ago as he took a no-hitter to two outs in the sixth (although the Giants had scored on a hit-by-pitch, walk and two sacrifices). The walk to No. 8 Brandon Crawford proved especially painful and kudos to pitcher Ryan Vogelsong for a good bunt and Angel Pagan for delivering the sac fly. Considering Bailey had thrown just 88 pitches, you can argue that Baker took him out too early. I can't fault Baker for handing the game to the best bullpen in baseball, but the Giants couldn't touch Bailey on this night.
- Bailey’s game score of 80 was the fourth highest in Reds postseason history, behind Hod Eller’s 89 in Game 5 of the 1919 World Series against a team that wasn’t trying to win (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 SO) and Ross Grimsley’s 84 in Game 4 of the 1972 NLCS (9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 SO). Jose Rijo’s win to clinch the sweep of the A’s in the 1990 World Series (8.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 9 SO) scores a 91. And, yes, this was just an excuse to mention Hod Eller.
- Brandon Phillips' hustle effort in the first inning when he got thrown out at third base is one of those plays described as a “baserunning error” if you don’t make it but “heads-up baseball” if you do. The argument against trying to get the extra base is that with zero outs there is a little reward if you do make it (you’re already in scoring position) but a huge penalty if you get caught. As it turned out, Vogelsong labored through a 30-pitch inning and Phillips’ hustle cost the Reds a potential big inning.
- Vogelsong did a nice job of settling down after that inning. He walked Votto and Ryan Ludwick in the third, but got Jay Bruce on a fly to left. Bruce swung at the first pitch, which isn’t necessarily the worst idea if he thinks a pitcher is going to groove something after two walks. Bochy hit for Vogelsong leading off the sixth, again not a bad idea considering the circumstances. Vogelsong had thrown 95 pitches, the Reds had Votto and Bruce due up the next inning and the Giants were still hitless at the time. It was the one opportunity Bochy knew he could use Aubrey Huff against a right-hander, without the possibility of the Reds bringing in Sean Marshall or Chapman. Huff just isn’t a big weapon right now.
- As I write this, the Reds haven’t announced their Game 4 starter. It could be Johnny Cueto, but that seems unlikely. It could be Mat Latos, three days after throwing 57 pitches in Game 1. It could be Mike Leake, but to activate him they’d have to replace Cueto, which would make him ineligible for the National League Championship Series, should the Reds advance. If they go with Latos, that would likely mean starting Bronson Arroyo on three days’ rest in a potential Game 5. No easy calls here, but I’d probably go Latos and Arroyo, and rely on the deepest bullpen in the league. The Giants counter with Barry Zito -- and you know Bochy will have a quick hook. The Reds had a .770 OPS against left-handers compared to .710 versus righties, so if Zito struggles early don’t be surprised to see Tim Lincecum again in relief. Should be a good chess match yet again.
When Cincinnati Reds starter Johnny Cueto had to leave with back spasms after recording just one out Saturday, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price had four reasonable options:
1. Bring in reliever Sam LeCure, who didn’t start a game this season but had started 10 games in his career over the previous two seasons, and let him go as long as possible.
2. Turn into it into a bullpen game: Use LeCure and Alfredo Simon, another reliever who can be stretched out, and hope those two could get the game into the fifth inning.
3. Use Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo, who last pitched on Monday.
4. Use Game 3 starter Mat Latos, who last pitched on Tuesday, meaning he’d be pitching on three days’ rest, something he’d never done before in the majors.
All were certainly defensible options. The Reds chose right: A combination of No. 1 and No. 4. LeCure got five outs to get the Reds through the second inning and then Baker gave the ball to Latos, who pitched four innings of one-run baseball, allowing only a home run to Buster Posey in the sixth inning. That decision proved key as the Reds beat the Giants 5-2 in their Division Series opener.
The smart thing Baker and Price did was to first use LeCure, a guy used to pitching in relief. That allowed Latos to go to the bullpen and conduct his usual pre-start routine and not potentially rush himself coming in for the injured Cueto. He wasn't dominant pitching on short rest, recording just one strikeout, but he got some help from his defense and bridged the gap to the back end of the Reds’ bullpen.
Defense -- and maybe a little luck -- was a huge key for the Reds. I counted six big defensive plays that saved bases and/or hits. In the second inning, Drew Stubbs cut off Gregor Blanco's double in the gap, preventing Brandon Belt from scoring from first base. Then, after intentionally walking Brandon Crawford, Matt Cain shot a hard liner to right field that Jay Bruce snagged. In the fourth, after Hunter Pence reached on an infield chopper, Belt rocketed a line drive that Joey Votto reached up and snared, allowing him to double off Pence. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick, not known for his defense, made a diving catch on Belt’s blooper in the sixth and a running catch on Marco Scutaro's drive over his head in the seventh. Brandon Phillips also saved an extra base by backing up an errant throw on Blanco’s bunt single in the sixth.
Some good plays, a couple at them balls, some heads-up thinking. The Reds ranked fifth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved, so defense like this is no surprise. The one aspect to watch moving forward is Votto’s mobility at first base with his bad knee; normally recognized as a pretty good glove, he had three scoop/reach plays and didn’t come up with any of them. It will be interesting to see if the Giants try a couple bunts on him in Game 2.
Offensively, the Reds rely on home runs, and that’s what they did, with Phillips clocking a hanging curveball from Cain just over the fence in left-center for a two-run shot and Bruce crushing a changeup 436 feet to right-center. Not a lot of balls are hit out in that area of AT&T Park (in fact, AT&T featured the fewest home runs by left-handed batters of any park in the majors). Bruce was my key hitter in the series for the Reds and he went 2-for-4, hitting a double and also a deep fly to center. A good sign for the Reds that he didn’t strike out. The Reds finished third in the NL home runs but just 12th in on-base percentage, so this is typical Reds baseball. When they hit home runs, they win.
As for Cain, he entered with a sterling postseason résumé from 2010, allowing just one unearned run in three starts. He just got beat on a couple bad pitches. Posey set up outside on the curveball to Phillips, but the pitch hung inside. The pitch to Bruce got too much of the middle of the plate.
I didn’t have a problem with Bruce Bochy hitting for Cain when he was due up leading off the bottom of the fifth. Considering the Reds’ bullpen -- it had the best ERA in the majors -- Bochy realized he had to try and generate some offense. The problem is Aubrey Huff and his .192 average (to be, fair, a .326 OBP, so at least he had a chance to draw a walk) was the choice. Other than Todd Frazier for the Reds, however, both teams have pretty weak benches.
One thing Bochy may have to consider is moving Belt up a spot in the order. With the Reds starting four right-handers, why not move Belt and his .380 OBP up to the fifth spot? (Or, arguably, ahead of Posey and moving Pablo Sandoval down to fifth). Belt had solid at-bats all night, drawing two walks. Pence may provide a veteran presence but he’s been terrible since coming over to the Giants, hitting .219/.287/.384.
The Giants made things interesting in the final two innings. Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, they got two on with two outs against Jonathan Broxton but Blanco took a 3-2 pitch on the low outside corner for strike three.
In the ninth, despite now leading 5-1, Baker brought on Aroldis Chapman. Remember, Chapman didn’t pitch for 11 days in mid-September and he hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games since returning. Why burn him with a four-run lead? The Reds had solid relievers in J.J. Hoover and Jose Arredondo available. As is, Chapman was wild enough to walk two guys, wild pitch in a run and allow likely NL MVP Posey to come up as the tying run with two outs. He finally struck him out on a high 100-mph fastball, but it took Chapman 28 pitches to get through the inning. It’s potentially a long postseason; now Baker has to wonder if Chapman will respond if needed on Sunday.
Obviously, the Giants don’t want to head back to Cincinnati down two games, so the pressure is on Madison Bumgarner to deliver a gem in Game 2, facing Arroyo. But the best news for the Reds: As of now, they believe Cueto will be OK to start Game 3.
St. Louis Cardinals
1. A potent, balanced lineup. The Cardinals had the best on-base percentage in baseball, including four starters -- Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, David Freese and Yadier Molina -- with a .370 OBP or better, and that doesn’t even include two of their most dangerous sluggers, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig.
2. Deep and solid starting rotation. Cardinals starters featured the second-best fielding-independent pitching in the majors, and Chris Carpenter has rejoined the staff just in time for the playoffs.
3. Playoff experience. If there’s an advantage to be gained from experience, the Cardinals have it, with nearly three-quarters of their championship team returning to the tournament.
4. "The postseason is a crapshoot." As a wild-card team, the Cardinals proved this last year by beating a dominant regular-season team in the Phillies in a short series, then the powerful Rangers in the World Series.
5. They’re saving their best ball for last -- again. As with the 2011 squad, the Cardinals are coming together at the right time. They won their last two series of the season against potential playoff foes Washington and Cincinnati and their regulars are generally healthy.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes.net
The biggest thing the Braves need to do this postseason is hit left-handed pitching. For the year, they have an 85 wRC+ compared to the league average of 100 against left-handed pitching, the lowest of any of the playoff teams. If they win the play-in game against the Cardinals on Friday, they could face three left-handed starting pitchers in the first round in Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and John Lannan.
On the pitching front, Kris Medlen has taken the ace role of the staff, but the Braves will specifically need Mike Minor and Tim Hudson to perform at a high level to compete with the other National League teams. Defensively the Braves have been stellar, so the key for all of their starters will be to avoid free passes and long balls. They do not have an overpowering or star-filled staff as other rotations do, meaning their starters will need to rely on command and pitch sequencing to perform well against upper-tier offenses.
If the Braves get solid pitching performances from Medlen and Minor, and manage to scrape enough runs across against left-handed starters and relievers, they should be able to advance through the playoffs and potentially win their first World Series since 1995.
--Ben Duronio, Capitol Avenue Club
Here are five reasons that there will be a celebration in Fountain Square the first weekend in November:
1. The bullpen. This is the Reds' most obvious advantage. Their bullpen ERA ranks first in baseball at 2.65. How deep is this bullpen? One of these pitchers probably isn't going to make the postseason roster: Logan Ondrusek (3.46 ERA), Alfredo Simon (2.66) or J.J. Hoover (2.05).
2. Jay Bruce. The Reds' right fielder is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. If he gets hot, the Reds will be tough to beat. Bruce was twice named National League Player of the Week this year. In those two weeks, Bruce hit .488 AVG/.542 OBP/1.186 SLG (1.728 OPS). If Bruce gets on a hot streak like that, he could carry the Reds to the 11 wins they need.
3. The defense. Defensive metrics are flaky, but when you look at all of them, you start to learn something. The Reds rank near the top of almost every leaderboard. Seven of their eight starters are plus defenders, and three-quarters of the infielders have Gold Gloves on their shelves.
4. Ryan Hanigan. One of the things I'm most excited about this postseason is the broader baseball world discovering Ryan Hanigan. He does a lot well. His .365 OBP is better than any Red but Joey Votto. He walked more than he struck out. He threw out 48.5 percent of would-be base stealers -- the best in baseball -- and his handling of the pitching staff has the Reds' coaching staff speaking about him in hushed tones.
5. Luck, or something like it. The Reds outperformed their Pythagorean W-L by 7 games. Since Sept. 1, they have an 8-3 record in one-run games. This could mean they're due for a reversion to the mean. I like to think it means they're destined to win the Series.
--Chris Garber, Redleg Nation
1. The one-two punch of Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Few teams could lose a starter like Stephen Strasburg and still claim that starting pitching is a strength, but the Nats can. Cy Young candidate Gonzalez leads the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings and is second in hits per 9. Zimmermann rarely allows a walk, and has an ERA under 3.00. I'd match Gonzalez and him up with any team's one-two.
2. The infield defense. Each position is manned by someone you could argue is one of the majors' top 10 fielders at his spot. The staff throws a lot of ground balls. Put them together and you get a lot of outs.
3. The re-emergence of Drew Storen. Tyler Clippard had been manning the closer role effectively but has recently looked very shaky. No matter. Storen returned to the 'pen and has been dominant, allowing just one run in his past 16 appearances. He’ll be closing games going forward.
4. The offense with no holes. While there is no individual superstar, six of the Nats' eight regulars had an OPS+ between 112 and 128 for the season. A seventh, Danny Espinosa, would have been right there as well if not for a hideous April. The weak link is Kurt Suzuki -- and he hit over .300 in September.
5. Davey Johnson. Outside of Jayson Werth, this team has little postseason experience, but this is the fourth team Davey has led to the playoffs, and he’s won five postseason series. You have to expect that he can guide this team through the highs and lows of October baseball.
--Harper Gordek, Nats Baseball
San Francisco Giants
1. Buster Posey. His second half was off-the-charts awesome, hitting .385/.456/.646. He was the best hitter in the majors after the All-Star break -- even better than Miguel Cabrera.
2. The rest of the Giants' offense. Even though they ranked last in the NL in home runs in the second half, they still managed to rank second in runs per game. Marco Scutaro proved to be a huge acquisition, hitting .362 with the Giants.
3. Matt Cain. Remember his dominant postseason performance in 2010? In three starts, he allowed just one unearned run. This time around he's the Giants' No. 1 guy.
4. Sergio Romo. The Giants rode Brian Wilson a lot in 2010, but this time they'll have Romo, who could be just as dominant closing games. He allowed just 37 hits and 10 walks in 55.1 innings while striking out 63. He was equally crushing against lefties (.491 OPS allowed) and righties (.537).
5. Bruce Bochy. He's considered by many to be the best manager in the game. If a series comes down to in-game tactics, most evaluators would rate Bochy superior to Dusty Baker, Fredi Gonzalez and Mike Matheny.
1. No. 1 -- and, you could certainly argue Nos. 2-5 as well -- is the bullpen. The O's went 73-0 when leading after the seventh inning. As relievers, Tommy Hunter is touching 100 mph and Brian Matusz has struck out 19 batters in 13 innings. Then there's Troy Patton (2.43 ERA), Pedro Strop (2.44), Darren O'Day (2.28) and Jim Johnson (2.49, 51 saves) to finish things out. While it might not be the best bullpen ever -- or even the best bullpen in the league this year -- it may have been the most "effective" 'pen in history, as noted by its record-setting (record-obliterating, really) +14 win probability added. Maybe 16 consecutive extra-inning wins and a 29-9 record in one-run games (the best since the 1800s) is partially a fluke, but having a quality bullpen certainly doesn't hurt in keeping that going.
2. Buck Showalter. Aside from bullpen management that's been so effective, Buck seems to just make all the right moves, putting guys in positions to succeed and making in-game decisions that seem to work even when they probably shouldn't. Sac bunt? You get the run you need. Hit and run? Batted ball goes right to where the second baseman was. Bring in Chris Davis to pitch? Two shutout innings, a pair of strikeouts (including Adrian Gonzalez!), and a win. Judging managers is tricky, but it would be mighty hard to argue that Buck isn't a net plus.
3. A surging offense. Overall, the O's were a little below average, but since the beginning of September they've actually been one of the league's better hitting teams (with an AL-best 50 home runs). It's mostly been the Davis show recently (.320/.397/.660, 10 home runs), but Matt Wieters (.296/.389/.541), Adam Jones (.295/.343/.504) and Nate McLouth (!) (.280/.355/.456) haven't been slouches either.
4. An improved defense. The glove work was often sloppy early in the year, all around the diamond, but not so much lately (largely since Manny Machado was called up). Machado is a shortstop (with the range that implies) playing third base, and adjusting both well and quickly to it. J.J. Hardy is one of the game's better shortstops. Whoever is playing second is decent (Robert Andino or Ryan Flaherty). Mark Reynolds may have found a home at first base, even if he's not a Gold Glover there (yet). The O's fielding (via FanGraphs) for the first four months: -20 runs. Fielding since: +0.
5. Orioles magic. Even if you count the O's as underdogs in each playoff series -- and really, you probably should -- they still have a 3-5 percent chance of winning it all (those chances double if they knock off Texas, by the way).
--Daniel Moroz, Camden Depot
1. An obvious on-paper advantage in the wild-card game. Yu Darvish has been dominant down the stretch with a 2.13 ERA and just 10 walks over his final seven starts. He's a strikeout pitcher against a lineup that strikes out a lot. Meanwhile, Joe Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts in Arlington.
2. Big-game experience. Matt Harrison had a terrific season, and having started a Game 7 of the World Series won't be fazed by the postseason. Derek Holland has had an inconsistent season but, as he showed in the World Series last year, is certainly capable of huge performances. Ryan Dempster also has playoff experience with the Cubs.
3. Defense. The infield defense with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler is arguably the best in baseball and was a key component to the Rangers' World Series run a year ago.
4. Josh Hamilton. If these are his final days with the Rangers, you get the feeling he'll be focused to go out with a bang, especially after his disastrous game in the regular-season finale. After his hot start, Hamilton recovered from his slump in June and July to hit 14 home runs over the final two months.
5. One game equals momentum. OK, the series sweep in Oakland was a disaster, but all it takes is one win over Baltimore and the Rangers can forget what happened down the stretch. Do that and this team is still the scary opponent everyone figured it was a few days ago.
1. Sometimes a very good overall team matches up poorly against a playoff opponent. As far as lefty-righty goes, the A's won't have that issue. General manager Billy Beane gave manager Bob Melvin the pieces to construct platoons, including at first base (Brandon Moss/Chris Carter), designated hitter (Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes) and catcher (Derek Norris/George Kottaras). Further, the top two everyday hitters, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, bat from opposite sides of the plate, and leadoff man Coco Crisp, a switch-hitter, has very similar career splits from both sides of the plate.
2. The top three relievers, Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, have pitched remarkably well. All three bring gas. Cook can struggle with his command and Doolittle might hit a rookie wall any minute, but Balfour's 3.01 FIP is the highest of the group.
3. The A's are third in baseball in runs scored after the All-Star break. Ahead of the Yankees. Ahead of the Rangers. Well ahead of the Tigers. The current roster has been legitimately excellent on offense.
4. Defensive efficiency is a very simple metric: It is the rate at which a team turns balls in play into outs. It doesn't account for everything, but it does measure the core skill of a team's run-prevention unit. The A's are third in baseball in this number. Either the pitching staff doesn't give up hard-hit balls, the defense catches everything in sight, or both. Regardless of the why, the what is indisputable: Hits don't happen against the A's.
5. By record, the Tigers are the worst squad in the playoffs, yet the A's, the No. 2 AL team, play them in the first round because of the structure of playoff seeding. It likely isn't a huge advantage (the A's did just sweep Texas, after all), but every little bit counts on the way to a trophy.
--Jason Wojciechowski, Beaneball
1. Miguel Cabrera. MVP or not, the Triple Crown speaks for itself. He is the best pure hitter in baseball and, unlike last year, is healthy heading into the postseason.
2. Prince Fielder was the American League’s only .300/.400/.500 hitter, and he’s not even the best player on his own team. He isn’t completely helpless against LOOGYs either, posting an OPS of .808 against left-handed pitchers this season.
3. Justin Verlander, who has been just as good as he was in 2011. If Mother Nature cooperates this year, he will put a serious dent in that career 5.57 postseason ERA.
4. The rest of the rotation. With Doug Fister finally healthy, Max Scherzer’s breakout second half, and the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers have the best playoff rotation in the big leagues. The four starters (Verlander included) combined for a 2.27 ERA in September and October.
5. Jim Leyland. The Tigers’ skipper has been ridiculed by the fan base for most of the year for the team’s lackluster performance, most of which was a mirage created by its early struggles. He has had his finger on this team’s pulse all season and deserves credit for managing the outrageous expectations for a team with more flaws than people realized. Now he has the Tigers playing their best baseball heading into October and is the biggest reason why they could be parading down Woodward Avenue in early November.
--Rob Rogacki, Walkoff Woodward
New York Yankees
1. The rotation. This looks like the strongest playoff rotation the Yankees have had in years, even better than 2009, when Joe Girardi rode three starters (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett) to the World Series title. Sabathia has battled a sore elbow but looked good down the stretch, including eight-inning efforts in his final two starts. Pettitte is 40 years old but still looks like Andy Pettitte. Hiroki Kuroda had a quietly excellent season, finishing eighth in the AL in ERA and 10th in OBP allowed among starters. Phil Hughes is a solid No. 4.
2. Home-field advantage. While this generally isn't a big factor in baseball, the Yankees' power comes into play with the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Earning the No. 1 seed was probably more important to the Yankees than any other team.
3. Robinson Cano. He's locked in right now, going 24-for-39 in his final nine games, all multihit games. Don't be surprised if he has a monster postseason.
4. Lineup depth and versatility. In this age of bullpen matchups, the Yankees are difficult to match up with. They can run out a lineup that goes right-left-right-left-switch-switch-left-left/right-right. You'd better have a deep bullpen to beat this team in the late innings.
5. Health. While Mark Teixeira may not be 100 percent, at least he's back in the lineup, meaning the Yankees finally have all their position players available (even Brett Gardner may make the postseason roster as a pinch runner/defensive replacement). They've been dinged up all season, but Sabathia and Pettitte should be strong. The only question: The Yankees haven't won a World Series without Mariano Rivera since 1978.
The most important weekend in Washington Nationals history might have been the final three days of the 2008 season. The Nationals began the weekend 59-99; the Seattle Mariners began the weekend 58-101. Both teams were horrible. The Nationals had lost 12 of 14; the Mariners had lost 14 of 15.
The prize for the ultimate futility: Stephen Strasburg, already the clear No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
The Mariners had it in the bag.
Except the Nationals lost three in a row to the Phillies. Their batting order the final day was a beautiful list: Emilio Bonifacio, Anderson Hernandez, Kory Casto, Ryan Langerhans, Alberto Gonzalez, Roger Bernadina, Luke Montz and Pete Orr, with Odalis Perez on the bump. The Nationals lost 8-3.
And then the Mariners did the impossible: They won three in a row against the A's. On the final day, Ichiro Suzuki had two hits and scored two runs. Yuniesky Betancourt had a big two-run triple. The starting pitcher and winner: R.A. Dickey.
The following June, the Nationals drafted Strasburg first overall. The Mariners drafted Dustin Ackley.
Or maybe the most important day came in the draft in June of 2005, the first for the Nationals since moving from Montreal. With the third pick in that draft, the Mariners selected Jeff Clement. With the next pick the Nationals selected Ryan Zimmerman. That draft also yielded John Lannan and Craig Stammen. In 2007, they drafted Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann. In 2008, they drafted Danny Espinosa. In 2009, Strasburg and Drew Storen. In 2010, they once again had the No. 1 overall. It didn't take long for Bryce Harper to arrive.
Maybe the most important day came on June 28, 2009, when then-interim general manager Mike Rizzo traded Langerhans to the Mariners for Mike Morse, a middle-of-the-order bat for nothing.
Maybe the Nationals should give the Mariners part of their playoff share.
The Washington Nationals clinched a playoff spot with Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers as Detwiler was terrific over six three-hit innings, lowering his ERA to 3.10, another reminder that this rotation is much deeper than Strasburg, Zimmermann and Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez.
The celebration was understandably muted; the Nationals obviously have their eyes on a bigger prize and they'll celebrate with more fever when they clinch the National League East sometime next week. Still, it was a great day in franchise history. In 44 seasons since the team played its first on an April day at Shea Stadium in 1969, the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals had been just one postseason appearance, in the 1981 strike season. It was another strike season in 1994, of course, that ultimately helped doom the franchise in Montreal and led to its departure a decade later.
There is still one player on the team with ties to the Expos: Shortstop Ian Desmond was a third-round pick in 2004. Desmond is a great symbol of the franchise's growth in recent years. His prospect status was up and down through the years, a talented player with a terrific but erratic results in the field and at the plate. After making 34 errors as a rookie in 2010 there were long-term doubts about his viability as a big-league starter. The Nationals stuck with him, however, with Davey Johnson a big believer in his ability. Desmond has added power to his game this year and is hitting .296/.333/.517 with 23 home runs, an important cog in an offense that has the second-best OPS in the National League since the All-Star break.
* * * *
The Cincinnati Reds also clinched a playoff spot and they could clinch the NL Central title in a day or two, as their magic number is down to two. Their story might not be as dramatic as Washington's and it's difficult to make the case that they're better than the Nationals, considering the Nats have scored more runs and allowed fewer. But it's a good team, a fun team, one that has allowed the second-fewest runs in the NL despite playing half its games in The Great American Ball Park.
Their celebration was also muted, especially with manager Dusty Baker hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat.
"I worry about Dusty, and everybody in that clubhouse was really worried last night," interim manager Chris Speier said. "You don't just go to the hospital for a cold or anything like that. And I still feel that way. ... My thoughts are more about Dusty than this game."
Despite their convincing lead in the NL Central, the Reds still have a few questions to answer in the season's final days. Ace Johnny Cueto, the leading NL Cy Young contender a couple weeks ago, earned his 18th victory in Thursday's 5-3 win over the Cubs with a mixed bag of results: Six scoreless innings but four walks and just two strikeouts. Still, after allowing 14 runs his previous three starts, the six shutout frames was a good sign -- even if they did come against the Cubs.
Closer Aroldis Chapman hasn't pitched since Sept. 10, when he walked three Pirates in two-thirds of an inning (three days after losing a game to the Astros). Chapman has said he no longer feels fatigued but wants a couple more bullpen sessions to work on his command before returning. Watch his velocity when he does pitch again.
Joey Votto is hitting .342 in 13 games since returning from the disabled list, walking like scary-era Barry Bonds (OBP over .500 since return) but hasn't homered. It's a small thing, but worth watching. The Reds can go all the way if opponents keep pitching around Votto and the guy behind him produce, but it would also seem the Reds will need Votto to hit some home runs in the postseason if they want to reach their first World Series since 1990.
So our first two teams are in. The Nats are 91-58 while the Reds are 91-59, so the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage is still up in the air. Who knows what will happen, of course, but I'm thinking there's nothing wrong with a Gio Gonzalez-Johnny Cueto showdown in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
With Joey Votto activated, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker will have to decide what to do about his lineup. With Votto out since July 16 following knee surgery, Baker has been able to use Todd Frazier as his primary first baseman with Scott Rolen playing third. Rolen, who looked done the first two months of the season, has responded with an excellent second half, hitting .320/.420/.513 in the second half. Rolen, of course, is a veteran and we all know Baker loves his veterans. But the rookie Frazier is slugging .539 and hasn't been exposed with regular playing time since the All-Star break, hitting .306/.352/.522.
chat session today, a reader threw out the possibility of playing Frazier in right field with Jay Bruce moving to center in place of Drew Stubbs (.219/.285/.356). Frazier has made five starts in the outfield this year, but all came in left field. Bruce, meanwhile, hasn't played center field since his rookie season in 2008. The trouble with that alignment -- or playing Frazier in left and Ryan Ludwick in center -- is that you weaken yourself at two positions, center field and right/left field. Neither Bruce or Ludwick should be considered a center fielder and it seems unlikely that Baker would play around with his defensive alignment this late in the season, even if it means getting Stubbs' bat out of the lineup.
Another reader pointed out that Tony La Russa played Skip Schumaker in center field last postseason, even though he hadn't played there in the regular season. Indeed, Schumaker had played just 13 innings all season in center field but started there four games in the postseason, including three World Series games. Schumaker had come up as an outfielder and started 59 games in center in 2008 before moving to second base, but it was still a risky move by La Russa.
Maybe Baker thinks Bruce can handle center. Bruce has basically rated as an average right fielder the past two seasons (minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved), so probably wouldn't be a disaster in center. Maybe when Bronson Arroyo -- the most extreme flyball pitcher in the rotation -- starts, Baker plays Stubbs. In the end, I'd predict Stubbs remains in center, with Rolen starting the most of the playoff games at third and Frazier serving as a pinch-hitter deluxe/occasional starter.
What would you do?
That's less a personal opinion than a fact. Though he didn't pitch quite as well Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies -- allowing two runs in five innings, while issuing three walks in a game the Reds would lose 4-3 in 11 innings -- as he has for most of the year, Cueto entered the game with a 2.44 ERA, the best in the National League. Not bad for a guy who starts half his games in one of the majors' homer-happiest parks.
Somehow, he's keeping the ball on the ground, as his uncannily low 6.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio attests. But his third consecutive year with a single-digit homer-to-fly rate just might be due to something in his control, such as inducing weak contact. That's in no small part because of an increased reliance on his changeup, which he's featuring twice as often as he did in 2011.
Eric Hartline/US PresswireJohnny Cueto and his NL-leading 2.47 ERA have been a constant for the injury-plagued Reds.
He has been healthy the entire 2012 season and therefore has been a constant for the Reds, who have at various times been without the services of key players such as Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Madson. Just how important has the righty been to the Reds? Despite Votto's ethereal .465 OBP, Cueto nearly matches him in WAR (wins above replacement), 4.3 to 4.8. So Cueto may more appropriately qualify as an MVP candidate than for the Cy Young.
As the surging Cardinals head into Cincinnati for a weekend series, Cueto will miss the action (he's next scheduled to pitch Tuesday). In addition to the built-in rivalry between the two contending teams -- including former Cardinals Rolen, Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Cairo, all of whom don a different red-and-white uniform now -- the matchup is a reminder of the ongoing bad blood between the Reds' ace and the defending world champs. The weekend tilt isn't the only meeting with Cardinals players that Cueto has missed this season. Though he was expected to join Yadier Molina (later replaced by Matt Holliday), Carlos Beltran, Lance Lynn, David Freese and Rafael Furcal on the NL All-Star team, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa passed over Cueto, upsetting both the player and his manager, Dusty Baker. For his part, La Russa denied any vendetta, insisting that he omitted Cueto because he was scheduled to start two days before the game. La Russa also snubbed Zack Greinke, having a better year than Cueto, and of course is no stranger to head-scratcher lineup choices. But even so, the episode wasn't exactly an act of rapprochement.
Cueto made himself persona non grata with the Cardinals two years ago for his cheap shots in the fight. But there's nothing cheap about his 2012 campaign, which he's establishing with his arm. And that's what continues to make his presence on the field an unwelcome sight, not only for the Cardinals but the rest of the National League this year.
Matt Philip tweets at @fungoes and posts everything that doesn't fit at fungoes.net.
You have to love August baseball. This is when the grind of the long season settles in, when depth becomes even more important, when pitchers have to pitch through fatigue and soreness and maybe a little pain. It's when we find out if the pretenders are contenders and whether the favorites really do have the firepower.
August is time for scoreboard-watching. August is time for your ace to go on a five-win hot streak. August is time for the MVP candidates to shine. August is time for big wins, like the one the Giants had on Sunday at home, when they scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to defeat the Colorado Rockies. Trade-deadline acquisition Hunter Pence had the decisive blow, a three-run home run, his first since joining the Giants. Pence is hitting just .137 with the Giants, but his homer off Rafael Betancourt capped a rally started when Brandon Crawford's leadoff pop fly fell for a single.
Beginning with the Giants, here are 10 important things you need to know as August rolls on.
1. The Giants have an offense.
Since the All-Star break, the Giants are second in the National League in runs scored to the Nationals, hitting .270 with a .339 on-base percentage, also second in the league. Buster Posey, of course, has been on fire, hitting .443 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs since the break. Only Boston's Adrian Gonzalez has more post-break RBIs (35). Melky Cabrera hasn't slowed down either; his .918 second-half OPS matches his .910 of the first half. If Pence can get going to provide another power threat, the Giants' offense looks even better.
2. Remember Jayson Werth.
Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Mike Morse have combined for 23 home runs since the break to power the Nationals, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday, but Werth provides something the offense has needed all season: A leadoff hitter. Since his return from a broken wrist, Werth has hit .400 with a .500 OBP. On the season, Nationals leadoff hitters rank just 13th in the National League in OBP. "I am totally surprised how my wrist is doing, how I’ve recovered," Werth told the Washington Post a couple days ago. "When I look down at my wrist and I see that scar, it almost reminds me. Like, 'Oh, yeah.' I almost forget about it until I see the hatchet wound." Werth won't ever live up to the $126 million contract, but he's a a huge key as the Nats push for a division title.
3. Who will step up for the Angels behind Jered Weaver?
Can we stop declaring that the Angels are guaranteed to secure one of the AL wild cards? They're 3-8 over the past 11 games after Jason Vargas outdueled Weaver on Sunday and have slipped 8 games behind the Rangers in the West, and to fifth in the wild-card race behind the Rays, Orioles, A's and Tigers. Dan Haren has allowed at least one home run in nine consecutive starts, Ervin Santana continues to pitch like a ticking time bomb and has allowed the most home runs in the majors, Zack Greinke has been terrible in two of his three starts with the Angels, including the fifth five-plus walk game of his career, and even C.J. Wilson has allowed 27 runs in 29.2 innings over his past five starts. With the starters getting knocked early, the overtaxed Angels bullpen has also been an issue. For all the Mike Trout love, the Angels have a good chance of becoming the season's most disappointing -- yes, even more disappointing than the Red Sox.
4. The Rays are scorching hot on the mound.
If pitchers feed off each other, the Rays are like a pack of hungry wolves right now. Tampa Bay owns a 2.33 ERA since the All-Star break and has held opponents to a .200 average in going 17-11. The Rays swept the Twins by scoring four runs in the top of the 10th and have won eight of 11 to surge into the wild-card lead with the Orioles. Next up on this road: Trips to Seattle and Anaheim. That four-game series against the Angels looms large and David Price and James Shields will start the first two games.
5. Jim Leyland is right ... sort of.
The Tigers manager started a minor firestorm when he referred to Mike Trout as "Wonderboy" in suggesting his own Miguel Cabrera is deserving of the AL MVP Award so far. Leyland's comments really weren't derogatory, as he was simply referring to the potential of voters getting caught up in Trout's storyline. Hey, he's right in that regard; voters do love a good storyline. It's why Ichiro Suzuki won in 2001 over Jason Giambi and teammate Bret Boone. Or why Miguel Tejada won over Alex Rodriguez in 2002. Interestingly, the last "Wonderboy" to challenge for an MVP trophy was A-Rod in 1996, and he finished second to Juan Gonzalez in one of the worst MVP votes of all time.
That's because what MVP voters really like is a player who makes the playoffs. It's why Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp in 2011 or why Joey Votto collected 31 of 32 first-place over Albert Pujols in 2010 despite basically identical numbers. Of the 34 MVP trophies handed out during the wild-card era, only six have gone to players whose teams didn't reach the playoffs: Pujols (2008), Ryan Howard (2006), Barry Bonds (2004 and 2001), A-Rod (2003) and Larry Walker (1997). So maybe Trout is the MVP favorite right now, but that all changes if the Angels don't reach the playoffs (the same, of course, can be said for Cabrera).
6. The Cardinals have the same record through 115 games as 2011.
Just like a season ago, the Cardinals are 62-53. However, in 2011 they were just 3 games behind the Brewers and 4 behind wild-card leader Atlanta. While they're 7 behind the Reds in the National League Central, they trail the Braves and Pirates by just 2.5. Like a year ago, the bullpen is struggling -- on Sunday, St. Louis blew a three-run lead in the eighth to the Phillies and lost in 11 innings. Of course, we know the bullpen buttoned down last year.
7. The best trade deadline pickup may have been ... Paul Maholm?
Maybe the Braves got the best Cubs pitcher being shopped around. Maholm's record since June 29: Eight starts, eight runs allowed. He's pitched in obscurity for years in Pittsburgh, often with some terrible defensive teams behind him. He doesn't light up the radar gun but his strikeout rate has ticked up a notch this year, perhaps because he's throwing his slider with greater frequency. Oh, another note: Mike Minor, much-maligned by Braves fans in the first half, has a 1.99 ERA over his past five starts.
8. Manny Machado is here to stay.
Can a rookie lead the Orioles to the first playoff berth since 1997? In four games since his surprise call-up from Double-A, all the 20-year-old rookie has done is hit three home runs, a double and a triple, scored five runs and knocked in seven. Maybe we have a second Wonderboy.
9. The Yankees are 26-22 since June 18. A-Rod is on the DL. CC Sabathia is again on the DL ...
Since reeling off that 10-game winning streak in mid-June, the Yankees have played just above .500 baseball. They're actually 14-14 over the past 28 games. Phil Hughes, having looked better, has returned to being Phil Hughes his past two starts. Ivan Nova lives and dies on whether his curveball and slider have enough bite on any given start. Sabathia has a tender elbow. Andy Pettitte had a setback. And then there's the offense. Curtis Granderson is turning into an extreme all-or-nothing hitter. He has seven homers since the break, but is hitting .218 with a 39/9 SO/BB ratio. Ichiro Suzuki has a sub-.300 OBP since joining the Yankees. And ... the Yankees are still up 5 games in the East.
10. We don't know anything.
Nine teams in the AL are within 5.5 games of a playoff spot. Seven teams are within 5 games of a playoff spot in the NL. That means more than half the teams have legitimate playoff hopes. There is no clear-cut No. 1 team in baseball. We have parity, we have excitement, we have fans filling ballparks (well, at least some of them) and we have a crazy, unpredictable finish ahead of us. Why is that important? Because it gives all of us reason to do plenty of scoreboard-watching.
The only other team to win 10 in a row this season was the New York Yankees. Last season, only the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers had streaks of 10-plus wins a row. The Reds stretched their streak to double digits with a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday as Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce homered in the fifth inning to break the game open.
"A lot of pressure coming into the game knowing we won nine in a row, but I just attacked them," winning pitcher Mat Latos said. "Today it was in the back of my mind, but it's baseball. Just play."
In honor of 10 straight, here are 10 random thoughts about The Big Red Hot Machine.
1. Are they the best team in the National League?
I'm not quite ready to make that declaration. While it's impressive that their past six wins have come on the road, let's keep in mind who the Reds defeated: the Diamondbacks (one win), Brewers, Astros and Rockies. The Astros are fielding a Triple-A team right now and the Rockies aren't much better. The starting pitchers the Reds faced: Joe Saunders, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Michael Fiers, Wandy Rodriguez, Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Jonathan Sanchez.
The Reds are combined 25-8 against the Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Padres and Rockies. The Nationals, 61-40 overall compared to the Reds' record of 61-40, have played those five teams 10 fewer games by comparison. The Reds still have 23 games left against the Astros, Brewers and Cubs; the Nationals get only 12 games against those three clubs.
2. But they've done this without Joey Votto.
True. The Reds are 11-2 since Votto went on the disabled list on July 16 because of knee surgery. Todd Frazier has started 10 of those games at first base (with Miguel Cairo starting the other three). Frazier has hit .269 with one home run and five RBIs since July 16, but Scott Rolen has played well at third base, hitting .306 with two home runs and five RBIs in 10 games without Votto. So while the Reds have missed Votto they haven't necessarily received zero production in his absence either.
3. Speaking of the Nationals, they've barely allowed fewer runs than the Reds.
Good point. For all the hype about the Nationals' rotation, the Reds have allowed just four fewer runs (in one less game), 362 to 358. The Nationals have a 3.25 staff ERA to the Reds' 3.26. True, the Nationals' rotation has a better ERA -- 3.13 versus 3.56 -- but the Reds' starters have pitched 32 more innings. That's allowed the Reds to concentrate more of their relief on their best guys -- although led by Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall, the Reds have the deepest and best bullpen in the league right now. They have six relievers who have pitched at least 35 innings and Sam LeCure's 3.47 ERA is the highest of the bunch. Amazingly, despite their home park, the Cincy bullpen has allowed the fewest home runs in the league. It's a knockout bunch and the depth ensures Dusty Baker isn't going to burn any of them before September.
4. Homer Bailey. Speak.
I predicted Bailey as a breakout performer before the season and he hasn't disappointed, coming on strong of late. He's 9-6 with a 3.53 ERA, including a 2.45 ERA over his past eight starts. Baker has responded by trusting Bailey to go deeper into games -- he's pitched eight innings in four of those eight games. As a fly-ball pitcher, Bailey is going to give up some home runs, especially in The Great American Ball Park, but he throws strikes and 12 of the 17 home runs he has allowed have come with the bases empty. He has allowed a .206 average with runners in scoring position, which has kept down his ERA. Maybe he didn't developed into the No. 1 or 2 once projected one he was a prospects, but he's finally a solid No. 3 or 4.
5. Will they make any moves?
The lineup is still very right-handed, with only Votto (when he returns) and Bruce swinging southpaw. Having both Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez as backup infielders is a waste of a roster space. Don't look for the Reds to make a big move, but expect Walt Jocketty to pick up a veteran left-handed bat for the bench or a platoon role in the outfield.
6. OK, the leadoff spot.
Yes, it has been a problem all season, with an MLB-worst .246 on-base percentage and .508 OPS. Baker has been hammered all season for sticking primarily with rookie shortstop Zack Cozart despite his poor production while hitting there. We'll see how Baker constructs the lineup once Votto returns. He obviously prefers to have a righty hit between Votto and Bruce (a strategy that I think is vastly overrated), but with Ryan Ludwick hitting well of late, maybe he keeps Ludwick in the cleanup spot and moves Brandon Phillips to leadoff.
7. What about the Pirates?
Hey, they're still hanging tough. It's rough when you go 7-3 like the Pittsburgh Pirates have over their past 10 games and still lose three games in the standings. "They're not going to go away, that's fairly obvious at this point," Bruce said after Sunday's win. "We have some series left with them, but any time you can gain a game it's great." Mark this upcoming weekend down on your calendar: Pirates at Reds, the first three of nine games remaining between the clubs.
8. Aroldis Chapman is back on track.
He had that huge blip in June when he lost four games in seven appearances, but since then he's appeared in 15 games, recorded 13 saves, and struck out 33 of the 53 batters he's faced. National League hitters, be afraid.
9. Hey, what about Todd Frazier for Rookie of the Year?
Frazier remains a big surprise, hitting .277/.333/.523. No, his future isn't as bright as Bryce Harper's, but his numbers certainly are better than Harper's .261/.338/.430 line. He has been one of the unsung heroes of the 2012 season.
10. The man with the toothpick.
It's easy to dish out criticism to Dusty Baker. When I do my weekly chat, it's become a running joke: Somebody makes a sarcastic comment about Baker's managing. I'm not saying it's deserved and he has been torn apart going back to his Giants days and his Cubs days, much of it justified. But he has also gotten a lot out of this team -- good seasons not only from Bailey but Bronson Arroyo, whom everyone assumed was washed up, and Mike Leake.
Sure the players always deserve most of the credit (or blame), but as we head into the final two months, I found myself rooting for Dusty. Hey, managers who have accomplished much less and made bigger blunders have won World Series titles. Maybe it's Dusty's turn.
1. Losing Joey Votto for a month shouldn’t cripple the Cincinnati Reds, especially if Todd Frazier can continue his performance. Just how good has Votto been?
2. Meanwhile, the news should be harsher for the Toronto Blue Jays concerning Jose Bautista. Who is youngster Anthony Gose and what does he bring to the table?
3. And finally, the Red Sox won a game but potentially lost Big Papi. We discuss the battle of the Sox and return of Kevin Youkilis.
4. Our emailers want to know about Ryan Dempster’s BABIP, testing strategic development in the minor leagues and draft compensation strategy, among other things.
5. Tuesday figures to be another big night in baseball, with Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia returning, Trevor Bauer facing a more legit offense and the "contending" Orioles trying to avoid allowing three touchdowns in Minnesota.
So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast and please, don’t pull a groin in the process. Stay healthy!