SweetSpot: Matt Carpenter

Dodgers' rebound win sweet in the details

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5

The Dodgers tied up their series, and though they had a few in-game setbacks, Saturday's win over the Cardinals was more impressive because when things didn’t work out, the Dodgers still found a way to win, often by exploiting the star power that makes them so dangerous this time of year. So let’s start with that …

1. Matt Kemp is back where he ought to be. Kemp’s decisive home run in the bottom of the eighth makes for a nice moment to note the guy who almost won an MVP award in 2011 and looked like he’d set the world afire in April 2012 is back. Kemp had already made this point with a .606 slugging percentage and 17 homers since the All-Star break. Add that he did it against Pat Neshek, a tremendous situational righty brought in for just the occasion, and it was that much more impressive. But after all the trade rumors, the frenzied speculation, the readiness of so many to stick one fork or another in him as a top-shelf slugger or a Dodger next season or next week, seeing him win a postseason game in L.A. is the kind of ending that makes more than Hollywood happy.

Tying the series after seeing Clayton Kershaw torn apart is huge because you can’t lose faith in him. Kemp’s homer got the Dodgers the split. Now have to at least split the next two, then ask the best pitcher on the planet to do his thing. That’s worth taking a chance on.

2. Don Mattingly pulls Zack Greinke after seven innings and 103 pitches. In the past, I’ve argued the number to worry about isn’t 100 -- it’s 120. But that’s a general observation, not a one-size-fits-all solution, and Greinke has been handled with care this year. He has rarely pitched beyond seven innings or 100 pitches. In fourth at-bats, Greinke has allowed a .785 OPS. So when you add that Greinke was due to face the top of the Cardinals’ order a fourth time -- including Matt Carpenter -- you can understand why Mattingly did what he did, come what might. Which brings us to …

3. Matt Carpenter’s home run in the eighth. Matt Carpenter is raking Dodgers pitching so far, and he kept it up in Game 2. He doubled in the sixth -- only to get stranded by some excellent work from Greinke -- and then clobbered J.P. Howell for an opposite-field home run. So yes, pitch carefully to Carpenter, because the hot hand might last this series. Howell posted a .512 OPS against left-handed hitters this year, so Mattingly did exactly what he was supposed to do. It’s as simple as: Howell didn’t execute and Matt Carpenter’s really good.

4. Greinke stifles the Cards in the sixth inning. Part of what got the game into the “late drama” portion was an ace pitcher keeping himself out of trouble. Carpenter’s double could have been the start of something ugly, but Greinke responded effectively. He got Jon Jay out on two pitches, struck out Matt Holliday, was appropriately careful with Matt Adams and then retired Jhonny Peralta a third time. That’s the sort of pitching that keeps your ace label, and the sort of thing the Dodgers needed after seeing Kershaw lit up the night before.

5. The Cardinals seemingly doubled up Dee Gordon in the third, only to have replay take it away. Sure enough, Kolten Wong didn’t have the ball in the glove when he tried to tag Greinke, which might be the only way to make that play with Gordon motoring up the line. Instead, Greinke got to go to second base on what history will blandly remember as Gordon’s RBI groundout with runners at the corners and nobody out. That overturned call was especially critical because it kept the inning alive and created an RBI opportunity for Adrian Gonzalez. He singled to center, and Greinke scored to make it 2-0. Score one more for both the Dodgers and the robots-and-replay crowd.

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

To be honest, this hasn't been that great of a St. Louis Cardinals team. The Cardinals barely outscored their opponents (plus four on the season), they don't hit for much power (last in the National League in home runs), they don't have much team speed (13th in stolen bases), they don't score a lot of runs (10th in runs), their pitching/defense is OK but not terrific (seventh in runs allowed), and their best player this season was one of the most maligned signings of last winter (Jhonny Peralta).

Yet here they are, leading the NL Central by 4.5 games over the Pirates and five games over the Brewers as Adam Wainwright tossed a complete game in a 9-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, his best outing since before the All-Star break. In taking three of four from the Brewers this weekend, the Cardinals essentially wiped out the Brewers in the division race, kept a comfortable margin over the Pirates and perhaps made this bigger point: It's that time of the year when the Cardinals start playing their best baseball.

Back in 2011, the Cardinals entered September 8½ games behind in the NL wild-card race but went 18-8 in the final month to chase down the Atlanta Braves. Then they kept that momentum going all the way to a World Series title.

In 2012, they went 13-6 over the final 19 games to win one of the wild-card spots, beat the Braves in that game, had that dramatic four-run ninth inning in Game 5 of the division series to upset the Washington Nationals, and then took the San Francisco Giants to seven games in the NLCS.

[+] EnlargeJhonny Peralta
Tom Lynn/Getty ImagesShortstop Jhonny Peralta hit his team-leading 20th home run on Sunday.
In 2013, the Cardinals entered September tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place but went 19-8, including a three-game sweep of the Pirates early in the month, to win the division. They beat the Pirates in the division series, with Michael Wacha and then Wainwright pitching gems in Games 4 and 5, and then beat Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS to reach the World Series.

Have the Cardinals been the best team in the NL from April through now? No. Do you want to play them right now? No. Especially if Wainwright is getting back on track.

I'm still not sure if Wainwright is back after he recorded just three strikeouts, but strikeouts aren't everything and he took a shutout into the ninth, throwing 71 strikes out of his 100 pitches. His average fastball velocity of 90.5 mph was right up there with his highest of the season (91.0 mph), so the arm fatigue he has battled has seemed less of an issue his past couple of outings.

Peralta went 3-for-5 on Sunday with his 20th home run. He really has been the team's secret weapon all season, batting .268/.342/.459. He's third among major league shortstops in home runs (Ian Desmond has 22 and the injured Troy Tulowitzki 21). In a year when few shortstops have provided much offense -- only nine have double-digit home runs -- Peralta's power and production have been huge. He also has played his usual underrated defense. His range may not be great, but he has a strong arm and is sure-handed. He's third among all shortstops in defensive runs saved at plus-17 (behind Andrelton Simmons and Zack Cozart), which ranks tied for seventh among all defensive players entering Sunday.

The total package has created one of the most valuable players in the league, not that he has gotten any attention for his season. Peralta ranks fifth among NL position players in Baseball-Reference WAR and sixth in FanGraphs WAR. How's that $53 million contract look now?

Despite the various setbacks the Cardinals faced during the season -- the lengthy injury to Wacha, the season-ending injury to Jaime Garcia, the nearly two months without Yadier Molina -- they're also getting things lined up. Wacha is back, Molina is back, Matt Holliday's power has returned in the second half, Matt Carpenter is quietly eighth in the NL in OBP, and rookie second baseman Kolten Wong has slugged .474 since July 6.

Back in March, everyone raved about the Cardinals' depth. That depth won't lead to a 97-win season like they had in 2013 but it did help them survive and get to this point. In fact, think of the struggles this year of the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, three deep-pocketed franchises regarded as preseason World Series contenders. In Boston's case, its young players didn't play up to expected levels; the Rangers were unable to overcome a slew of injuries (granted, it was a lot of injuries); the Tigers may yet make the playoffs but their lack of depth, especially in the rotation, has hurt them down the stretch.

The Cardinals always seem to have somebody to plug in (they've used 11 different starting pitchers for at least four starts). They bide their time, don't overreact or panic and understand it's a 162-game season, and you don't make the playoffs just because you have a hot April (that's you, Milwaukee).

They're going to win the division and return to the playoffs. Get used to it, America. There's a reason they're the best organization in the game.
St. Louis Cardinals fans have been feeling a little jittery when closer Trevor Rosenthal enters games -- and with good reason. He hasn't been the same dominant ninth-inning reliever we saw in October, when he faced 40 batters, retired 33 of them and struck out 18. After spending most of the season as a setup reliever, Rosenthal's scoreless postseason was a big key to the Cardinals reaching the World Series.

For the most part, Rosenthal simply blew hitters away; 149 of his 174 pitches in the playoffs were fastballs, averaging 97.7 mph and touching 100 mph multiple times. Batters knew the fastball was coming and still couldn't touch it. His ascendant performance had many expecting him to be one of the premier closers in 2014. Maybe not Craig Kimbrel, but one of a handful of guys lining up behind him.

Instead, as we saw on Sunday when the Braves rallied for two runs in the ninth to pull out a 6-5 win, Rosenthal hasn't been lights out and is 0-2 with a 4.98 ERA, two blown saves and 14 walks in 21 2/3 innings. His velocity is down just a bit from what we saw in the postseason, as he's averaging 96.2 mph on his fastball and has yet to touch triple digits on the radar gun. But command has been Rosenthal's biggest problem, as witnessed by the high walk total.

On Sunday, working for the fourth straight day (more on that in a second), Freddie Freeman led off with a first-pitch line-drive single to left field, beating the Cardinals' shift. Working ahead in the count, Rosenthal struck out Chris Johnson and got Andrelton Simmons to pop out, but pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit drilled a 96-mph fastball into the right-field corner for a double, Freeman holding at third.

Rosenthal put in a bind

Pinch-hitter Evan Gattis then stepped in and Rosenthal, perhaps a bit cautious after giving up two first-pitch hits or told to work carefully after a meeting at the mound, fell behind with two fastballs off the plate, at which point Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk Gattis and pitch to Jordan Schafer.

I'm not usually a big fan of loading the bases in this type of situation since, protecting a one-run lead, Rosenthal is especially forced to throw strikes or make the perfect pitch to avoid a hit. Keep in mind: He has struggled with walks all season, was working for the fourth day in a row and Matheny elected to go against the platoon advantage to face the left-handed Schafer. In defense of Matheny, Schafer was just 2-for-26 on the season, including 0-for-2 in this game, so Matheny elected to go after the weaker batter.

I probably would have gone after Gattis, a guy batting .242 with a .278 OBP -- with five walks and 30 strikeouts, so he's the kind of batter you can pitch to. Throwing four days in a row, I'm not sure you wanted to rely here on Rosenthal's ability to throw strikes.

Anyway, against Schafer, Rosenthal threw eight fastballs, all 97 and 98 mph. He threw three balls way up and out of the zone and Schafer fouled off two 3-2 pitches before finally walking on a 98-mph four-seamer at the knees. It was at the knees, right at the bottom of the zone, too close to take in that situation, but Eric Cooper called it a ball so the Braves caught a break. But the Cardinals also put themselves into that bases-loaded situation with no margin for error.

That was it for Rosenthal after 23 pitches. Carlos Martinez came on and threw a wild pitch and the Braves won.

Back to that four days in a row thing. Was it a mistake to use Rosenthal? He had thrown 26 pitches over 1 2/3 innings on Thursday, 17 pitches on Friday and nine pitches on Saturday. Matheny didn't have any issues going to his closer once again.

"It came down to one pitch right there which maybe could have been called [a strike]," Matheny told reporters after the game. "We were one pitch away. He's a tough kid and he wanted the ball today. As soon as he got to two outs, it's his game. Today it just did not work out."

Rosenthal refused to blame his recent usage.

"Physically I felt good and mentally I was ready to go," he said. "No one feels worse than me, walking in the run that eventually loses the game. But you have to bounce back. There will be another opportunity. You just have to learn from it."

Managers rarely use their closers four days in a row. Only Francisco Rodriguez has saved four games in four days in 2014, and only Joe Nathan and Edward Mujica (with the Cardinals) did so in 2013. Only Grant Balfour and John Axford did it in 2012.

Before you argue that managers have gone soft, that's not completely true. Dennis Eckersley pitched four days in a row just once in his career. Mariano Rivera did it just three times. Going back a generation, Bruce Sutter did it five times and Goose Gossage twice.

I'm not going to fault Matheny too much for this one, however. No, the blame is better placed on Matheny for using Rosenthal in a 4-1 game on Saturday or even a 5-2 game on Friday. If his closer wasn't sharp pitching a fourth day in a row, look back to wasting with him with three-run leads.

Carpenter and Craig are not the same

A couple more quick notes on the Cardinals. Rosenthal isn't the only Cardinals player lacking some of the magic of 2013 so far this season. Take Matt Carpenter, an MVP candidate last year. Carpenter laced line drivea all over the field last year, hitting .318 while leading the National League with 199 hits and 55 doubles. That helped him score 126 runs, another league-leading figure.

Carpenter had a big game on Sunday, going 2-for-2 with three walks, raising his average to .265. But he's not driving the ball with the same authority, with just seven doubles and home runs. Compare his hit charts from 2013 and 2014:

Matt Carpenter hit chartESPN Stats & Information

Look all those doubles in the gaps and down the right-field line in 2013. Carpenter had 73 extra-base hits last year and 301 total bases (third in the NL), putting himself into scoring position on a regular basis. He's on pace for just 30 extra-base hits this year, one reason the Cardinals have struggled at times to score runs. He's not killing the team, because he's getting on base via walks (.371 OBP), but he's clearly not the same hitter.

Allen Craig developed a reputation as a clutch hitter by hitting .427 with runners in scoring position the past two seasons. But as we've seen time and again, clutch hitting isn't a "proven" skill. Look, Craig's record was pretty remarkable, considering it covered 301 plate appearances. But he's not a .427 hitter. He's batting .220 with RISP in 2014, including 0-for-3 on Sunday. He's hitting .226 overall with four home runs. The lack of power from Carpenter and Craig is a major reason the Cards are 29th in the majors in home runs, with just 23.

OK, despite all that bad news, it wasn't a horrible week for the Cardinals. They hit rock bottom with a 17-5 loss to the Cubs on Monday to drop to 19-20, but then won four in a row before Sunday's defeat. Sunday also saw the return of Jaime Garcia, who pitched seven innings. He adds more depth to a rotation that is second in ERA in the NL behind the Braves.

Still, the Cardinals are 23-21, hardly cause for alarm but not playing like that best team in the NL that I expected back in March. If they do turn things around and start playing like the team many expected, I suspect Rosenthal, Carpenter and Craig and be big reasons why.
1. The Fast and the Furious III: Who wins the AL MVP Award?

It's the third installment of the epic Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera trilogy, made even more intriguing by the mammoth contracts the two players just signed. While you can come up with a dozen legitimate MVP candidates in the National League, AL honors will almost surely go to Trout or Cabrera, barring a miracle Mariners run to the AL West title or something like that. Even though Cabrera has dominated the voting the past two seasons -- he received 45 first-place votes to just 11 for Trout -- I'm leaning toward Trout winning in 2014 for the following reasons:

(1) I think he's going to take a small step forward. It's hard to imagine him playing better, but Trout's suggestion that's he going to be more aggressive swinging early in the count could actually be a good thing. Among 140 qualified regulars last season, Trout ranked 140th in swing rate (37 percent). He ranked 131st in swing rate on first pitches. Trout is too disciplined to start hacking at pitches out of the zone, so zeroing in on certain pitches early in the count could lead to more production without sacrificing his walk rate all that much.

(2) Cabrera will be hard-pressed to match the past two seasons. That's not a knock, just an awareness of how good he's been (including a sick .397/.529/.782 line with runners in scoring position last year). Last September's injury issues -- he hit .278 with one home run -- show that Cabrera is human even when his body fails him. He says he's fine after offseason surgery, but it still raises a small question heading into the season.

(3) Only one player -- Barry Bonds from 2001 to 2004 -- has won three consecutive MVP awards. Voters don't like to give it to the same player every year. In fact, Cabrera was just the second AL player in 40 years to win back-to-back MVP honors (Frank Thomas was the last in 1993-94). If the numbers are close, that works in Trout's favor this time around.

(4) More awareness that Trout is the better all-around player. Cabrera has been worth 7.2 and 7.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference) the past two seasons, Trout 10.8 and 8.9. Polls of general managers have indicated they think Trout is the better player. Again, that's not a knock on Cabrera, the best hitter in the game.

(5) The Angels should be better. The biggest roadblock to Trout winning the past two seasons was the Angels missing the playoffs. In recent years, voters have almost exclusively given the MVP Award to a guy on a playoff team. The Tigers are still the better bet for the postseason, so that could ultimately swing the award back to Cabrera for a third straight year.

2. Who is this year's Josh Donaldson or Matt Carpenter?

Historically, these guys had pretty amazing and unique seasons. Donaldson was 27, in his first full season as a starter, and he surprised everyone by finishing fourth in the AL MVP vote. Carpenter, also 27 and playing every day for the first time, finished fourth in the NL MVP vote. And then there was Chris Davis -- also 27 -- who mashed 53 home runs and knocked in 138 runs. He had a little more of a résumé than Donaldson or Carpenter, having hit 33 home runs the year before, but nobody had him as a preseason MVP candidate.

Odds are slim that we'll see even one of those types of performances, let alone three, but since 27 seemed to be the magical age, here are some guys playing their age-27 seasons in 2014: Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Justin Smoak, Jason Kipnis, Pablo Sandoval, Desmond Jennings, Josh Reddick, Ike Davis, Michael Saunders, Yonder Alonso. Hmm ... Alvarez certainly could go all Chris Davis on us (he hit 36 home runs in 2013), but I don't see a Donaldson or Carpenter in there; then again, we didn't see a Donaldson or Carpenter coming last year. (Guys such as Bruce, Kipnis and Sandoval are already pretty accomplished players.)

If we go down to age-26 players, I see a few more interesting candidates: Brandon Belt (I've written about him), Kyle Seager, Khris Davis, Kole Calhoun, Dustin Ackley. So there you go: Kole Calhoun, MVP candidate!

3. Are the Yankees too old?

Right now, their regular lineup looks like this:

C -- Brian McCann (30 years old)
1B -- Mark Teixeira (34)
2B -- Brian Roberts (36)
3B -- Kelly Johnson (32)
SS -- Derek Jeter (40)
LF -- Brett Gardner (30)
CF -- Jacoby Ellsbury (30)
RF -- Carlos Beltran (37)
DH -- Alfonso Soriano (38)

The top subs are Ichiro Suzuki (40) and Brendan Ryan (32). If those guys ending up staying reasonably healthy, the Yankees won't have one regular younger than 30. I wonder if that's ever happened before. The rotation features 33-year-old CC Sabathia and 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda.

And yet ... the Yankees may be better than we expect. I have them at 84 wins, which is right where the projection systems have them (FanGraphs at 83 wins, Baseball Prospectus also at 83), and I'm beginning to wonder if that's too conservative. Masahiro Tanaka looked terrific this spring and maybe he does match the 2.59 ERA projected by the Oliver system as opposed to the 3.68 of ZiPS or 3.87 of Steamer. Michael Pineda could provide a huge boost to the rotation. The offense is going to score a lot more runs than last year. Yes, age and injuries will be the deciding factor, but the Yankees have defied Father Time in the past.

4. Will Yasiel Puig implode or explode?

I'm going with explode -- in a good way. That doesn't mean he isn't going to give Don Mattingly headaches or miss the cutoff guy every now and then or get a little exuberant on the base paths on occasion or incite columnists to write about the good ol' days when Mickey Mantle always showed up to the ballpark on time. But the positives will outweigh the negatives, he'll provide tons of energy to the Dodgers, he'll be one of the most exciting players in the game and he's going to have a big, big season.

5. Are the Braves going to implode or explode?

For a team that won 96 games, the Braves enter the season with a surprising range of outcomes. Minus Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, this won't be the same team as last year. But maybe that's a good thing if Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton don't hit .179 and .184 again. The Braves allowed fewer runs in 2013 than any of the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz teams, so they were going to be hard-pressed to match that run prevention anyway. Implode or explode? I'm going somewhere in the middle, with 86 wins -- which may be just enough to capture a wild card.

6. Who are the most important players of 2014?

The first 10 names that pop into my head, without analysis or explanation (other than to say these are players with a great deal of potential volatility in their performance or a high degree injury risk):

1. Derek Jeter, Yankees
2. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. Billy Hamilton, Reds
5. Francisco Liriano, Pirates
6. Scott Kazmir, A's
7. Albert Pujols, Angels
8. Michael Wacha, Cardinals
9. B.J. Upton, Braves
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles

7. Which team is baseball's worst?

I'm going with the Astros, although it wouldn't surprise me to see the Phillies plummet to the bottom. Or the Twins. If you want a dark horse team, how about the Blue Jays? The rotation could be a disaster and if even Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and/or Edwin Encarnacion suffer lengthy injuries, the offense could collapse, as well.

8. Is offense going to decrease across the league again?

Considering there's going to be even more drug testing this year, I'll say it drops a tiny bit. Here are the runs per game totals in recent seasons:

2006: 4.86
2007: 4.80
2008: 4.65
2009: 4.61
2010: 4.38
2011: 4.28
2012: 4.32
2013: 4.17

The increased use of defensive shifts will continue to make it harder to hit singles, and the pitching just seems to get better and better. Yes, we had several guys go down with season-ending injuries in spring training -- most notably Medlen, Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin -- but we've added Tanaka, we'll get full seasons from the likes of Wacha and Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray and Chris Archer and Tony Cingrani, and other young guns such as Taijuan Walker, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Gray, Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon could make major impacts. Plus, Joe Blanton won't be in the Angels' rotation.

9. Who is this year's Pirates?

By "this year's Pirates," we mean a team that finishes under .500 the year before and unexpectedly soars into the playoffs. We actually had three such teams make the playoffs last year: the Pirates, Red Sox and Indians. In 2012, we had the Orioles, A's, Reds and Nationals. In 2011, we had the Brewers and Diamondbacks. In 2010, we had the Reds.

The Royals don't count because they won 86 games last year, so improving a few wins and reaching the playoffs wouldn't be a surprise.

Technically, the Giants fit since they were below .500, but they would hardly be a surprise team just two years after winning the World Series.

Who does that leave? I see three choices in each league:

Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels -- The Blue Jays need their rotation to produce in a tough division, the Mariners maybe can take advantage of injuries to the A's and Rangers. The Angels were below .500, but they've been perennial playoff contenders, so they hardly fit the "surprise" definition.

Padres, Rockies, Brewers -- I'd be most inclined to go with the Rockies here, as they have two stars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and just need better production from the back of the rotation (although the early injury to Jhoulys Chacin doesn't help). I've been on the Brewers' bandwagon the past two years and refuse to jump on this year (which means they're probably headed to the World Series).

10. Who are five rookies who will impact the pennant races?

1. Masahiro Tanaka, P, Yankees. Don't be surprised if he's a Cy Young contender.

2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox. We saw his already-polished game in the postseason last October.

3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds. The speed is Cool Papa Bell turn-of-the-light-switch-and-be-in-bed-before-the-room-goes-dark kind of speed. The defense should be above average, but will he hit?

4. Gregory Polanco, RF, and Jameson Taillon, P, Pirates. They won't be up to start the season but will eventually be part of Pittsburgh's playoff drive.

5. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers. With Cabrera moving over to first, he takes over at third base with potential to produce with the bat.

11. Which division race will be the most exciting?

I'm going with the AL West, which should be a three-team race between the A's, Rangers and Angels, with the Mariners possibly making it a four-team race. Or maybe the AL East, which could be a titanic struggle between the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Orioles. Or the NL West, which could be a five-team race if the Dodgers fall back to the pack. Or the NL Central, if the Cardinals aren't as dominant as I believe they will be. Or the AL Central, which the Tigers won by only a game last year. Or the NL East ... which, well, I can't see this as anything but a two-team race. (Sorry, Mets, Marlins and Phillies fans.)

12. Who are some other award contenders?

Here are my picks:

1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Evan Longoria
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Dustin Pedroia

AL Cy Young
1. David Price
2. Yu Darvish
3. Max Scherzer
4. Justin Verlander
5. Felix Hernandez

AL Rookie
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Xander Bogaerts
3. Nick Castellanos

AL home run champ
1. Chris Davis
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Edwin Encarnacion

AL batting champ
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Joe Mauer

1. Yadier Molina
2. Joey Votto
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Hanley Ramirez
5. Ryan Braun

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Jose Fernandez
4. Zack Greinke
5. Adam Wainwright

NL Rookie
1. Billy Hamilton
2. Chris Owings
3. Travis d'Arnaud

NL home run champ
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Pedro Alvarez
3. Paul Goldschmidt

NL batting champ
1. Joey Votto
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Yadier Molina

13. Do the Red Sox win it all?
No, but they do make the playoffs. My final standings:

AL East
Tampa Bay: 93-69
Boston: 91-71
New York: 84-78
Baltimore: 84-78
Toronto: 78-84

AL Central
Detroit: 91-71
Kansas City: 82-80
Cleveland: 79-83
Chicago: 71-91
Minnesota: 67-95

AL West
Texas: 88-74
Oakland: 87-75
Los Angeles: 83-79
Seattle: 76-86
Houston: 61-101

NL East
Washington: 93-69
Atlanta: 86-76
New York: 73-89
Miami: 73-89
Philadelphia: 65-97

NL Central
St. Louis: 95-67
Cincinnati: 85-77
Pittsburgh: 84-78
Milwaukee: 79-83
Chicago: 70-92

NL West
Los Angeles: 94-68
San Francisco: 82-80
San Diego: 80-82
Colorado: 79-83
Arizona: 78-84

14. Who wins it all?
I'm going Rays over Dodgers in seven games. And then the David Price trade rumors will begin again two days later.
Matt Carpenter has signed a $52 million extension with the Cardinals. If Carpenter comes close to his 2013 numbers -- he led the National League in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55) -- it's going to be a bargain contract for the Cardinals.


Over or under on Matt Carpenter hitting .295?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,442)

Carpenter hit .318, played a solid second base (he'll move back to third base in 2014), made the All-Star team and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Not bad for a former 13th-round pick in his first year as a full-time starter.

What will happen this season? The projection systems don't forecast Carpenter hitting .318 again, which isn't too surprising since he never hit .318 in the minors (let alone bash out 55 doubles). ZiPS is very pessimistic, predicting a .272 average for Carpenter. Steamer has him at .284. Carpenter hit .321 in the first half, .313 in the second half and his rate of doubles actually went up, so he was pretty consistent throughout the season (though he did drop from nine home runs to two).

Do you believe in Carpenter having another big season? Let's set the over/under on his batting average at .295.

NL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we would take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our National League look:

NL East
Braves: The big change for Atlanta will be dealing with the departure of Brian McCann, whose strike-stealing skills will be hard to replace. Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird will try. Gattis may be better than you think (3 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013). By our tally (and that of StatCorner’s publicly available data), he ranked among the best in the majors at getting pitches in the strike zone to be called strikes.

Marlins: The Miami infield rated as average last season, but it has a new -- and potentially worse -- look in 2014, with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria as the lone holdover. The Marlins will try Garrett Jones (and his negative-22 career Runs Saved) at first base, Rafael Furcal at second base (last played there for two innings in 2004) and Casey McGehee at third (bad numbers there in 2009 and 2010, but average in 2011). They’ll also have Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching; he typically rates bottom of the pack when it comes to defensive metrics.

Mets: The big story for the Mets will likely be how three center fielders coalesce in the outfield. If it works, the Mets could have the best ground-covering combo in the league. The likely alignment will be Curtis Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, though Young could shift to center (with Granderson moving to right and Eric Young to left) if Lagares’ offense isn’t to the Mets liking.

Nationals: Washington hasn't done anything to tinker with its primary starting unit. Arguably the biggest worry will be making sure Bryce Harper doesn’t overhustle his way into any walls as he did last season. The other thing that will be intriguing will be how new acquisition Doug Fister fares with a better infield defense behind him than he had in Detroit the past couple of seasons. Some think that could bode really well.

Phillies: Many scoffed at the Marlon Byrd contract, but he represents a huge defensive upgrade for the Phillies in right field. The transition from John Mayberry Jr., Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix to Byrd represents a swing of 31 Runs Saved (the four combined for negative-19 Runs Saved; Byrd rated among the best with 12).

The Phillies still have a lot of defensive issues, though. First baseman Ryan Howard has minimal range. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins may still pass the eye test but has rated poorly three years running (negative-30 Runs Saved in that span). Their third-base combo rated almost as badly as right field. And primary center fielder Ben Revere had all sorts of issues with balls hit over his head last season. There is a lot of potential trouble brewing for 2014.

NL Central
Brewers: Ryan Braun will not just be returning from a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He’ll also be playing a new position, right field, as the Brewers announced their intention to shift him from left field. Braun has 23 Runs Saved over the past four seasons, but the deterrent value of his throwing arm, which is minimal to below average, will now be a bigger factor. He’ll have to be pretty good all-around to match what the team got from Norichika Aoki & Co. (combined 13 Defensive Runs Saved).

Cardinals: St. Louis ranked second to last in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved last season and had only one position that rated above the major league average. That shouldn’t happen again.

The Cardinals have moved Matt Carpenter from second to his natural spot at third, where he should be an upgrade over David Freese. Freese was traded to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, who, if his hamstrings are healthy, could be a 20-plus run improvement over Jon Jay in center field. Another great glove in Mark Ellis signed to share second base with Kolten Wong, which will be an improvement over Carpenter. And Jhonny Peralta probably is no worse than on par defensively with the man he’ll replace at short, Pete Kozma. In sum, the Cardinals could be the most-improved defensive team from last season to this season.

Cubs: The Cubs aren’t vastly different from what they were at the end of last season, at least not yet. Their outfield defense needed an upgrade, and the one thing they’ve done to that end is obtain Justin Ruggiano. He has fared both well and poorly in center field in the past. Ruggiano may get a full-time shot to see what he can do in 2014.

Pirates: Pittsburgh liked Russell Martin so much it brought in a defensive standout to back him up in Chris Stewart. Stewart excels in all areas and could invert what the team got in 2013 from its backup catchers (negative-6 Runs Saved). The Pirates were also smart about keeping Clint Barmes around on a low-salary deal. He’s no Andrelton Simmons, but he rates among the best defensive shortstops in the league.

Reds: Cincinnati will give Billy Hamilton every chance to be the every-day center fielder in 2014. He rates as “fine,” which will be a major upgrade from the struggles of Shin-Soo Choo, who was forced to play out of position last season. The Reds will also fully take the training wheels off Devin Mesoraco with outstanding defender Ryan Hanigan having been traded to the Rays. Keep an eye on that one. The security of having Hanigan could be a big loss on the defensive side.

NL West
Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo shifted back and forth between first base and the outfield with the Angels, but he should be the full-time left fielder in 2014 for a team that had four players with 25 or more starts at the position last season. Trumbo showed he could handle left in a stint there with the Halos two seasons ago (a better fit there than in right). My guess is the Diamondbacks will play him deep and concede some singles to limit the number of times he’ll have to retreat to chase a potential extra-base hit.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig posted a terrific defensive rating in his initial stint in the big leagues (10 Runs Saved), but one concern the Dodgers will have was visible in the NL Championship Series -- how Puig does at limiting his mistakes.

Puig ranked 20th in innings played in right field last season but had the seventh-most Defensive Misplays & Errors (22) based on Baseball Info Solutions’ video review. Over 162 games, that might not affect his overall rating, but that sort of thing could play a large role in swinging a couple of important games one way or the other.

The loss of Mark Ellis could also be big, though the jury is out until we see how Alexander Guerrero handles second base.

Giants: San Francisco cast its lot with a pair of outfielders who will look a bit awkward in the corners, with Mike Morse in left and Hunter Pence in right. This could be a problem if the pitching staff is fly ball inclined. Pence is at negative-16 Runs Saved over the past two seasons. Morse fits best as a DH, and his value will be in whether he can drive in more runs than he lets in. Whoever the Giants' center fielder is this season will have his work cut out for him.

Padres: San Diego will look to run Seth Smith, whom it got from the Athletics for Luke Gregerson, in right field. This could be a little dicey. Smith has negative-13 Runs Saved in the equivalent of about a season’s worth of games there. Expect Chris Denorfia (21 career Runs Saved in right) to remain as a valuable fourth outfielder, late-game replacement.

Rockies: The big defensive-themed news for the Rockies this offseason was their decision to commit to Gold Glove left fielder Carlos Gonzalez as a full-timer in center after trading Dexter Fowler. So long as he’s not the Gonzalez of 2012, who looked a little heavy and finished with negative-13 Runs Saved, that should work out all right.

Colorado does have a lot of flexibility in its outfield with Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs coming off the bench for now. Either could come in as a late-game replacement for Michael Cuddyer if needed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if either got some significant playing time in left field too.

SweetSpot's 2013 NL All-Star team

September, 29, 2013
I did my American League All-Star team yesterday. Here's my National League squad. A few more tougher calls in the NL.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (.319/.359/.477, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Two questions: Is Molina a legitimate MVP candidate and how will he fare in the voting? Sure, he's a strong candidate, although I have Andrew McCutchen as my clear No. 1 guy. Due to his relatively low runs plus RBIs total (he has 68 runs scored), Molina would certainly be an unconventional MVP candidate. Wins Above Replacement accounts for some of Molina's defense -- such as throwing out runners -- but can't measure some of the intangibles, such as the confidence he gave to the young St. Louis starters. Molina's offense numbers are similar to last year, when he finished fourth in voting, so I wouldn't be surprised if he jumps up to second this season.

First base: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (.302/.401/.553, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 7.1 WAR)
Goldschmidt or Joey Votto? It's not quite as simple as Goldschmidt's 51-RBI advantage as both put up similar numbers otherwise, with Votto having the edge in on-base percentage (.436) and Goldschmidt in power (36 home runs to 24). Both were extremely durable -- Goldschmidt has missed two games, Votto zero -- and solid defenders. The one big difference is an advanced metric called Win Probability Added, a category Goldschmidt led all NL position players in, thanks in part to his .350 average in high-leverage situations and nine home runs in late and close situations (second-most in the majors to Chris Davis). I'm confident Goldschmidt is the right choice here.

Second base: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (.320/.394/.484, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 6.7 WAR)
An easy choice as Carpenter leads the NL in runs, hits and doubles while ranking in the top 10 in numerous other categories. I'm guessing Molina garners more MVP support, but Carpenter is just as worthy to finish in the top five.

Third base: David Wright, Mets (.308/.393/.516, 18 HR, 57 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Pedro Alvarez leads the NL with 36 home runs and has knocked in 100 but a .233 average and sub-.300 OBP means he created a ton of outs to generate those runs. Ryan Zimmerman waited too long to start hitting. Chris Johnson hit .321 for the Braves. None were above-average defenders. So almost by default I'll go with Wright, who easily has the highest WAR even though he missed 50 games.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Braves (.244/.292/.390, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 6.5 WAR)
I've been raving about Simmons all season so I can't change now. Troy Tulowitzki was great once again and relatively healthy (125 games), although he hit 61 points higher at home. Hanley Ramirez was the best on a per at-bat basis but played just 86 games. Ian Desmond flew under the radar year for the Nationals. But Simmons is my guy, even with that sub-.300 OBP. His defense was that good.

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (.302/.367/.591, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 5.1 WAR)
Starling Marte had an excellent all-around season (41 steals, great defense) for the Pirates and Matt Holliday was solid for the Cardinals. Gonzalez's season was similar to Wright's -- if he'd remained healthy, he'd be the obvious choice, but he missed 50 games. Unlike Tulo, he actually hit better on the road, so it's not a Coors-inflated season. I'll go with CarGo just barely over Marte.

Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 8.2 WAR)
Carlos Gomez would be an MVP candidate if he had better teammates. Shin-Soo Choo gave the Reds exactly what they needed, a leadoff hitter who got on base. But this was McCutchen's season as he often carried a mediocre Pittburgh offense and hit .339/.441/.561 in the second half, helping keep the Pirates in the division title race. He's the likely MVP winner and not a "weak" MVP, as some have speculated. His WAR is higher than the past three NL MVPs, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun and Votto. He may not drive in 100 runs or score 100 (he's at 97), but it was the best all-around season in the league.

Right field: Jayson Werth, Nationals (.318/.398/.532, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 4.8 WAR)
A loaded position, and that's with Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton missing significant time. Jay Bruce, Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence and Marlon Byrd all have their supporters (and Gerardo Parra leads in WAR). The knock against Werth, like Wright and Gonzalez, is that he missed significant time (129 games). But Bruce has a .329 OBP. Puig didn't get called up until June and Pence's monster September (11 HR, 29 RBI) came after the Giants had long been eliminated and arguably against dubious September pitching.

Starting pitchers: Clayton Kersaw, Dodgers (16-9, 1.83 ERA, 8.0 WAR); Cliff Lee, Phillies (14-8, 2.87 ERA, 7.2 WAR); Jose Fernandez, Marlins (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 6.3 WAR); Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 6.2 WAR); Matt Harvey, Mets (9-5, 2.27 ERA, 5.4 WAR)
Oh, Cliff Lee is still good. There were no shortage of top starters in the NL as 18 qualified starters have posted an ERA of 3.25 or under, the most since 17 did it in 1992 and 10 more than last year.

Left-handed setup guy: Luis Avilan, Braves (5-0, 1.55 ERA)
Part of Atlanta's dominant bullpen, Avilan fanned just 38 in 64 innings but allowed a .173 average and just one home run. He gets great movement on his two-seam sinking fastball, resulting in fewer K's but a lot of groundballs. Honorable mention to Pittsburgh's Justin Wilson.

Right-handed setup guy: Mark Melancon, Pirates (3-2, 1.39 ERA)
He had a couple rough outings in September, but was dominant throughout the season, first setting up Jason Grilli and then earning 16 saves when Grilli was injured.

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves (4-3, 50 saves, 1.23 ERA)
He did blow four save chances and wasn't quite as statistically dominant as last season -- and still finished with 1.23 ERA and 50 saves.

Matt Carpenter on his MVP-caliber season

September, 26, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- With just a few games left in the season and a playoff spot clinched, Cardinals' third-base coach José Oquendo hits groundballs before a recent game against the Nationals to Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Rafael Furcal. They field ball after ball. Then Oquendo approaches Carpenter and Oquendo squats down, stepping back into a throwing motion while explaining one of the many possibilities of a routine groundball that could come Carpenter's way at second.

From the lonely winter practices Carpenter spent on his dad's high school baseball field this past offseason learning how to play second base, to a player with a .321 average and the most runs, hits and doubles in the National League, Carpenter has not only redefined himself as a solid second baseman but is in consideration for NL MVP. How did this transformation happen?

"I take a lot of pride in kind of being self-made, being a guy that is kind of an afterthought to even making the big leagues and then let alone even becoming an All-Star and playing second base," Carpenter said. "There have been points in my career where people have said, 'He'll never be good enough to play third, let alone second.'"

[+] EnlargeMatt Carpenter
Jeff Curry/Getty ImagesMatt Carpenter leads the majors with 125 runs scored -- 17 more than any other player.
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable Player means. Even the BBWAA admits this. So we argue. We criticize the voters. All of baseball enthusiasts define valuable in a different way. For manager Mike Matheny, he says he's been trying to say to anyone who is willing to listen that Carpenter's season is MVP-worthy.

"I don't know where we'd be without him," Matheny said. "I mean, having that leadoff hitter and having the kind of season that he's having and what he's done defensively too, it's just off the charts as far as how good he has been."

When the Cardinals told Carpenter in the offseason that they wanted him to play second base he immediately went to work on it.

"I had a lot of dialogue between myself and José Oquendo and we just continued to keep in contact," Carpenter said.

Carpenter came to spring training 10 days early and Oquendo said he taught Carpenter every possible routine play he might come across. While the reaction time needed to field the ball at second is not as quick as it is at third, Oquendo said there were still a lot of nuances for Carpenter to learn.

"You still got to understand the hitter, our pitchers, and what we're trying to get to that hitter, and watch the swing," Oquendo said. "The swing can change from week to week as we see them and you have to make adjustments to that. All the hitters have a routine spot where they hit the ball the most. So we put them as close as we can to those positions. Now, they have to watch signs, they have to watch how good the pitchers are throwing that day and how good the hitter is that day. It's all mentally."

Instead of acquiring a second baseman or keeping Carpenter in a utility role, the Cardinals essentially said to Carpenter we want you and we believe in you.

"The thing is going into this I knew I was going to have to be good a second or it wouldn't have worked," Carpenter said. "I had confidence in my ability as a hitter and I thought that I could go out and show that I can be a productive major league hitter but second base was unknown. It goes back to my personality and the way that I went about this. I didn't just want to become an adequate second baseman; I wanted to be a good one and I wanted to help our team win."

He's done that. Among NL position players, Carpenter's 6.7 WAR ranks fifth on Baseball-Reference, behind Andrew McCutchen (8.0), Carlos Gomez (8.0), Paul Goldschmidt (7.0) and Andrelton Simmons (6.8). He's third on FanGraphs, behind McCutchen and Gomez.

Matheny said all season long Carpenter has made both extraordinary and routine plays at second while having a consistent approach at the plate.

"He's a catalyst for us," Matheny said. "He's actually becoming a leader and he's somebody that we want our younger players watching and emulating. ... I know the fans are big fans of not just who he is is and what kind of player he is but how he plays the game. You know, it's been impressive to watch and he should be very proud of what he's accomplished."

People around baseball ask if Carpenter -- a 13th-round pick out of TCU -- was suppose to be this good and the answer is in the Cardinals' secret weapon: Identify talent, recognize a personality striving for perfection, saturate the player with good coaching and find a fit. Instead of defining valuable for the player the Cardinals trust that the player will define what valuable means. Carpenter was willing to not only accept his new position but to give the team everything he had.

"The way I'd like to be known as is the guy who is self-made and worked his way into this thing and it wasn't given to him, and he earned it," Carpenter said.

The 10 best decisions of 2013

September, 25, 2013
Let's take a break from these hectic final days of the season and look back at the 10 best decisions of the season. To me, these were decisions based on good analysis or good scouting or both, with a reasonable chance of working out. Signing Zack Greinke is easy. Having Scott Kazmir work out is good luck. These were calculated decisions that paid off.

10. Tigers don't overpay for a closer. Throughout the offseason, during spring training and into April and May, there were cries for the Tigers to go out and acquire a Proven Closer. General manager Dave Dombrowski resisted and eventually veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit took over as closer ... and has been perfectly great, going 4-1 with a 1.94 ERA and 23 saves and just one blown save. Why give up a good prospect for a closer when one isn't that hard to find?

9. Rays acquire Yunel Escobar. Last year, the Rays got so desperate for some offense at shorstop that Joe Maddon eventually had to move Ben Zobrist there. Escobar went from Toronto to Miami in the big Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson-Mark Buehrle trade, and then Tampa Bay got him for marginal prospect Derek Dietrich. Escobar wore out his welcome in Atlanta and Toronto, but hasn't had any issues in Tampa. The Rays didn't panic when Escobar was hitting under .200 in mid-May. He turned things around and has had a solid .258/.333/.370 season. These days, that's good offense from a shortstop.

8. Dodgers sign Hyun-Jin Ryu. For all the talk about the Dodgers' enormous payroll, they brought Ryu over from Korea with a $25.7 million bid and a reasonable six-year, $36 million contract. That's about $10 million a year for a pitcher who has gone 14-7 with a 2.97 ERA. That's only $8 million more than the Cubs gave for four years of Edwin Jackson, who has a 4.74 ERA. Chalk it up to good scouting.

7. A's trade for Jed Lowrie. Oakland had terrible production from its shortstops in 2012 and only had to give up platoon first baseman/DH Chris Carter to acquire the injury-prone Lowrie. It was a trade with little risk for the A's but high upside: Yes, Carter had power but he was never going to be a star with all of his strikeouts. Lowrie has stayed healthy and been one of the top hitting shortstops in the majors.

6. Reds trade for Shin-Soo Choo. This was a perfect example of a team identifying an obvious need -- the Reds needed a leadoff hitter -- and going out and solving the problem. Even though he struggles against left-handers, Choo is second in the National League in on-base percentage, walks and runs. His defense in center field has been a minor liability instead of a major one and the Reds are heading back to the playoffs.

5. Red Sox acquire good clubhouse guys. More importantly, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes also produced on the field. Victorino was a signing I liked even though it was widely panned -- I liked the idea of having a second center fielder in right field and a good option in case Jacoby Ellsbury got injured. Victorino's offense has been a bonus and his defense has been terrific.

4. Marlins give Jose Fernandez a job out of spring training. Fernandez didn't pitch above A-ball last year, so when he broke camp with the Marlins everybody wondered why the desire to rush him and start his service time when the Marlins weren't going to be any good. But sometimes you have to do the obvious thing: Like Dwight Gooden in 1984, Fernandez had to be in the major leagues because he was that good. All Fernandez did was post a 2.19 ERA and hold batters to a .522 OPS, the lowest for a starter since Pedro Martinez in 2000.

3. Pirates sign Russell Martin. The Pirates made several smart moves -- trading for Mark Melancon, giving the closer job to Jason Grilli, signing Francisco Liriano (although that one produced more upside than anyone could have imagined) -- but Martin was an under-the-radar move that solved a huge problem for the Pirates. Last year, the Pirates allowed 154 stolen bases while catching just 19 basestealers, an abysmal 11 percent caught stealing rate. Thanks to Martin, they've cut that total to 93 steals and 43 caught stealing, a 32 percent rate (Martin has caught 40 percent). Martin is also one of the better pitch framers around and his offense has been about league average. With what he's meant behind the plate, he could see some down-ballot MVP support.

2. Dodgers call up Yasiel Puig. It looks like an easy decision in retrospect, but this was still a 22-year-old kid with just 67 games of minor league experience, 40 of them above A ball. It took some guts to call him up in early June, even if the move was born out of a little desperation. Give credit to the Dodgers correctly analyzing the raw ability and believing he would hold his own in the majors.

1. Cardinals move Matt Carpenter to second. You can probably count the number of successful third base-to-second base conversions on one hand; players rarely move up the defensive spectrum to a tougher position, which is why many expected that Carpenter would soon return to a utility role. But in Carpenter the Cardinals had the perfect pupil: A player in his second season who wanted to break into the starting lineup, but also a 27-year-old with more maturity than most second-year players. He's a smart player with a good ethic. Plus, the Cardinals knew he could hit, not that they expected a .324 average and 55 doubles.

Keith Law wrote about players who have exceeded his expectations and Eric Karabell and myself have a corresponding video on four players who have surprised us the most in 2013. Can you say Josh Donaldson, MVP candidate?

The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

Got all that?

The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.

For Freese, the moment in time has faded

June, 28, 2013
David FreeseMarc Serota/Getty ImagesDavid Freese is focused these days on getting the Cardinals back to the World Series.

ST. LOUIS -- People say time is, what, money? An illusion? That it flies? For David Freese, time diminishes the memory.

Here in this great Midwestern baseball heaven, time has lessened what it felt like for him when the baseball, shining bright against the dark green grass beyond the outfield wall, sent the Cardinals to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

"As far as that moment, it seems like it was light years away," Freese said.

Yet it was just two years ago.

"I think it kind of stamps me as far as Cardinals history because it was so much on the national stage," Freese said. "But personally, it fades. It fades a little bit."

Freese believes when he is retired that the memory will come back. He said it will mean more then, but now, in true Cardinals fashion, Freese has moved on.

"I want to do it all again," he said. "I want to get back to the World Series and try to win another one."

The Cardinals third baseman is 30 years old, but with a late start to his major league career, he will not become a free agent until after the 2015 season. This spring, in his first year of eligibility, he avoided arbitration when he agreed to a one-year, $3.15 million contract with St. Louis.

He is the hometown hero with no long-term commitment. This raises an interesting baseball question: In a team's formula for placing value on players, do October heroics factor in?

Freese was a primary reason for one of the greatest moments in World Series history -- while driving in 21 runs in 18 games that postseason -- yet the Cardinals have not given him a long-term contract. Baseball people understand this. The past, and even postseason stardom, is no longer a stepping stone to the future. Smart teams base contracts on future projections, not past performance.

"The bottom line, especially with a team that demands winning, you have to be productive," Freese said. "I understand going through arbitration that your cost rises, so you have to do your part. I think if I just do my part, I have the potential to be around for a while."

Freese knows one of the keys for him playing well is his health. He played a career-high 144 games last year but missed the start of this season with a back strain and then a few more games with a thumb injury.

"I had those surgeries a few years ago, and it just kept building," Freese said. "I think when I was coming up in the minors, I was proving that I was a guy that could handle third base. I had some injuries then got in the weight room and stayed healthy, and now things are coming together."

Freese enters Friday batting .276, but the interesting thing is what he's done in high-leverage situations (when the game is closest), hitting .326. With two strikes, he has a .348 OBP, fourth highest in the majors.

Most guys in the big leagues understand the physical aspect of an at-bat, Freese said, but he believes his ability to hit when the game, or an at-bat, is on the line is all mental.

[+] EnlargeDavid Freese
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesTeammates mob David Freese after his 11th-inning homer won Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
"It just starts with confidence on the on-deck circle," he said. "That's something that you have to understand. You have to walk up to the plate with confidence. Just understand that you need to wait for a pitch and have patience. I think the key for every AB is to stay in your zone, to have an approach and understand, no matter the count, you still need to battle and focus."

Hitting coach John Mabry said Freese has a good approach at the plate in high-leverage situations because he's a good player in every situation.

"Good players have that unique ability to drive people in," Mabry said. "He's one of those players. He changes the game when he's in the lineup."

Talk about clutch ability being nonexistent, but Freese is earning a reputation as a tough out in big situations. The value in a hitter like Freese is not in how the memory of those clutch moments remains in the minds of the fans but how opposing teams remember them.

Ron Washington knows about this. He understands. Even now, the Rangers manager said that when Freese comes up to the plate in a high-leverage situation, he thinks, "I'm not going to let him beat me."

"I've seen him do it," Washington said.

The memory of Freese beating the Rangers hasn't faded for Washington like it has for Freese.

"No," Washington said adamantly. "No, no. You walk him. He can beat you. It's [Jon] Jay behind him, so I'm saying, 'Freese or Jay?' I'm going to let Jay beat me. No disrespect to Jay either because he's a pretty good player, but I'll feel better if he did it than Freese."

* * *

David Giuntoli, star of the NBC drama "Grimm," was at Busch Stadium to throw out the first pitch for a recent game against the Rangers. The St. Louis native stopped Freese as he was coming off the field for batting practice.

"I'm a big fan of yours," Giuntoli said to Freese.

Freese shook his hand, and they talked for a bit. He has such a humble way of taking all the attention in stride, and this goes over well with fans.

"I just want to be a guy that played the game hard and tried to play with a smile on my face," Freese said.

Yet there is a lot of pressure on him on and off the field.

"But that's what is cool about this," he said. "Seeing kids wearing my jersey at games, having kids running around wanting to be big leaguers and wanting to be a Cardinal, that's what is special. It's not just in St. Louis; there's kids around this country that want to be St. Louis Cardinals, and that's really cool."

The Cardinals franchise is married to winning, not stars. They have a highly regarded second-base prospect in Kolten Wong, and Matt Carpenter can play third.

This year during spring training, Joe Mauer said playing for the Twins is all he's ever known. Hometown heroes like Mauer are rare in baseball, and there's some nostalgia lost in this. If Freese doesn't end up being a Cardinal for life, while it might be a rational business decision -- he'll be 33 in 2016, after all -- there's something sad about the hometown kid being shipped away.

"I know he's dangerous," Washington said. "It doesn't matter if he's struggling or not. One swing of the bat and he can hurt you."

Ultimately, this is the aspect Freese adds to the Cardinals. Nothing in his numbers can change Washington's belief that at any point Freese can beat you.

The moment that will always define Freese might have faded, but while he says, "I'd love to be a Cardinal forever," only time will tell.
Is there a more up-and-down team this year than the Cleveland Indians? They started 5-10, but from April 28 through May 20 they went 18-4 to climb into first place. That was followed by seven losses in eight games and then an eight-game losing streak that dropped them three games under .500. Now they've won nine of 12 after beating the Orioles 5-2 on Monday night.

The Indians are an interesting team in that they have a deep lineup but no obvious star; part-time outfielder Ryan Raburn is the only player slugging above .500. Justin Masterson has been their best starter, but he ranks just 15th in the American League in ERA. He's probably their most likely All-Star representative with his 9-5 record. However, the Indians have two other players who are worthy of All-Star consideration but are unlikely to find a spot on the roster.

The first is catcher Carlos Santana. With all the attention given this offseason to signing free agents Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds, Santana still feels like the fulcrum of the Cleveland offense. He's hitting .276/.385/.476 and is seventh in the AL in on-base percentage, thanks to 43 walks (ranking behind only Miguel Cabrera's 47). Santana's defense takes a lot of knocks; he's started 11 games at first base and 13 at DH as Terry Francona keeps his bat in the lineup, and his caught-stealing percentage has dropped off dramatically this year, from a respectable 26 percent in 2012 (league average was 25 percent) to 12 percent. The Indians lead the league in wild pitches, and considering backup catcher Yan Gomes has thrown out nine of 16 base stealers, Santana might see even more time away from catcher in the second half.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Carlos Santana
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Santana's defensive reputation could keep him off of the All-Star team.
It's that defensive reputation that will likley keep him off the All-Star team. Joe Mauer looks like he'll be voted in as the starter and Matt Wieters will probably get the backup nod via the players' ballot. If there's a third catcher chosen it's more likely to be Jason Castro as the Astros' representative.

Jason Kipnis is quietly having a solid season as well. Compare these batting lines:

Kipnis: .282/.360/.486
Robinson Cano: .276/.354/.497
Dustin Pedroia: .311/.394/.418

Kipnis has nine home runs to Cano's 16, but has more extra-base hits, 32 to 31. He's stolen 17 of 22 bases. Kipnis had a solid first full season last year (4.0 WAR), but you'll remember that he started off red hot before fading. This year, he hit just .200 in April, but then blasted seven home runs in May and is hitting .392 in June. Cano and Pedroia are probably All-Star locks, but if the AL can find room for a third second baseman, Kipnis deserves consideration.

Here are other players flying under the radar who deserve All-Star consideration but have little chance of making a squad. (And here's a piece from Tommy Rancel arguing the case for a few middle relievers to make it.)

Kyle Seager, Mariners
In a league with Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson at third base, Seager has no shot of making the All-Star Game, but he's quietly developed into the best position player on the Mariners. His WAR ranks 19th among AL position players on Baseball-Reference (2.2) and 11th on FanGraphs (2.7), ahead of Beltre on both sites. With 22 doubles and nine home runs, Seager sprays line drives all over the field, and has put up solid numbers despite playing in Seattle; seven of his nine home runs have come on the road.

James Shields, Royals
The 2-6 record means Shields can enjoy some hunting and fishing over the All-Star break, but the move from Tampa to Kansas City hasn't cut into his effectiveness. With a 2.92 ERA and league-leading 111 innings, he's been exactly what the Royals desired: a staff leader and a staff ace. Amazingly, Shields is winless (0-4) in his last 10 starts despite allowing only 23 runs. That doesn't mean he hasn't helped the Royals win, however; he has five straight no-decisions but the Royals won all five games.

Brett Gardner, Yankees
Adam Jones, Mike Trout and Nick Markakis lead the fan balloting in what is a lackluster year for AL outfielders. Despite playing for the Yankees, Gardner isn't in the top 15. After missing most of last season, Gardner has returned with more power; he has 28 extra-base hits, nearly equal the 34 he had during all of 2011. But what really ramps up his value is excellent defense in center field. In a game that matters, Gardner could be a late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner or pinch hitter who will grind out an at-bat. You know, if managers actually played to win instead of just getting everyone into the game.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Carpenter doesn't just lead NL second basemen in WAR -- he leads most NL position players in WAR. He's 10th on B-R and fifth on FanGraphs thanks to a .403 OBP and smooth transition defensively from third base. Brandon Phillips and Marco Scutaro are ranked 1-2 in fan voting and Chase Utley got off to a good start that could land him the backup job via the players' ballot, so it's going to be difficult to find room for Carpenter.

Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks
Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton and Bryce Harper lead the fan balloting, none of whom really deserve to start (although they aren't terrible choices). Once you include Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and maybe Ryan Braun, that leaves Parra as a long shot. He's hitting .315/.378/.480, ranks second in the NL with 24 doubles and plays superb defense at all three outfield spots. Like Gardner, he would be an excellent late-game defensive sub or pinch hitter. Just don't ask him to steal: He's 6-for-15 trying to steal.

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Over the past calendar year, Alvarez is tied with Jay Bruce for the most home runs in the National League with 36. His .237 average and .303 OBP don't scream "All-Star," but he does have 19 homers and is slugging .572 versus right-hand pitchers. With Ryan Zimmerman struggling on defense and Pablo Sandoval having a mediocre year at the plate, Alvarez has a decent case as the backup to David Wright, but Zimmerman or Sandoval probably gets the nod.

Travis Wood/Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
I'm assuming one or the other will be the Cubs' rep, but both have good cases to make it, even though Wood is 5-6 and Samardzija is 5-7. They succeed in different ways. Wood is an extreme fly ball pitcher who limits hits despite a ho-hum strikeout rate; Samardzija is pure power, with 115 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings. With 14 NL starters currently sporting an ERA under 3.00, somebody is going to get squeezed.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals' unsung hero

May, 28, 2013
CarpenterJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesMatt Carpenter played third in the minors but so far has played a solid second base.
Since 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals have had a Carpenter to lead them. It's been Chris Carpenter for years, but now Matt Carpenter has emerged as the team's leading man -- both figuratively and, as leadoff hitter, literally.

Entering Tuesday's action, Matt Carpenter (no immediate relation to Chris, who has compiled 27.3 career Wins Above Replacement with the Cardinals) leads all National League second basemen in Wins Above Replacement at 1.9. His .388 on-base percentage is second on the team only to Yadier Molina's .389 mark, and that's on a team generating the league's second-most runs per game (4.8).

Carpenter isn't exactly an overnight sensation. In the minors, he built a .408 OBP and .450 slugging percentage over four seasons. With the big club in 2012, he contributed 1.4 Wins Above Replacement and received a vote in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting on the strength of a .365 OBP and .463 SLG over 114 games. But last year he was the team's super-sub, playing five different positions but never seeing extended time as a regular. With the Cardinals featuring veterans or emerging stars at third base (David Freese), first base (Allen Craig) and the outfield corners (Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran), Carpenter was looking at a similar off-the-bench scenario.

New position

Carpenter hammered the ball so much last year, however, that the Cardinals felt comfortable retooling him as a second baseman, thinking that the offensive gain would offset any fielding loss. The idea was hardly novel for the club, who modestly succeeded with outfield convert Skip Schumaker in 2009 (after positing a 2.3 WAR in the outfield, Schumaker had a 1.6 at second base, despite sub-standard fielding).

The Schumaker experiment validated that it was possible to occasionally succeed going rightward along the defensive spectrum, so when the team found Carpenter blocked at third base and elsewhere, they figured that they could roll the dice again. So far, they're winning.

Having played 98 percent of his minor-league career at third base, Carpenter was a more sure thing moving across the infield than Schumaker, who was drafted as a second baseman but hadn't "taken ground balls in six, seven years" before his conversion. Only a handful of players in major league history have played at least 100 games in the outfield before playing more than one game at second base and finishing with at least 100 games at second. Most notably one of those was Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, whose example obviously still gives hope to such wild experiments working even today. It's still early for Carpenter, but the Cardinals don't have any reason to think that their new second baseman is having difficulty adjusting: He's currently eighth among second basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating (+2.6) and tied for third in Defensive Runs Saved (+4).

Unlikely leadoff man

In addition to learning a new position in the field, Carpenter finds himself in a strange spot in the lineup: leadoff.

Second-year manager Mike Matheny isn't yet known for innovative or unconventional decisions -- he ordered position players to sacrifice bunt 46 times last year, including players like Beltran and Molina. Yet he deserves credit for promoting Carpenter to the No. 1 spot. As a 6-foot-3 former third baseman, Carpenter isn't the prototypical leadoff man, but back on April 18, Matheny broke conventional wisdom and replaced Jon Jay with Carpenter. Over the ensuing two weeks, the two players traded time atop the lineup, but Carpenter has started the team's past 22 games in the leadoff spot.

Of course, it’s 2013, and everyone by now should know -- though they obviously don't -- what Bill James told the baseball world in 1988: The largest variable determining how many runs a team will score is how many times they get their leadoff man on base. Carpenter is rather tall for a leadoff man -- think Corey Hart -- and hits for power (only three home runs so far, but he leads the NL in doubles). As a former third baseman-outfielder, Carpenter is more in the mold of notorious mold-breaker Brian Downing, who as a designated hitter was an unlikely leadoff man for the Angels and Rangers in the '80s and early '90s.

Carpenter's lack of speed runs counter to what Cardinals fans have come to expect from table setters in St. Louis, which has seen legendary basestealers like Lou Brock and Vince Coleman, not to mention Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith, race around the bases. To put Carpenter’s disinterest in swiping into perspective, of the 28 players in MLB who have at least 100 plate appearances at leadoff, Carpenter is the only one who hasn't tried to steal a base.

But it's not for lack of chances, which is what makes Carpenter such a smart choice as leadoff man. Among those 28 players, he has the second-highest OBP while leading off, behind only Shin-Soo Choo:

1. Choo, Reds, .442
2. Carpenter, Cardinals, .410
3. Jose Altuve, Astros, .410
4. Dexter Fowler, Rockies, .409
5. Coco Crisp, A's, .383

In this way, Carpenter is the polar opposite of Coleman, who stole 752 bases but had a measly .324 on-base percentage. Carpenter embodies the adage, "you can't steal first base." The Cardinals are clearly fine with that. With thumpers like Holliday, Beltran and Craig following in the lineup, they simply need Carpenter to reach base -- and not take chances making an out afterward.

Matt Philip writes about the Cardinals at Fungoes.net.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

July, 28, 2012

  • Three players this week -- Brett Lawrie on Sunday, Desmond Jennings on Wednesday and Starling Marte on Thursday -- took the very first pitch of the game out of the yard. Five players have now done that this season. Derek Jeter and Zack Cozart both pulled off the feat in June.
    In Marte’s case, it was his first major league at-bat, making him the first Pirate to homer in his debut since Don Leppert on June 18, 1961.
  • In Friday's game at Wrigley Field, Matt Holliday started the Cardinals' scoring with a solo homer in the first inning. Yadier Molina promptly went deep in the second; Lance Berkman in the third; Matt Carpenter in the fourth; and Allen Craig in the fifth. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cardinals are the first team to homer in each of the first five innings since the Astros did it on the final weekend of the 2004 season against the Rockies (Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Biggio again, Eric Bruntlett and Kent again). And it was a first in Cardinals team history.
  • [+] EnlargeTravis Wood
    AP Photo/Paul BeatyChicago's Travis Wood became the first starter ever to allow homers in each of the first five innings.
    Travis Wood gave up all five of those homers, making him the fifth pitcher in Cubs history to surrender five long balls in a game (Carlos Zambrano did it last season), and according to Elias, the first starter ever -- for any team -- to allow homers in each of the first five innings.
  • Jim Johnson of the Orioles had a fairly rough Friday night. He started the ninth inning with his team clinging to a 9-8 lead. After a leadoff groundout, he gave up five singles and a walk in succession. All six runners would score, and Oakland rallied for a 14-9 win. Johnson is just the second pitcher this year to surrender six or more runs in a save situation. Brett Myers did it for Houston on June 28, although only one of his six runs ended up being earned. Since saves became official in 1969, only two other Orioles have done it -- Jim Hoey in 2006 and Doug Jones in 1995 -- and neither of them entered in the ninth.
  • Matt Harvey made his major league debut for the Mets on Thursday night, and promptly mowed down 11 Diamondbacks -- nine of them swinging -- in the process. It's been nearly two years since a pitcher hit double-digit strikeouts in his debut. Nope, not Stephen Strasburg (he did do it in 2010, but he's not the last). That would be Thomas Diamond of the Cubs, who struck out 10 Brewers on Aug. 3 of that season, but also gave up three runs and took the loss. Harvey, however, earned himself an even better distinction by getting a two-out double and a two-out single in his two plate appearances. Elias says that makes Harvey the first player in modern baseball history (since 1900) to strike out 10-plus batters and get two hits in his major league debut.
  • Chris Johnson had three hits for the Astros on Friday night -- a homer, a triple and a double. He never got the "elusive" single, striking out in his final at-bat. Johnson did walk in the game, but alas, this is not 1887 (the year when walks counted as base hits). That means Johnson became only the fifth player this season to miss the cycle by a single. Paul Goldschmidt (June 23) was the most recent. By comparison, 32 players have needed the homer, 11 the double and 149 the triple.
  • Couldn't let this week end without one leftover Kernel from last Saturday. The Cardinals sent 17 batters to the plate in a 12-run seventh inning against the Cubs. Allen Craig was up third, pinch hitting in the pitcher's spot. He doubled and scored. As the inning continued, Craig came up again as the 12th batter. He doubled and scored again -- thus becoming the first "pinch hitter" to have two doubles before taking the field since Bobby Kielty of the Twins did likewise on June 4, 2002.
    St. Louis went on to hit seven doubles in that inning, a feat accomplished only once before, by the 1936 Boston Bees (the five-year experimental rebranding of the Braves).
    As for the 12 runs in that inning, that turned out to be the only scoring in the game. The Cardinals shut out Chicago 12-0. And that had also happened only once before in MLB history. The Indians scored all 12 runs in the fourth inning to shut out the Yankees on July 2, 1943.
Statistical support for this story provided by Baseball-Reference.com and the Elias Sports Bureau.