SweetSpot: Michael Young

In Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Dodgers, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, grounded into a double play with runners at the corners and one out in the third, struck out in the sixth and then struck out in the ninth with a runner on.

FanGraphs grades Molina's Win Probability Added at -.326, which is pretty bad. (WPA attempts to measure how much each plate appearance influences the team's chance of winning the game, based on the game situation and outcome of the PA.) FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference might calcuate WPA a little differently, but using the B-R search engine I find 99 individual postseason games where a hitter had a WPA of -0.3 or worse.

So Molina's game was bad Wednesday, but it wasn't even the worst in this series -- in part because his two double plays came early in the game. Here are the eight worst WPA games in postseason history with -0.5 WPA or worse.

8. Bert Campaneris, A's, 1972 World Series, Game 5 (-.501 WPA)
In a 5-4 loss to the Reds, he went 0-for-5, including popping into a game-ending double play with runners at the corners. (The play went 4-2, with Blue Moon Odom trying to score on a foul pop.)

7. Jose Canseco, Red Sox, 1995 ALDS, Game 1 (-.503)
In a 5-4 loss in 13 innings, Canseco went 0-for-6, including lining into a double play with two on in the 10th and striking out with two on to end the 12th.

6. Michael Young, Dodgers, 2013 NLCS, Game 1 (-.523)
Young only had two at-bats, but they were killers, as you should remember since they happened just a few days ago on Oct. 11. In the 10th inning, he flew into that inning-ending double play. In the 12th, with two runners on he grounded into another double play.

5. Ron Gant, Braves, 1993 NLCS, Game 5 (-.532)
A 2-1 loss for the Braves, Gant went 0-for-5, the biggest play being a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on.

4. Jeff Kent, Astros, 2004 NLDS, Game 4 (-.542)
Kent went 1-for-5 in a 6-5 loss, but he grounded into a double play in the seventh and a game-ending double play in the ninth with runners at first and third.

3. Reggie Sanders, Reds, 1995 NLCS, Game 1 (-.543)
As you can see, these types of results all come in close games, when one at-bat can swing victory. The Reds lost 2-1 in 11 innings and Sanders had another one of those game-ending double plays with runners at the corners.

2. Cliff Bolton, Senators, 1933 World Series, Game 4 (-.547)
Bolton pinch hit in the bottom of the 11th, down 2-1, bases loaded, one out. He grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. WPA doesn't factor in the pitcher: Carl Hubbell, who went all 11 innings to get the win for the Giants.

1. Felix Millan, Mets, 1973 World Series, Game 2 (-.563)
Millan struck out in the first, grounded out in the third, grounded out with a runner on in the fifth, was intentionally walked in the sixth, flew out in the eighth, flew out into a double play to end the 10th and popped out with runners at first and third and one out in the 12th.

Here's the kicker: The Mets ended up winning the game. After Millan popped out, Willie Mays singled in a run and then Oakland second baseman Mike Andrews made two errors that allowed three more runs to score. (This was the famous incident when A's owner Charlie Finley tried to "fire" Andrews after the game.)

The 10 worst decisions of 2013

September, 27, 2013
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Earlier, I presented the 10 best decisions of 2013. Here are my 10 worst decisions -- moves that were clearly questionable when made. And, no, all 10 do not involve the Phillies.

10. Angels give $125 million to Josh Hamilton. It's easy to forget that Hamilton hit 43 home runs and finished fifth in the MVP voting with the Rangers last season. But that was fueled by a huge first half. A big increase in strikeouts compared to 2011 and an increasingly poor approach at the plate were warning signals that he could be a risky investment. Hamilton salvaged his season a little in the second half, but he's still a guy with a .304 OBP and the Angels will be on the hook for $30 million a season in 2016 and 2017 -- his age 35 and 36 seasons.

9. Rockies give rotation spot to Jeff Francis. Francis had a 5.00 ERA with the Rockies in 2010. He had a 4.82 ERA with the Royals in 2011. He had a 5.58 ERA with the Rockies in 2012. The Rockies thought it was a good idea to give him 11 starts. Look, if three guys get hurt and you have to use Francis to fill in, OK. But 11 starts? He went 2-5 with a 6.61 ERA.

8. Yankees have no backup plan for Derek Jeter. Knowing Jeter's return from last October's broken ankle didn't have an exact timetable, and knowing his defense was an issue even when he was healthy, the Yankees needed an alternative plan -- and, no, Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez weren't good ideas. I advocated early in the season that the Yankees go after defensive whiz Brendan Ryan, a move the team finally made in September. Nix, a .214 career hitter entering the season, didn't hit much and Nunez, a terrible fielder, rated at minus-28 Defensive Runs Saved, the worst total of any player in the majors.

7. Brewers pretend Yuniesky Betancourt is still a major league player. Giving Betancourt 396 plate appearances is kind of like giving up. Betancourt hit .280 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in April. Fake! He was still Yuniesky Betancourt and has hit .189/.215/.287 from May 8 on -- that's 284 PAs. Once it became obvious that April was a fluke, why keep him around all season?

6. Royals count on Jeff Francoeur for more than clubhouse leadership. The Royals believed so much in Francoeur that they traded super prospect Wil Myers to keep Francoeur in right field. Even though Francoeur hit .235/.287/.378 in 2012 and was worth minus-2.3 WAR. As in, way below replacement level. Francoeur played 59 games, struck out 49 times, drew eight walks, hit .208 and was mercifully released on July 5. There also was the Chris Getz problem at second. Or Ned Yost batting Alcides Escobar second for nearly 300 at-bats despite a .274 OBP. Or that Carlos Pena pinch-hit appearance ... if you get the idea that Yost had a bad year, well ...

5. Royals give Wade Davis 24 starts. Part of the controversial Myers-James Shields trade, Davis had pitched very well for Tampa Bay out of the bullpen in 2012, but the Royals decided to return Davis to the rotation, where he had mediocre results in 2010 and 2011 (4.27 ERA). Giving Davis a chance to start wasn't the worst idea, although he wasn't that great as a starter in Tampa considering the Rays' great defense and a pitcher's park. He was better in relief because his fastball ticked up in shorter outings. The big problem here was Yost kept running Davis out there despite a 5.67 ERA and .320 batting average allowed. The Royals have allowed the fewest runs in the AL, but what if Bruce Chen had joined the rotation before mid-July?

4. Mariners think it's a good idea to play Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez in the outfield. Together. OK, we'll be a little fair to GM Jack Zduriencik, who did reportedly acquire Justin Upton, only to see Upton veto the trade. He also pursued Hamilton. So Morse was kind of a Plan C or Plan D, the hope being his bat would make up for his lousy defense. Nope. Morse's defense was predictably awful, plus he didn't hit. When Franklin Gutierrez spent the year raising sheep in Australia instead of playing center field, that forced the Mariners to use Ibanez regularly in left field, giving them two of the worst (the worst?) corner defenders in the majors.

3. Giants stand pat with Barry Zito. OK, he beat Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series, which pretty much justified that $126 million contract all by itself. While it was understandable to open the season with Zito in the rotation -- he was at least serviceable last season before his clutch postseason performances -- you couldn't assume Zito would roll 30 starts again. Zito went 5-11 with a 5.75 ERA as the Giants gave him 25 starts. But that ERA comes courtesy of help from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Zito went a stunning 0-9 on the road with a 9.56 ERA and .401 average allowed. Basically, on the road, the average hitter against Zito was Ted Williams.

2. Angels sign Joe Blanton. Considering Blanton had a 4.79 ERA in the National League over the three previous seasons, the odds that he would perform better moving over to the American League seemed slim. There may have been some belief that Blanton's fly-ball tendencies would work in Anaheim. Wishful thinking. He went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. Meanwhile, the Angels let Ervin Santana go, and he had a great year for the Royals.

1. The Phillies go Young. Let's see. Delmon Young and Michael Young were worth a combined minus-2.8 WAR in 2012, with the Defensive Runs Saved statistic suggesting both were lousy defenders. Ruben Amaro flouted advanced metrics and acquired both players. They combined for minus-2.3 WAR while with the Phillies. On a perhaps related note, the Phillies have allowed the second-most runs in the NL.

Dodgers' addition of Young a no-risk assist

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This late in the season, the Dodgers are cruising to win the NL West, so why would they make a move and trade for Michael Young?

One big reason is that third base has been the Dodgers’ weakest slot on offense: Through Friday’s action, Dodger third basemen had among their position players put up a lineup-low .646 OPS. Most of that was other people bringing down what they were getting from Juan Uribe, and Uribe’s .722 OPS at that point was identical to Young’s mark. Add in Uribe’s significantly better defense (plus-9 Defensive Runs Saved to Young’s minus-17 at third this year), and you might still wonder what the point of getting Young was.
[+] EnlargeMichael Young
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesMichael Young still swings a quick enough bat against fastballs to help the Dodgers.

To that, I’d make two points. First, this shouldn’t be a one-for-one change in the lineup. Maybe Young gets the job at third base, maybe not. Of course you’re not going to platoon Uribe and Young at third, not in the traditional sense: They’re both right-handed, and they’re both not doing as well against lefties as they have in the past.

But you could play matchup games and use both of them, going by the opposing pitcher’s stuff, not handedness. Young has been hitting fastballs effectively this year (worth 5.0 runs above average on fastballs, per FanGraphs) and he’s stronger on sliders as well (1.7 above average), while Uribe isn’t as strong against those pitches but is in the black against curveballs and changeups -- which Young has fared much less well against. So, maybe we could look forward to some interesting mix-and-match possibilities at the hot corner for the Dodgers down the stretch, as Don Mattingly gets used to having both and deciding which one he’s more comfortable with on his lineup card against different pitchers.

Beyond that, there’s also the depth to the roster that Young adds for the Dodgers at positions beyond third base. While Uribe used to be a good shortstop and still is a good third baseman, he hasn’t played short since last year, and not for any serious amount of time since 2010. And he hasn’t played much second base since 2011. So he isn’t really a great choice to bump back into a utility role to make up for what Jerry Hairston Jr. hasn’t been able to do -- but Young might be able to.

After all, Young was able and willing to bound around the diamond for the Rangers in 2011 and 2012 while playing every day; while his defense at second base wouldn’t be anything to get excited about, slotting him against particular pitchers while someone like Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke pitching -- pitchers who don’t allow a lot of balls in play in the first place -- the Dodgers could net an offensive benefit they might not get from the sporadically healthy Mark Ellis, the punchless Nick Punto or the used-up Hairston.

But the most important consideration is this: Would you really want to bank on Juan Uribe in this season, after he’d already given the Dodgers two disastrously awful seasons peppered by injuries? As insurance moves go, it’s a nice one to have made, for third base, but also more than just third base. Given the Dodgers didn’t give up a prospect they’ll miss and only have to pay for the benefit, it’s a low-risk, some-possible-reward pickup they might have reason to appreciate in short order.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
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It's another edition of SweetSpot TV!

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Eric and I discuss four pairs of teammates who have been big disappointments.

I realize now we didn't talk about the Blue Jays -- and we should have, considering they were viewed as potential World Series favorites by many heading into the season. I guess their disappointing duo would lead with Josh Johnson (2-8, 6.20 ERA); he could be joined by R.A. Dickey (9-11, 4.46 ERA) or Melky Cabrera (.279, three home runs) or Ricky Romero (stuck in the minors, unable to throw strikes). The Jays have had injuries but they've also had plenty of bad performances.

Which team has been most disappointing? I still go with the Nationals, but you can make a good case for the Blue Jays, Angels, Phillies or the defending champion Giants. What do you think?


There’s never a better time to overreact than on the eve of the trade deadline! General managers, their assistants, their scouts, their special advisors and their stat geeks in the front office have spent weeks assessing their own talent and that of other organizations. But one night can change everything.

Some thoughts on Tuesday's news, rumors and game results ...

Who needs Jake Peavy when you have Brandon Workman! The Red Sox have won the Peavy Sweepstakes, although I don’t know if that means winning the lottery or cashing in your $10 prize at 7-Eleven. Peavy’s injury history (long) and home run issues (14 in 80 innings) make him a wild card acquisition; this isn’t the same thing as trading for Cliff Lee, or even close to trading for Cliff Lee.

Peavy, however, comes a lot cheaper. The Red Sox got to keep all their top prospects and surrendered only slick-fielding Jose Iglesias, who has a superficially good .330/.376/.406 batting line with the Red Sox in 215 at-bats. He’s not close to a .300 hitter, let alone a .330 hitter. A few weeks ago I looked at all his hits and they featured an unsustainable number of infield singles, five-hoppers that sneaked through and bloopers just over the heads of infielders. In July, he’s hitting .205 with one extra-base hit in 83 at-bats and he’s a career .244/.296/.292 hitter in Triple-A in nearly 1,000 plate appearances. But he can pick it at shortstop (or third base, where he’s been playing a lot for the Red Sox) and I suppose there’s a small chance that he could improve at the plate, a la Omar Vizquel.

So good job by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to sell high on Iglesias, even if Peavy is more of a No. 3-4 starter than a 1 or 2. But acquiring Iglesias makes sense for the Tigers, who will likely see shortstop Jhonny Peralta get suspended any day now in the fallout from the Biogenesis investigation. Iglesias will be an improvement over Peralta on defense -- although Peralta’s minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved haven’t hurt the team as much Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, both rated at minus-10 at the corner infield spots.

The White Sox get Avisail Garcia in the deal, a player scouts like a lot but sabermetric types are skeptical about, due to a low walk rate in the minors. Still, if he puts it together, there’s a lot of upside there. Put me in the skeptical category; probably a big league regular, but I don’t foresee a star player.

The Braves can stand pat. When Detroit’s Alex Avila hit that grand slam off Stephen Strasburg as the Braves were crushing the Rockies, it seems a symbolic moment of the Nationals’ 2013 season to me. They’re now 10 games behind the Braves and the Braves only have seven games left against teams currently over .500. At least the Nationals won’t have to worry about Strasburg’s innings in October.

So the Braves don’t have to make a deal, plus Alex Wood’s strong outing against the Rockies means he should get a few more turns through the rotation. With Peavy off the market, there isn’t really a starter who is a guaranteed upgrade anyway, other than Cliff Lee and he’ll cost a fortune.

You don’t win division titles on paper. Ignore the run differentials. Ignore the recent histories. The Pirates now have the best record in baseball after sweeping Tuesday’s doubleheader and lead the NL Central. Not that the Cardinals organization ever panics or overreacts, but Cardinals fans are certainly tired of seeing Matt Holliday ground into double plays (he’s done that 24 times, giving him a chance to catch Jim Rice’s single-season record of 36) and some dude named Brandon Cumpton shut them down in the second game. Maybe the Cardinals do make a move.

The Pirates should still get a bat. This is one reason we love the trade deadline: When the Cubs signed Nate Schierholtz in the offseason for $2.25 million -- $29.75 million less than Josh Hamilton will make in 2016 and again in 2017 -- it wasn’t exactly headline news. Now he’s viewed as a must-have acquisition for the Pirates because he’s slugging over .500 and Pirates right fielders have the lowest OPS in the majors.

The Orioles should get a bat as well. Chris Davis did hit a big home run a 4-3 win over the Astros, but he and Manny Machado haven’t matched their first-half exploits. The bottom four hitters in Tuesday’s lineup had on-base percentages of .302, .295, .273 and .293. Their DHs are hitting .200. They should be able to find an upgrade. Getting a pitcher would be sexier -- well, if that pitcher were Cliff Lee -- but a hitter would add more depth to an already solid lineup.

Michael Young is great! Hey, forget that he has -0.6 WAR this season, he went 2-for-4 with a home run on Tuesday. His trade value just shot up. Plus he’s a veteran presence in the clubhouse! Warning: Has the range of a flower vase at third base. Beware of defensive risks if employing full time at the hot corner. The Rangers need a hitter, but at least in their case it would be to use Young at DH or first base.

Who needs a third baseman when you have Juan Uribe! Uribe hit a 441-foot home run off Andy Pettitte and is hitting a respectable .263/.335/.406. The Dodgers may do just as well playing Uribe as acquiring some of the lackluster options for third (Young, Aramis Ramirez) or acquiring a shortstop and moving Hanley Ramirez to third (he's hitting so well, don't mess with him right now).

The Indians have momentum (if momentum existed in baseball). They started nine guys on Tuesday and the guy batting ninth had the highest slugging percentage in the lineup. (That’s Yan Gomes, hitting .291 and slugging .520.) They’ve won six in row after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat the White Sox. They acquired Marc Rzepczynski from the Cardinals to add a second lefty to the bullpen but acquiring another starter or reliever would help.

Zack Wheeler is the second coming of Matt Harvey. This is one reason we love the trade deadline, part 2: The hope that the prospect your team acquires can turn into Zack Wheeler and flash the no-hit stuff like Wheeler did against the Marlins. Two years ago, the Mets got Wheeler from the Giants for Carlos Beltran. There may not be a Wheeler in this year's crop of trades -- there rarely are -- but you never know.

Cameron Diaz fed popcorn to Alex Rodriguez. Wait ... that didn’t happen on Tuesday? Ahh, those were simpler times.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers have talked about a deal that would send the Rangers' all-time hits leader, Michael Young, back to Texas. But sources familiar with those discussions described those talks as exploratory and said no deal is close.

The Rangers, who dealt Young to Philadelphia this past winter, have been hunting for a right-handed bat but haven't come close to landing one, according to multiple sources who have spoken with them.

Their targets have included Alex Rios of the White Sox, Hunter Pence of the Giants, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse of the Mariners, Justin Ruggiano of the Marlins, and others. Because Texas would prefer to acquire an outfielder, third baseman Young is considered mostly a back-burner possibility.

However, teams that have talked with the Phillies say they've shifted course in the past 24 to 48 hours, after a six-game losing streak that has dropped them nine games back in the NL East and 9½ behind in the wild-card standings.

Before this streak, the Phillies had been looking to add bullpen arms and outfield bats. However, they're now telling clubs they're open to listening to offers on players such as Young, catcher Carlos Ruiz, closer Jonathan Papelbon and even players such as Cliff Lee.

ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reported Friday that the Phillies had gotten recent offers on Lee from multiple teams. To which their general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., responded:

“I never put any real absolutes on anything. Although we don't have any desire to move a guy like that because we view him as someone who will be key to our future, I am a businessperson, as well, and I'll be a good listener.

“I can't sit here and say I'm not going to trade Chase [Utley] or Cliff, or Michael Young, or Chooch [Ruiz], or any of these guys. Some guys are less tradable than others. But I think I owe it to us as an organization to listen. If teams are going to come at us and suggest things, I'm not going to turn off the faucet and stop listening to them.”

Sources say the Phillies would need to be overwhelmed to trade Lee, even in the wake of their agreement Friday to sign Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who is viewed as being likely to pitch in their rotation as soon as next season. However, they’re said to be more open to trading Young, who can be a free agent after this season and is unlikely to re-sign in Philadelphia.
Throughout July we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central so far, and are now on the AL West.

THE TEAM: Texas Rangers

THE YEAR: 2007

THE SITUATION: The Rangers were in the midst of another losing season, their seventh in eight seasons. Second-year general manager Jon Daniels had a rather unique idea to inject more talent into the organization: Trade first baseman Mark Teixeira, even though he wasn't set to be a free agent until after the 2008 season. Since Teixeira was a Scott Boras client, the Rangers knew he'd test free agency and, in the wake of the Alex Rodriguez contract, they weren't keen on giving out another mega-contract. Why not trade him now and extract more value than they'd be able to get in a year?


THE TRADE: The Rangers' recent run of success has been built on several excellent deadline deals -- Michael Young from the Blue Jays in 2000 for Esteban Loaiza; Nelson Cruz and Carlos Lee from the Brewers in 2006 for Francisco Cordero; David Murphy from the Red Sox in 2007 for Eric Gagne; and Cliff Lee from the Mariners in 2010. But this deal rates as the best one: On July 31, 2007, the Rangers acquired minor leaguers Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz plus catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Teixeira. The prospects were certainly a risk; Andrus was hitting .244 in Class A, Feliz was pitching in the Appalachian League and Harrison had mediocre numbers in Double-A. If anything, Saltalamacchia, who had already reached the majors with the Braves, was the top guy in the deal, Baseball America's No. 36 prospect before the season.

THE AFTERMATH: Teixeira posted a 1.020 OPS with the Braves, but they missed the playoffs anyway. The next year, they'd trade him to the Angels at the deadline, acquiring Casey Kotchman. Andrus, Feliz and Harrison have all been All-Stars with the Rangers and compiled 29.9 cumulative WAR -- although have been of little value in 2013, with Feliz injured, Harrison making just two starts so far and Andrus having a terrible year at the plate. Saltalamacchia didn't pan out in Texas and was later traded to the Red Sox.


The Philadelphia Phillies are 23-24, they've been outscored by 31 runs, Roy Halladay is on the disabled list, Ryan Howard hasn't hit and Cole Hamels can't win. So the Phillies eventually will be sellers at the trade deadline, right? I don't think so. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. Cliff Lee is an ace.

Remember him? Finished third in the Cy Young voting back in 2011. Pitches 200-plus innings every year. Can throw a fastball over a postage stamp while blindfolded. He's still pretty good. OK, his three-hit shutout Wednesday came against the Marlins. It still counts. He's 5-2, his ERA is 2.48, he's one inning shy of leading the majors in innings pitched and opponents are hitting .227 against him. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball.

2. Cole Hamels will pitch better.

Hamels is 1-7 with a 4.45 ERA and has struggled with his command. The Phillies have won just one of his 10 starts. In a way, this is good news. You really think Hamels will go 3-21? That the Phillies will win just three of the 30 or so starts Hamels will make? Of course not. So the fact that the Phillies are 23-24 while playing worse than the Marlins or Astros when Hamels pitches means they could easily be worse than 23-24. But they're not.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Alan DiazPhillies lefty Cliff Lee improved to 5-2 with a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Marlins.
3. Kyle Kendrick is actually good now.

As Bill Baer wrote at the end of April, this is a new-and-improved Kendrick over the previous mediocre editions. Basically, Kendrick has stopped throwing so many cutters to left-handers and started using his changeup more often. It has given him a strikeout pitch against lefties and helped hold them to a .240/.290/.380 (BA/OBP/SLG) line against him this season, a big improvement compared to the .268/.341/.458 mark from 2010 to 2012.

4. Michael Young hasn't been horrible.

He hasn't been great, hitting .287 with just one home run, but for some reason, he has started drawing walks (23 this year compared to 33 all of last season with the Rangers). That's given him a fine .378 on-base percentage. If he keeps that walk rate up, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel should actually consider moving him into the leadoff spot -- especially considering Young's tendency to ground into rally-killing double plays (11, most in the majors). It's not so much that he hasn't been a big positive, but he hasn't been the gaping wound many sabermetric analysts projected. Take that, smart guys!

5. Delmon Young isn't good at baseball.

No, no, no, this is another good thing. The Phillies will eventually realize they'll need a better right fielder. Can you say Andre Ethier? Actually, he and Young would make a nice platoon.

6. The bullpen will do better.

The Phillies rank 27th in the majors with a 4.67 bullpen ERA. I think they have enough quality arms down there (14th in strikeout percentage, for example) to improve. Well, assuming Chad Durbin doesn't keep getting used.

7. The Nationals just might not be that good.

The Phillies are just one game behind the Nationals in the standings. Their run differentials are nearly the same -- minus-26 for Washington, minus-31 for Philadelphia -- but nobody is suggesting the Nationals sell off. That still leaves the Braves, a team the Phillies still have to play 16 times. In fact, the Phillies haven't played the Nationals yet, so they have 19 games remaining against them. So, umm ... they control their own destiny!

8. Even if the Phillies decide to dump, what do they have to dump?

OK, you could trade Chase Utley, but you're not going to get a franchise prospect in return for three months of Utley's services (yes, everyone can point to the Mets getting Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran in 2011, but that's a rarity). You could trade Lee, although his salary is so high -- $25 million each of the next two years with a possible $27.5 million vesting option in 2016 -- that he might not bring much in return, either. You're not going to get anything for Delmon Young or Michael Young. In other words, trading assets isn't really the way to start a youth movement because you don't have valuable assets to deal. That leaves general manager Ruben Amaro with the option of trying to acquire players other teams might be looking to dump -- such as an Ethier, who probably wouldn't cost much if the Phillies are willing to absorb part of his contract.

9. Roy Halladay might return this year.

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He just headed to Florida to begin rehabbing from his shoulder surgery, and everyone is hopeful he can return in late August. Hey, you never know.

10. Big-market teams don't give up!

Well, OK, the Red Sox did a year ago, but that's because the Dodgers offered a gift too generous to turn down. The Phillies aren't going to find a taker for Howard's contract.

Look, I don't believe the Phillies are good enough to beat the Braves or Nationals, but the wild card isn't a crazy impossibility. They have a tougher schedule ahead, with 35 games left against the Braves and Nationals and only 19 against the Marlins and Mets. Manuel's resistance to doing things such as platooning Howard or admitting that Delmon Young can't or shouldn't play right field is an obstacle. Michael Young might stop drawing walks. Utley just missed a game with a sore rib cage, so who knows when he'll miss a chunk of action.

If the Phillies trade for a couple of bats in the outfield, however, you never know. It certainly doesn't seem in Amaro's nature to concede a playoff berth. Look for the Phillies to be buyers.
Cliff Lee on former Rangers teammate Michael Young, and now teammate on the Phillies, on how the Rangers handled him, from Jayson Stark's story:
"I think that baffled a lot of people who were around that organization. Like I said, he was the heart and soul of that team for a long time, and I can't understand their thinking on a few of the moves they made with him. He's a really good player. I don't know why you wouldn't just let him do his thing."

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon on the team's 2012 season:
"It was an all-around leadership void from A to Z. From being a vocal leader to being an off-the-field leader to being an on-the-field leader to everything. You can't just point your finger at what type of leadership was missing. It was the whole part of the equation. Our team identity is formed by that leadership."

One of the issues detractors of sabermetrics originally had -- and still have, I suppose -- is that it treats players like a line of numbers on an actuary's report, that the game loses some (or all) of its soul when you start ignoring the heart and the makeup and the leadership qualities of individuals and as a team. The game can't boil down to numbers! Not when human beings are involved.

Thus, you get Lee saying the Rangers treated Young -- a well-respected veteran, a guy perceived as a leader in the clubhouse and grinder on the field, plus a perennial All-Star to boot -- poorly. First they moved him off shortstop. Then they tried to trade him. Then they moved him off third base. Then they did trade him.

The numbers said Young had no range at shortstop. The Rangers also had this kid named Elvin Andrus ready to play there. The numbers then said Young was also pretty bad at third base. They also had the opportunity to sign a better player in Adrian Beltre. The numbers said that Young hit .277 in 2012, but that his Wins Above Replacement was -2.4, not exactly the kind of production you expect from a player making $16 million a year.

You see, you're not supposed to do that to veterans, make them change positions, disrespect their place on the team, treat them like they're as disposable as a one-night stand in Cleveland. And there is some truth there: In a perfect world, of course, you want a symbiotic relationship between the front office, the field staff and the players. Perfect worlds don't exist; the front office is trying to build the best possible team. The Rangers were better off moving Young off shortstop, they were better off moving him off third base and they're probably better off not having him on their roster in 2013.

Yes, Young did a lot of good things for the Rangers in his career. For his services, the Rangers paid him the handsome total of nearly $75 million. I would suggest that gives the Rangers the right do what is in the best interest of the ballclub.

To his credit, Stark writes that Lee did later backtrack, acknowledging the Rangers' success in recent years -- World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and a playoff trip in 2012. Hey, he should be happy the Phillies now have a leader for 2013, since they apparently lacked one in 2012.

As for Papelbon, I would suggest the "lack of leadership" clause is the poorest way possible to analyze a club's season. Certainly, the Phillies must have had enough "leadership" from 2007 to 2011, when they won five straight division titles. Did Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay suddenly stop leading in 2012? Or was the team's disappointing season more tied to the injuries of Utley, Howard and Halladay, not to mention the early season of failures of Papelbon and his bullpen mates?

This doesn't mean leadership doesn't exist in a clubhouse or on the field, especially from veteran players taking a youngster under their wing or the players -- like Michael Young -- who lead by example with all-out play on the field. The trouble with leadership is its prescribed after the fact: Good teams always have it and bad teams never do. Did the Phillies lose on May 7 due to a lack of leadership or because Papelbon served up a three-run homer in the ninth? Did the Phillies lose on July 5 due to a lack of leadership or because Papelbon gave up a double, walk, hit batter and two singles to blow a lead in the ninth? Did the Phillies lose other games because Charlie Manuel refused to use Papelbon in tie games, or heaven forbid for more than three outs, or due to a lack of leadership?

Baseball players are really, really good at playing baseball. They're fantastic at their jobs, better than most of us will ever be at ours. They're great at breaking down the nuances of the game, explaining how they throw a curveball or how to set up for a relay from the outfield or telling you what pitch a guy will throw in a certain count.

They're not necessarily skilled at explaining why some teams win and some teams don't.

Power rankings: All 30 teams!

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
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Last weekend, I presented the top 10 teams in my personal power rankings. That was before the Blue Jays officially acquired R.A. Dickey, so I updated my top 10 after that trade, and, to spur on more debate, now present the rest of my rankings. Agree or disagree, but I do think this is the most parity we've seen in a long time. It's why the Orioles and A's were able to surprise this past season and why we will undoubtedly see another surprise team in 2013. It's a great time to be a baseball fan.

1. Nationals
Most talented rotation in the majors, deep lineup, depth. Re-signing Adam LaRoche to add another lefty power bat will help.

2. Reds
Superb rotation could be better if the Aroldis Chapman transition works, bullpen is deep enough to absorb his loss and Shin-Soo Choo provides a needed leadoff hitter.

3. Yankees
I think they can stretch things out more season with a deep rotation, excellent bullpen and power. Remember, they had the largest run differential in the American League last season.

4. Tigers
Deep rotation, great 1-2 punch with Miggy and Prince, and Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez should improve the lineup.

5. Braves
Left-handed power, power bullpen and a young team that could improve from last year's 94 wins.

6. Blue Jays
Addition of Dickey adds a needed No. 1 to a rotation that could be dominant if Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow remain healthy.

7. A's
Young teams that show big improvement are usually for real, and this team has a solid rotation, a strong outfield and power arms in the bullpen.

8. Dodgers
Have to love the Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke combo and an offense with big upside if Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez come close to 2011 levels.

9. Rangers
I think the rotation is playoff-caliber with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis.

SportsNation

Which of these five teams should be No. 1 right now?

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Discuss (Total votes: 35,031)

10. Cardinals
Have to replace Kyle Lohse, but they'll score plenty of runs as long as Carlos Beltran (36 years old in April) and Matt Holliday (33 in January) keep producing.

11. Rays
Still some holes in the lineup, and replacing James Shields' 220-plus innings won't be that easy, but underestimate the Rays at your own risk.

12. Angels
Oddsmaker Bovada.lv has the Angels with the second-best odds to win the World Series (behind the Blue Jays), but I see a rotation with a lot of question marks behind Jered Weaver, and Josh Hamilton only replaces Hunter, who was terrific in 2012.

13. Giants
I discussed my issues with the Giants here. I could be wrong, although our friends at Bovada only put the Giants tied for ninth in their World Series odds.

14. Diamondbacks
Their run differential wasn't much different than the Giants last year, and they've added Brandon McCarthy, infield depth and still have Justin Upton.

15. Phillies
I want to say we're all underestimating a team that includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but then I see an outfield of Darin Ruf, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, and an infield defense that includes Michael Young and Ryan Howard and 30-somethings Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

16. Brewers
They can score runs -- most in the National League last season -- and if the bullpen regroups after 2012's gruesome late-inning efforts, this team could surprise.

17. Red Sox
There will be no expectations after the disaster in 2012 (the franchise's worst record since 1965), but I see a big rebound coming.

18. Royals
I'll buy -- but I'm not buying a playoff spot. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to take huge leaps forward ... or the Royals could be headed for another rebuild.

19. Orioles
Last season's 93-win playoff team provided a beautiful ride, but the Orioles haven't added that big bat they need.

20. Padres
Young team is moving in the right direction after winning 76 games in 2012. Can rotation improve to push Pads over .500?

21. Mariners
Mariners have pursued a big bat all offseason but were only able to pick up Kendrys Morales, and he cost them Jason Vargas, opening up a 200-inning hole in the rotation. Looks like 2014 before Mariners can make a push in the tough AL West.

22. Pirates
Still no No. 1 or even No. 2 starter (sorry, A.J. Burnett is a No. 3 at best) and not enough support for Andrew McCutchen. One of these years, Pirates fans, one of these years.

23. White Sox
No A.J. Pierzynski, a declining Paul Konerko, good year/off year Alex Rios due for an off year. Then again, White Sox had a bigger run differential in 2012 than the Tigers.

24. Cubs
Rotation of Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman could be competitive, but offense won't be.

25. Mets
At least Mets fans can dream of a future rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese and Noah Syndergaard. Unfortunately, the 2013 version still includes Frank Francisco and a bunch of fourth outfielders.

26. Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton still makes this team worth watching on a daily basis.

27. Indians
Getting Trevor Bauer in the Choo deal added a much-needed starting pitcher prospect. Unfortunately, much of the rest of rotation remains suspect.

28. Twins
Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey ... what, Rich Robertson and Sean Bergman weren't available?

29. Rockies
At least the Twins have a direction as they wait for young position players to reach the majors. I have no clue what the Rockies are doing, intend to do, want to do, wish to do or hope to achieve.

30. Astros
Welcome to the AL West, boys.
I joined Eric Karabell on the Baseball Today podcast to discuss all the latest from the winter meetings, including the rumors of Josh Hamilton going to Seattle and Michael Young being traded to Philadelphia. Plus actual signings like Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino and Eric Chavez, the Ben Revere trade to the Phillies and why the Yankees aren't making any moves.
video

The Atlanta Braves playing a wild-card game where they committed three throwing errors, got burned on a controversial umpire’s call, and saw their fans delay the game after littering the field with debris?

Sure, I can envision all that happening.

But Joe Saunders doing this? Delivering 77 pitches of one-run baseball in his own personal house of horrors against a lineup that should devour a pitcher like him?

No way did I see that coming.

Welcome to postseason baseball. You just never know.

Here’s what the numbers said about Saunders: 0-6 in six career starts in Arlington with a 9.38 ERA. In 2012, right-handed batters hit .307/.349/.500 off him, meaning the typical righty becomes something akin to Albert Pujols or Adam Jones against Saunders. All 21 home runs he allowed were hit by right-handers.

The Rangers had eight right-handed batters in their lineup. Most with power.

So of course the Orioles eliminated the Rangers 5-1, on a night where Yu Darvish pitched well but received no support.

What I liked about Buck Showalter’s approach in this game is he clearly he had a plan. Certainly, it becomes it easier to execute that plan when your players perform. But he knew that given a tight game, Saunders wouldn’t pitch past Josh Hamilton (lefty on lefty, and Saunders crushed lefties this season) and Adrian Beltre (who hit much better against righties). So when Nelson Cruz came up with two out and nobody on with the Orioles leading 2-1 in the sixth, that was it for Saunders. No gambling by Showalter. No leaving in Saunders to give up a game-tying home run.

[+] EnlargeJoe Saunders
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJoe Saunders held the potent Rangers offense to a single run in its home park.
In the eighth, he knew he had another lefty waiting for Hamilton and Brian Matusz blew him away on three pitches. But he also left in Darren O'Day to start the inning -- instead of going to Pedro Strop -- because O'Day had cruised through four batters with just 14 pitches. O'Day ended up pitching two innings of one-hit relief.

Showalter had the bullpen stirring in the first inning when Saunders ran into trouble. He wasn’t going to let the game get away early from the Orioles. And you know Showalter had a plan if he needed to remove Saunders in the third inning or the fifth inning. Compare that to Fredi Gonzalez, who couldn’t figure out how to get Craig Kimbrel, who had the most dominant relief season in history, into the game until the Braves already trailed 6-3. Gonzalez had only one contingency plan for Kimbrel: Use him in a save situation.

Or compare to Ron Washington, who started Geovany Soto at catcher and Mike Napoli at designated hitter, but then lost his DH spot when he pinch-hit for Soto and inserted Napoli behind the plate. This potential problem could have been avoided by simply starting Napoli at first base and Michael Young at DH. The defensive advantage wasn’t so great as to be concern; Young ended up making a crucial first-inning error that led to an unearned run anyway.

Let’s not give too much credit to Showalter, however. Give it to Saunders, of course, for battling his way through 5 2/3 innings. After that, it wasn’t a surprise the Baltimore bullpen closed it out. That’s been the strength all season for a team that was 74-0 when leading after seven innings and 75-1 when leading after eight innings. Closer Jim Johnson's job got a little easier in ninth when the Orioles scored twice off Joe Nathan to pad their 3-1 lead. As is, the Rangers got the tying run to the plate with two out but Johnson got David Murphy to fly out to end it.

For the Rangers, it was the finale of a fairly epic collapse, leading the American League West by five games with nine to play, yet going 4-9 down the stretch and losing the division title on the final day of the season. The Rangers have shown us just how tough it is to win a World Series: They lost it in 2010, were one strike away in 2011 and now go home in bitter disappointment.

This anger was summed up when the fans booed Hamilton after he struck out in the eighth. Think about it: Miguel Cabrera hit 44 home runs and drove in 139 runs and Tigers fans think he had the greatest season of all time. Hamilton hit 43 home runs and drove in 128 and he gets booed. I know Hamilton had a strange season, but if that was his final game with Rangers, it seems a sad way to go out considering all the great memories he’s given Rangers fans.

For the Orioles, the miracle run continues against the hated Yankees. The best part of all this: Orioles fans will get a home playoff game, their first since 1997. The Orioles actually clinched a playoff spot on a plane ride to Tampa, so this will be a chance to acknowledge their fans and for the fans to acknowledge this magical season.

Not to mention the chance to beat the Yankees.

The Texas Rangers took over possession of first place in the American League West on April 9, the fourth game of the season. They held that position every day since then, all by themselves, 182 consecutive days.

Until now.

Now they're in danger of ... well, I don't know exactly what to label it. It's not a collapse like last year's Red Sox and Braves suffered; the Red Sox went 7-20 in September, the Braves 9-18. Those teams did fall apart.

The Rangers haven't exactly done that. They went 15-13 in September but have gone 0-2 in October and now they're tied for first place and have a winner-to-take all showdown Wednesday afternoon, Ryan Dempster taking on A.J. Griffin.

If momentum does exist in baseball -- and I'm in that group believes it doesn't -- then the A's certainly own it. They're riding this wave like Laird Hamilton on the north shore of Maui. Sure, it's not exactly a winner-take-all game, since the Rangers would still back into the wild-card game on Friday against the Orioles or Yankees.

[+] EnlargeRon Washington
AP Photo/Ben MargotRon Washington's refusal to tinker much with his lineup is one reason for Texas' predicament.
But that's how it would feel: Backing in. And that's not the situation the Rangers expected to be in last Monday, when they beat the A's in the first game of a four-game series to take a 5-game lead with nine games left.

Look, the Rangers have won 93 games, but they're not this powerhouse we've sort of assumed they were all season, and not just because of injuries to their rotation. (I'm not diminishing the effect of those, but keep in the mind A's lost Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson at various points.)

Issue No. 1: Ron Washington's determination to stick with Michael Young. His artificially OK batting line of .277/.313/.370 masks that he just isn't very good. His OPS+ of 78 is higher than just four other AL qualifiers -- Mike Aviles, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar and Jemile Weeks. Those guys are all middle infielders; Young is the team's primary designated hitter. We get it; Young is a respected veteran making a lot of money who helped the Rangers reach the past two World Series. This is a case where the front office needed to step in and acquire a better player or tell Washington to give those at-bats to somebody else.

As we've seen these past two nights in Oakland, the Rangers aren't the same offensive juggernaut away from Arlington.

Home: .285/.347/.473
Road: .262/.321/.423 (before Tuesday's game)

Ian Kinsler may be the biggest culprit here. His dead-pull swing works great in the left-field launching pad in Texas, where he's hit .293 with 14 home runs. But on the road he's hit .223 with five home runs. Yet Washington continues to him leadoff because he's the leadoff hitter and Washington prefers a set lineup.

The front office also could have upgraded first base. Rangers first basemen (mostly Mitch Moreland) -- despite playing in a great hitter's park -- rank 12th in the AL in OBP, 12th in home runs and 12th in RBIs.

But mostly this is a reminder that pennants aren't won on paper. The Rangers had eight All-Stars this season; the A's just one. The Rangers signed Roy Oswalt and traded for Dempster. The A's called up more rookies.

The A's will start one of those rookies on Wednesday in Griffin. But when the Rangers dig in against him, they won't see a rookie: They'll see a rival.
Buster Olney's Insider blog this morning was headlined: Why the Rangers can't trade Profar, Olt .

As the Cliff Lee rumors heat up, I have to agree with Buster. I'd keep Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. While Profar is surely off-limits, Olt would undoubtedly be the main prospect the Phillies would demand in a Lee trade.

I don't think it's worth it for Texas and I say this as someone who believes prospects get overhyped this time of year. Three reasons to avoid the Lee trade and keep Olt:

1. First off, the Rangers aren't as desperate for pitching as everyone seems to believe. Look at the AL leaders in runs allowed per game:

A's: 3.69
Rays: 3.97
Angels: 3.98
Yankees: 4.00
Mariners: 4.03
Rangers: 4.13
White Sox: 4.16
Tigers: 4.36

OK, the Rangers are four-tenths of a run per game worse than the A's, but right in line with the rest of the top AL playoff contenders. But the Rangers play in the best hitter's park in the American League. The Rangers actually lead the AL in road ERA, which doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture since they do get to play in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. And, yes, the Angels upgraded with Zack Greinke and the Rangers are without Colby Lewis the rest of the season, but away from home the Rangers have allowed 3.90 runs per game and the Angels 4.54. Scott Feldman has been pitching well of late, Neftali Feliz may return soon and there's a good chance Derek Holland will pitch better. You can win with this staff.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCliff Lee has struggled this season and is 1-6 with a 3.95 ERA.
2. Cliff Lee doesn't guarantee anything.

This is maybe the most important point of all: Anything can happen in the playoffs. How much does Lee increase your odds of winning the World Series? Sure, if he pitches like he did in his first eight career postseason starts (7-0, 1.26 ERA) he helps a lot. Of course, neither the 2009 Phillies nor 2010 Rangers won it all, despite Lee's artistry. But in his last three postseason starts he went 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA and 26 hits in 15 innings. There's also the issue that Lee just hasn't been that effective of late, with a 5.20 ERA over his past eight starts. Lee supporters will point to a .348 BABIP over that span as a sign of bad luck, while others will point to the four home runs he allowed his last start. Lee has also strugged against AL teams; in four starts, he's 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA with a corresponding dip in batting average allowed and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He doesn't get to beat up lineups like the Astros or Dodgers in the AL.

So Lee is enough of a wild card that you would have to hesitate about giving up six years of Mike Olt's potential for a guy with a huge contract (more than $100 million remaining if his final years vests) who improves your World Series chances, what, 2 percent? 5 percent? Zero percent? Is Lee an upgrade over Feldman or Feliz? Probably. Is he a huge upgrade? Not necessarily.

3. Mike Olt can help the Rangers.

Olt is hitting .291/.405/.592 in Double-A. Yes, those numbers would likely decline at the major league level, but I believe he'd easily outproduce Michael Young right now. Young is hitting .268/.298/.347. He hasn't homered in nearly 300 plate appearances, doesn't walk and has hit .245 since May 8. Among players with 250 PAs, Young has the 11th-worst OPS+ in the majors. Other than Justin Smoak, everyone worse than him is a middle-of-the-diamond player. Young plays first base and DH.

With Olt, the Rangers' best lineups would look like something like this:

versus left-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mike Olt
DH Michael Young
CF Craig Gentry

Versus right-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
DH Mike Olt

Additionally, as Buster writes, Olt would be vital to the Rangers' future. Hamilton is a free agent and may not be worth a huge contract, especially in light of his recent struggles and Nolan Ryan's frustration with Hamilton's swing-at-everything approach. Cruz has one more season until free agency and isn't the type of player you want to gamble on with a long-term contract. Young has one more season but may be done. So while Beltre (signed potentially through 2016) blocks Olt's path at third base, that doesn't mean the Rangers can't slide him to first base where Moreland is a platoon guy at best, or maybe a corner outfield position. With Profar, you could easily slide him to second base and move Kinsler to left field. Keeping Profar and Olt gives the Rangers two Grade A prospects to build around for the future, keeping money in the bank as needed for other additions.

And I don't believe it hurts their chances at winning the World Series this year.

Kenny Williams never seems to get a lot of respect.

During his tenure as Chicago White Sox general manager, which began after the 2000 season, he's built two division winners, including the 2005 World Series champions. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his reign is that the White Sox are always competitive. They've been under .500 just three times, but two of those were 79-83. He's done this despite lacking the monster payrolls of teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies; despite only once having a pick better than 12th in the first round of the draft; despite never having a franchise superstar like Barry Bonds to build around or pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, like Brian Sabean has had with the Giants; despite a farm system -- in part because of ownership's unwillingness to spend in the draft and because of that lack of high picks -- that usually ranks near the bottom (Keith Law and Baseball America both ranked the White Sox system 30th heading into the season).

What I like about Williams is he never gives up. He's always trying to win, to build the best team he can given his resources. He never craters, never commits to a complete teardown and embarrassing on-field product, such as the one you're seeing from the Astros, Williams' 2005 World Series opponents.

This is why trading for Francisco Liriano is a typical Kenny Williams move -- high risk, perhaps mocked, but one with a potential nice payoff. Liriano's season numbers with the Twins look terrible -- 3-10, 5.31 ERA -- and his last start (against the White Sox, of all teams) was a rough, seven-run blowup. But after an awful April and temporary trip to the bullpen, Liriano pitched very well in a 10-start stint from May 30 though July 18, posting a 2.84 ERA with 77 strikeouts, 28 walks and 38 hits in 63.1 innings (a .171 average allowed). That stretch included back-to-back starts of 15 strikeouts and 10 strikeouts against the A's and Orioles on July 13 and 18, respectively.

In other words, there's a good chance Liriano will outpitch Zack Greinke the rest of the way, even though this trade will receive much less fanfare and required much less in prospect value: light-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

In fact, despite the much-maligned farm system, the White Sox have received contributions from several rookies, most notably on the pitching staff with Jose Quintana, closer Addison Reed, and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. With Quintana still the big surprise in the rotation, Liriano presumably takes the place of Philip Humber, who did pitch well in a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, but that strong start barely got his ERA under 6.00. With the hope that John Danks might return from his shoulder issues, the White Sox now have rotation depth and options in case of injury or if they want to conserve Chris Sale's innings.

The White Sox also have a lot to gain from a deal such as this; with a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers, winning the division title is obviously huge. There is a reason you're seeing teams contending for a division title making moves, while teams further back in the playoff chase -- such as the American League East wild-card contenders -- are more conservative. The reward for winning one of the two wild cards is essentially half as valuable as last season, with the one-game playoff plus the possibility that you've burned your best pitcher. But the payoff for the White Sox winning the division is worth taking a chance on Liriano.

As for the Rangers, they don't need to be as desperate as their division rival Angels, who gave up three good prospects to acquire Greinke. Yes, acquiring Greinke would have helped, but the Rangers have to ask: Do any of the other available pitchers make the team that much better? I agree with Jim Bowden: Probably not Insider.

The top three starters in a playoff series right now probably would be Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (who has had a disappointing season but lately has looked more like the pitcher who threw so well in the second half and postseason a year ago). The fourth spot might be open as Neftali Feliz rehabs, but among Feliz, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt and maybe even Alexi Ogando, the Rangers have options. Do you want to give up Mike Olt or another top prospect for what might be just a minor upgrade in Josh Johnson (having his worst statistical season and would be expensive to acquire) or Ryan Dempster (who is unlikely to approve a trade to Texas anyway)?

Plus, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are impending free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll be back, even though the Rangers have entered the upper echelon of payrolls. Maybe the Rangers will let one of those guys walk, spend some of that money elsewhere and give a starting position next season to Olt (with super prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings).

The Rangers have options, but their best chance at holding off the Angels and surging A's might lie within: Namely, Hamilton and Michael Young finding their strokes. Hamilton was given a mental day off Saturday to clear his head. Since June 1, he's been one of the worst hitters in the league, batting .190 with a .274 on-base percentage. He's hitting .145 in July with 21 strikeouts in 19 games. Young is eating up at-bats at designated hitter and first base despite an empty .270 batting average. His OBP is less than .300, and he hasn't homered since May 7.

For all the talk of needing a starter, Young is a gigantic hole in the lineup right now. Kenny Williams filled one of his holes. We'll see whether Rangers GM Jon Daniels plugs his.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chase UtleyDale Zanine/US PresswireAs quick as Chase Utley is to the ball, he's not so quick he'll beat the ball to first base.

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