SweetSpot: Wilson Betemit



The best move of the season wasn't the Nationals trading for Gio Gonzalez or the Rangers winning bidding rights to Yu Darvish or the A's surprising everyone by signing Yoenis Cespedes.

No, the best move of the season was also the gutsiest move the season: On Aug. 9, the Orioles recalled Manny Machado from Double-A. Sure, he was their top prospect and one of the top prospects in the game, but consider the factors at the time:

  • He was a kid who had just turned 20 years old and had barely 200 games of professional experience.
  • His numbers at Bowie were solid, but he was hardly tearing up the Eastern League: .266/.352/.438.
  • He was a shortstop but the Orioles were calling him up to play third base.
  • In this age of cost containment, teams often hold back prospects to delay their major league service time.
  • The Orioles were doing fine, tied for the AL wild-card lead.

The Orioles weighed all that and called him up. Give credit to general manager Dan Duquette for having the audacity to make the move, and to the Orioles' player development people for believing Machado was ready for the majors.

Most of all, give credit to Machado. The kid is good.

His home run in the seventh inning on a loud Saturday night at a sold-out Camden Yards might have been the biggest of the season for the Orioles -- a low screaming liner that looked like it was headed straight to Red Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik but somehow kept carrying and carrying just over that low, 7-foot wall. It gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead, a margin they would hold on to. Of course they would; these are the Orioles and no team in history has ever compiled a better winning percentage in one-run games.

More importantly, it carried the Orioles into a first-place tie with the Yankees, who had lost earlier in the day. There are four games left in the regular season and the Orioles are tied for first place. Say that again.

Since Machado's recall, the Orioles have gone 31-16. He's started all 47 of those games. They called up him up because they needed someone to handle the position defensively; Wilson Betemit had played the position about as well as a toilet plunger. Machado's glove has been excellent, especially for a kid who played all of two games there in the minors -- he's averaged 2.8 assists + putouts per nine innings compared to the 2.15 of the Orioles' third basemen, and has made just four errors in those 47 games. The other five guys who played there committed 24 errors. He's made outstanding plays like the sweet double play he started on Saturday, or this one that shows off his arm strength, and this heads-up play, one of my favorites of the season.

Machado's bat, however, has been a bigger surprise. His Double-A numbers indicated there would be a likely adjustment period, but his home run on Saturday lifted his line to an acceptable .276/.302/.470. He's no longer hitting ninth in the order.

Interviewed on the field after the game, Machado sounded like a poised veteran who had been through many pennant race wars: "The fans were great," he told MLB Network. "The atmosphere was awesome. It felt like October baseball. It's great that the fans are into the game as much as we are."

It felt like October baseball because the Yankees lost 3-2 to the Blue Jays earlier in the day.

That game turned on three small plays: The tying run scored with two outs in the fifth when Alex Rodriguez decided to make a play on Rajai Davis' chopper down the third-base line that would have gone foul if Rodriguez had let it go. Davis beat out his throw to first. In the sixth with a runner at first, Yan Gomes reached on a bunt single to first base; Nick Swisher turned to make a throw to first, but Robinson Cano wasn't there. (He was in double play depth up the middle, so not really in position to get there in time. Give credit to Gomes for the surprise bunt.) That led to Adeiny Hechavarria's go-ahead double. In the seventh, Aaron Loup replaced Shawn Hill and picked Ichiro Suzuki off first base.

The Orioles and Yankees haven't been separated by more than 1.5 games since Sept. 2, but it wasn't always that way. Back on July 18, the Yankees led the division by 10 games. It's not getting much recognition, but the Yankees are facing a pretty epic collapse if they don't win the division.

"(Sunday) is going to be a must-win," Swisher said after the loss. "We put ourselves in this situation, our destiny is in our own hands and we've got to go out and take it. No one is going to give us anything."

Of course, the Yankees can still make the playoffs via the wild card (their magic number for clinching a wild-card spot is one). But the new format was instituted for a reason: Teams want to avoid the wild-card game and win the division. If the Orioles and Yankees do tie for the division title, an American League East tiebreaker will take place Thursday at Camden Yards.

And if Orioles do win the division, it means they have a chance to join this list: Only eight teams have ever won a World Series while overcoming a deficit of at least 10 games -- the 1911 A's, 1914 Braves, 1942 Cardinals, 1964 Cardinals, 1969 Mets, 1978 Yankees, 2003 Marlins (wild card) and 2011 Cardinals (wild card).

If that happens, I'm pretty sure a 20-year-old rookie will be making some big plays during October baseball.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Manny MachadoAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyIt may not be the Rookie of the Year-winning stroke, but you can bet the O's will take it from Manny Machado.


Here's the thing about baseball in 2012: The difference between the best teams and the worst teams isn't all that extreme. The New York Yankees, for example, have outscored their opponents by 99 runs. The Minnesota Twins, with one of the worst starting rotation in recent memory, have been outscored by 114 runs. That's 213 runs, which is significant, but maybe not as large as you might imagine. The Twins have played 129 games, so we're talking about 1.7 runs per game. What's 1.7 runs? A double here, a single there, an extra walk here, one play made on defense. It's not that much, but those three or four plays a game add up over 162 games.

This gets us to the Baltimore Orioles, the team that won't go away. For the past couple of months, most analysts have predicted them to slowly slide out of the playoff chase, especially those of us who look at the numbers. We kept to their negative run differential: It will catch up to them eventually, we said. The talent base isn't there; they won't keep winning all these one-run games; their luck will run out.

Well, it's late August and the Orioles have 34 games remaining. Forget what us so-called experts predicted -- they're still in the race; they're 3.5 games behind the Yankees; and if the season ended today they'd be playing the Oakland A's in the wild-card game. And they're still getting outscored on the season ... by 39 runs.

But here's the deal: A month ago, the Orioles were 52-49 and 8.5 games behind the Yankees. Their run differential at that time was minus-63. Since then they've gone 19-8 and outscored their opponents by 24 runs -- or nearly one per game. There's nothing that screams fluke about what has happened over the past 30 days. The Orioles might have lucked into a 52-49 record but at this point they're for real.

One reason for their improvement has been the emergence of Chris Tillman, the tall, talented right-hander for whom it seems the Orioles have been waiting since Bush 43 was still president. After struggling in 2009 (5.40 ERA) ... and 2010 (5.87 ERA) ... and 2011 (5.52 ERA), Tillman didn't make the Opening Day roster. He was sent down to the minors leagues, cleaned up his motion so it became more over the top. His fastball, which had averaged 90.5 mph in 2010 and 89.5 mph in 2011, has now averaged 92.8 in 2012, with good downhill plane generated from his 6-foot-6 frame.

On Tuesday night at Camden Yards, the Chicago White Sox looked clueless against Tillman, who pitched seven one-hit innings on the way to a 6-0 Baltimore victory. He did walk four but the White Sox couldn't measure his fastball, which he threw on 68 of his 109 pitches, a much higher percentage of fastballs than he normally throws (about 45 percent entering the game). He mixes in a curveball, slider and changeup, which he started utilizing more often late in the game. In other words, a classic approach since the days of rock-strewn infields and baggy wool uniforms: Establish the fastball early and then mix in the offspeed stuff.

The only hit off Tillman was Dayan Viciedo's infield dribbler in the fifth inning that J.J. Hardy couldn't field cleanly. Tillman actually said he didn't have his Grade A stuff on this night. "There were plenty of games where I had better stuff," he said. "There were some spurts there when I kind of got out of whack." Tillman had walked just 15 batters in his first nine starts.

Tillman's emergence -- he's now 7-2 with a 3.26 ERA -- symbolizes how the Orioles have revamped their rotation over the past month. Gone are Jake Arrieta (6.13 ERA), Brian Matusz (5.40 ERA) and now Tommy Hunter (5.95 ERA), to be replaced by the newly acquired Joe Saunders, who will start in Wednesday's series finale. Jason Hammel, the team's ace the first half, will also make a rehab start this weekend and could return to the rotation on Sept. 6. Arrieta, Matusz and Hunter combined to start 54 games -- and allowed five or more runs in 22 of them. Those are three main culprits behind the team's run differential. Well, that and the fact that Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds are no longer attempting to play third base.

Watching the Orioles the past two games, I've gotten a little bit of that "destiny" feeling. Lew Ford, out of the majors since 2007, homered both nights. Nate McLouth hit the big two-run home run Monday and added three hits Tuesday. As a Mariners fan, it reminds me of the miracle 1995 season, when the M's rallied from a 12.5-game deficit in late August to win the American League West. The team featured memorable big moments from guys such as Alex Diaz and Doug Strange and a way-past-his-prime Vince Coleman.

The Orioles are 24-6 (a .800 winning percentage) in one-run games, which would easily be the best record in one-run games during the wild-card era (the 2003 Giants went 28-12, a .700 mark). In fact, that would be the best of any team since 1901 -- the 1981 Orioles went 21-7 (.750). Of the top 10 one-run records from 1996 to 2011, eight of the teams made the postseason.

Team of destiny? Maybe, just maybe.

Thanks to Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information for research help.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
OriolesJoy R. Absalon/US PresswireIt's almost September, and the Orioles have plenty of practice celebrating a last out.

Trading for Thome fixes non-DH problem

June, 30, 2012
6/30/12
9:29
PM ET
Jim Thome's right back where he needs to be, and if you’re an Orioles fan, you might think the trade that moves him down I-95 has come not a moment too soon. The Orioles really needed to do something to shore up their offense, and perhaps more than anything, they’ve needed to find an outfield bat or two. Averaging just 4.2 runs per game, they’re ninth in the American League in offense, and a major part of the problem is the lack of good wood they’ve gotten from their left fielders (.642 collective OPS) and right fielders (.703).

The funny thing is that the Orioles’ designated hitters weren’t a problem, not in the aggregate, with a .787 OPS. Their in-season problem was that the absence of a reliable performer had helped suck Chris Davis out of the infield and into their DH mix. With their gaping holes in the outfield corners, they really do need something that would stick at DH, freeing manager Buck Showalter to reemploy Davis in the field and spare the club from reverting to the DH-du-jour non-answers Baltimore's weakly stocked bench provides.

Which brings me to the other major implication of this move -- what this deal does not mean: Thome isn’t replacing Wilson Betemit or Davis in the lineup in a bit of incremental improvement. Instead, he’s the answer to a crying need in Showalter’s offense, which was the absence of a regular DH who could deliver on the hitting half of being designated to hit. The Orioles’ current scoring clip is not going to get it done in the AL East, even with the expanded postseason.

But the market didn’t really have much to offer as far as outfield thumpers, so general manager Dan Duquette did the next-best thing: He traded for a cheaply available bat in Thome, figuring that adding a bat lets Showalter reemploy the day-to-day rovers he’s used to plug lineup holes all season to man one fewer position, and perhaps more precisely help fix the club’s problems in the non-Nick Markakis outfield corner. Markakis is due back soon, so the Orioles are already going to have one outfield answer. Trading for Thome is going to help them fix the other corner.

Adding Thome to the roster helps because it frees up the bats the Orioles were using at DH to help fix the other slots in the lineup. Showalter has utilized Davis in particular as one of those rovers, and he’ll no doubt continue to use Betemit as his infield Mr. Fix-It. With Thome in the fold, Davis might very well be the Orioles’ left fielder of the immediate future, a patch they desperately need.

With Markakis looking like a lock to return from the disabled list after the All-Star break, the Orioles’ lineup should be in significantly better shape shortly, with Markakis in right field, Davis in left and Thome at DH.

Where roster management is concerned, it’s understandably fashionable in the age of the seven-man bullpen to laud the virtues of doing without an everyday DH, and to instead use the slot as a chance to spread at-bats around to the three non-catchers most AL teams get by with on their benches. There’s a certain kind of wisdom to it when you have bench bats worth playing, but that was not this Orioles team, not when it's been picking from among the likes of infrequently healthy Nick Johnson, minor league veteran Steve Pearce, Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty or career fifth outfielder Endy Chavez. Or what might be more simply referred to as “bad choices.”

The Orioles' getting away from their initial team-DH solution and instead placing their faith in one of the last few true designated mashers left is what both Thome and they deserve. Just as he can be an instrument of their second-half success, so too can Thome show off that he’s still got plenty left in the tank.

Over the past two seasons, as a 40- and 41-year-old, Thome has hit .254/.357/.484 for the Twins, Indians and Phillies. This year, DHs around Major League Baseball have put together a .257/.331/.435 line -- which might not sound great, but it’s a better line than what MLB teams are getting from their first basemen or left fielders. But Thome’s been better still, despite the rust that started forming in his infrequent DH role until interleague play helped get him back in action.

The 27 innings that Thome played in the field for the Phillies were more than some thought he could handle, and it was more playing time with a fielding glove than he’s put in since 2005. They might also be the last, because after the misery of less-than-part-time play, Thome may elect to never return to the National League. If he keeps hitting this way, he shouldn’t need to.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Pablo SandovalCary Edmondson-US PresswireA Kung-Fu Panda has a natural advantage: A low center of gravity.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.


"Show us some respect," yell Baltimore Orioles fans. Or maybe they're politely demanding. But I've seen the complaints in the Power Rankings comments, read the emails sent to "Baseball Today," been asked the question in my chats: Why doesn't anyone believe in the Orioles?

The Orioles traveled to Fenway Park this week in a precarious situation. They've lost two of three in Tampa. They've been swept in Toronto. They've lost two of three at home to Kansas City. They've lost two of three at home to Boston. They haven't won a series since the big weekend showdown in Washington from May 18-20.

So, yes, the concerns all of us "experts" had been raising -- it's a long season, let's see what happens to the rotation, let's find out if some of the hitters can keep up their hot starts, the bullpen can't keep its ERA under 2.00 all season -- were proving true. The O's were 27-14 after winning the second against the Nationals but had gone 3-10 since, with the staff posting a 4.95 ERA while the offense scored 3.5 runs per game.

These were the Orioles we all expected. And then they beat the Red Sox in extra innings on Tuesday. And then they beat the Red Sox 2-1 on Wednesday behind a solid effort from Wei-Yin Chen and scoreless innings from Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson. They're 5-0 at Fenway in 2012 and Chen is now 5-2 with a 3.49 ERA. The key moments came in the seventh inning after the Red Sox threatened with a pair of singles to start the frame. But after a sacrifice bunt, Chen struck out Marlon Byrd and induced Mike Aviles to pop out to first base.

Normally, Buck Showalter might have turned to his stellar bullpen, but after Tuesday's victory, in which the bullpen threw five innings, he left Chen to escape the jam. He set up Byrd with three fastballs and then got him swinging on a beautiful changeup. He threw three more fastballs to Aviles that he couldn't get around on. Don't underestimate Chen. His stuff plays up big, with his four-seamer reaching 94 mph. His last pitch to Aviles was clocked at 93. In 11 starts, he allowed two or fewer runs seven times and I think this outing will give Showalter more confidence to stretch Chen a little deeper into games.

So the Orioles remain in first place for another day, half a game ahead of the Yankees. Is it time to show them a little respect, to give Orioles fans what they crave? Let's do some position-by-position rankings to help sort out this tightly packed division. Rankings are simply listed in order of who I would want the rest of the season.

(Season-to-date Wins Above Replacement from Baseball-Reference.com, before Wednesday's games, listed in parenthesis.)

Catcher
1. Matt Wieters, Orioles (1.6 WAR)
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox (1.6)
3. Russell Martin, Yankees (0.7)
4. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays (0.2)
5. Jose Molina, Rays (0.1)

There is a case to be made that Boston's duo is more valuable since they've combined for 14 home runs and an OPS over .900. But Wieters brings elite defensive skills and I also don't believe Salty is going to slug .583 all season. For the second consecutive season, the Rays are essentially punting offense at catcher. Rays catchers have the worst OPS in the majors.

First base
1. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (0.8)
2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (0.6)
3. Mark Reynolds, Orioles (-0.6)
4. Carlos Pena, Rays (0.4)
5. David Cooper/others, Blue Jays (incomplete)

Gonzalez is still struggling to get his stroke going, but he's the best of a weak group. Yes, I just called Mark Teixeira weak, but at this point he's a low-average guy who pops a few long balls, doesn't draw as many walks as he once did and isn't as great on defense as Yankee fans believe. But in this group that's good enough to rank second. Reynolds has a low WAR but he's missed time and that includes his bad defense at third base, a position we've hopefully seen the last of him playing. The Jays, meanwhile, need to quit fooling around at first base and find a legitimate hitter, or move Edwin Encarnacion there and find a designated hitter. You hate to waste a potential playoff season because you can't find a first baseman who can hit. (No, David Cooper is not the answer, although he's hit well so far in 11 games.)

Second base
1. Robinson Cano, Yankees (2.1)
2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (1.8)
3. Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays (2.1)
4. Ben Zobrist, Rays (0.7)
5. Robert Andino, Orioles (0.6)

I love Ben Zobrist almost as much as two scoops of Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch from Ben & Jerry's, but a .199 average isn't going to cut it in this group, even if you are on pace to draw 100-plus walks. Zobrist has actually play more right field so far, but should be back at second on a regular basis with Desmond Jennings back.

Third base
1. Evan Longoria, Rays (1.4)
2. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays (3.1)
3. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (1.2)
4. Kevin Youkilis/Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Wilson Betemit/Steve Tolleson, Orioles (-0.1)

Lawrie's WAR is boosted by defensive metrics that treat him like he's the second coming of Brooks Robinson. He's a good player but don't I think he's been the second-best position player in the American League. Longoria hopes to return at the end of the Rays' current road trip. As for A-Rod, his health is always a question at this stage of his career, but Youkilis has health questions and I'm not a believer in Middlebrooks' ability to hit .321 with power all season. His 29/4 strikeout/walk ratio is something pitchers should learn to exploit. As for the Orioles ... third base is an obvious concern. But don't expect a rare intra-division trade to acquire Youkilis.

Shortstop
1. J.J. Hardy, Orioles (2.1)
2. Mike Aviles, Red Sox (2.2)
3. Derek Jeter, Yankees (0.9)
4. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays (1.9)
5. Sean Rodriguez, Rays (1.9)

Wait ... Jeter has been the least valuable of this group so far? The other four all rate as excellent fielders -- in fact, Baseball-Reference rates them all in the top 13 fielders in the AL. Jeter, meanwhile, ranks 310th in the AL on defense -- out of 313 players.

Left field
1. Desmond Jennings, Rays (1.2)
2. Daniel Nava/Carl Crawford, Red Sox (1.7)
3. Brett Gardner/Raul Ibanez, Yankees (0.3)
4. Eric Thames/Rajai Davis, Blue Jays (-0.1)
5. Endy Chavez/Xavier Avery/Nolan Reimold, Orioles (-0.3)

Not to keep picking on the Orioles, but this is another problem position, especially if Reimold's disc problems lingers all season. Nava has quietly been a huge savior for the Red Sox, batting .305 with a .438 OBP. He's drawing walks at a crazy rate. He should slide some but he's provided the kind of depth the Orioles don't have.

Center field
1. Adam Jones, Orioles (2.5)
2. Curtis Granderson, Yankees (1.3)
3. B.J. Upton Rays (0.9)
4. Jacoby Ellsbury/Scott Podsednik/Marlon Byrd, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays (1.3)

Ellsbury might be the biggest wild card in this race, because the Red Sox can't survive much longer with the Podsednik/Byrd platoon. When will he return? How will he hit? He just started throwing and could return by the end of the month. I've conservatively put him fourth, which seems fair considering the unknown. And please note, Orioles fans, that I believe in Mr. Jones.

Right field
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (0.9)
2. Matt Joyce, Rays (2.2)
3. Nick Swisher, Yankees (-0.1)
4. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney, Red Sox (1.6)
5. Nick Markakis/others, Orioles (0.3)

Markakis is out three to four weeks with a broken bone in his wrist, an injury that once again reflects Baltimore's lack of depth. But all five teams are solid in right field. Ross is about to return from his broken foot; we'll see if he pounds the ball like he was before the injury (.534 slugging).

Designated hitter
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox (1.4)
2. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (1.6)
3. Revolving Door, Yankees
4. Chris Davis, Orioles (0.3)
5. Luke Scott, Rays (0.0)

No respect for Davis? OK, he's hitting .295/.333/.494. And he has 53 strikeouts and eight walks. Sorry, call me skeptical, O's fans. Yankee designated hitters have actually fared well, hitting a combined .279/.354/.467 with 10 home runs.

No. 1 starter
1. David Price, Rays (2.2)
2. CC Sabathia, Yankees (1.9)
3. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays (0.3)
4. Josh Beckett, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Jason Hammel, Orioles (1.9)

Look, Hammel has been terrific so far thanks to a career-high strikeout rate and a career-high ground-ball rate. But this is tough group and the question is who is going to be best moving forward? My biggest concern is that Hammel has never pitched 180 innings in a season. Can he pitched the 210 to 220 that you need from a No. 1?

No. 2 starter
1. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays (1.1)
2. James Shields, Rays (-0.4)
3. Andy Pettitte, Yankees (1.5)
4. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles (0.7)
5. Jon Lester, Red Sox (-0.4)

I like Chen. Heck, right now I like him better than Jon Lester, which tells you how much I like him. But he averaged just 172 innings in Japan over the past three seasons. Can he hold up over 32 starts?

No. 3 starter
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays (1.0)
2. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees (1.4)
3. Felix Doubront, Red Sox (0.4)
4. Brian Matusz, Orioles (0.2)
5. Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays (0.4)

Matusz is holding his own at 5-5, 4.41, but he's still walking a few too many, allowing a few too many hits, a few too many home runs. The velocity is solid, averaging 91 on his fastball. We're talking minor upgrades needed in his command, getting the ball down in the zone more often to get more groundballs. If the Orioles are to have any chance, Matusz's improvement may be the single most important aspect.

No. 4 starter
1. Matt Moore, Rays (-0.6)
2. Ivan Nova, Yankees (0.3)
3. Jake Arrieta, Orioles (-0.4)
4. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (-1.2)
5. Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays (-0.1)

Five pitchers who have struggled, but Arrieta's peripheral numbers are actually pretty solid. Like Matusz, there is hope for improvement. On the other hand, he's been awful since pitching eight scoreless innings against the Yankees on May 2, giving up 29 runs in 31.2 innings. His BABIP was .243 through May 2; it's .361 since. The truth is probably right in the middle, leaving Arrieta third on our list of fourth starters.

No. 5 starter
1. Alex Cobb/Jeff Niemann, Rays (0.3)
2. Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (0.1)
3. Phil Hughes, Yankees (0.2)
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka/Aaron Cook/Daniel Bard, Red Sox (-0.3)
5. Tommy Hunter, Orioles (-0.5)

Hunter isn't really a major league starter, but I'm not sure Jamie Moyer -- just signed to a minor league contract -- is exactly a solution. The Orioles need to upgrade here.

Bullpen
1. Yankees (2.76 ERA)
2. Orioles (2.48 ERA)
3. Red Sox (3.66 ERA)
4. Rays (3.43 ERA)
5. Blue Jays (4.39 ERA)

If you watched Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson close out Wednesday's win, you'll realize the back of the Orioles' end has two guys with filthy stuff. Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala are strike-throwing machines and Troy Patton is a lefty who isn't a LOOGY. It's a good pen and it's deep. But the reliability of the pen ties into the rotation's inability to pitch deep into games -- Orioles relievers have already thrown 39 more innings than Yankees relievers, for example.

OK, let’s add it up … one point for ranking first, five points for ranking fifth. Hey, this isn’t meant to be scientific, so don’t overanalyze this too much. The totals:

Yankees: 36 points
Rays: 40 points
Red Sox: 45 points
Blue Jays: 51 points
Orioles: 53 points

Not the respect Orioles fans are seeking. Sorry about that; it’s nothing personal. Look, I don’t think the Orioles are going to fade away anytime soon. I worry about the rotation’s ability to hold up all summer and the bullpen’s workload. They lack depth on offense and have a couple of obvious holes. Hey, you never know, and the Orioles are certainly due for a winning season. I would love to see it happen.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Javier Lopez Jake Roth/US PresswireJavier Lopez is sending a message to Mark Kotsay: Tag, you're out!
Injuries were the lead focus of Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast, but Keith Law and I also found time for some upbeat discussion as well. Here are a few of the reasons why you should listen:

1. The Diamondbacks lost Stephen Drew, but their offense will survive. The question is about their defense.

2. The Tigers picked up a key player and again the question is about the team’s defense.

3. If KLaw was running the Mets, would he be showing Jose Reyes the proverbial door along with Carlos Beltran?

4. Ozzie Guillen went nuts -- again -- on Wednesday, but we kind of like his behavior. Should the White Sox?

5. It’s a day of aces in baseball, but our focus starts with a right-hander with an ERA on the wrong side of 5.

Plus: Excellent emails, the not-so-excellent Aubrey Huff, late-developing lefty pitchers, prospect Leonys Martin and a ton more on Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast!
I was at a family function over the weekend and spent much of it talking baseball with my wife's uncle, a huge Yankees fan. The short version of his analysis: He's not too concerned about the state of the team because he's convinced the Yankees will make a few trades.

You know ... like for Felix Hernandez. Everybody in New York still thinks the Yankees can just trade for Felix because ... well, I guess because they're the Yankees. Now, let's repeat something we've said several times:

The Mariners aren't going to trade Felix Hernandez.

Repeat:

The Mariners aren't going to trade Felix Hernandez.

Now, my wife's uncle says that's OK, because the Yankees will just acquire Mark Buehrle instead. Now, maybe the White Sox will eventually fall far enough out of the race that trading Buehrle will make sense. But it doesn't now. But these five trades ... well, they do make sense.

Mets trade Carlos Beltran and $5 million to the Mariners for 2B Kyle Seager.

Considering genius Fred Wilpon just torpeded Beltran's value by suggesting he's not close to the player he used to be, the Mets can't expect a top prospect in return for their right fielder, a free agent after the season. Plus, his $18.5 million contract is a problem for most teams. The Mariners' current hot streak (granted, it's come against the punchless Twins and Padres) suddenly put them in the thick of the AL West race despite their offensive struggles. Designated hitter Jack Cust just hit his first home run and Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson are hardly the short-term (or long-term) solutions in left field. Beltran could play left and DH, and Seattle has the ability to pick up some additional payroll. (Beltran would have to waive his no-trade clause.)

Seager was a teammate of Dustin Ackley's at North Carolina, but with Ackley set as Seattle's second baseman of the future, he doesn't have a spot. After hitting .345 with 40 doubles and 14 home runs in the California League, he's proving himself in the tough transition to Double-A, hitting .302/.371/.477. He has a nice line-drive stroke, although there are some doubts about his range. Then again, this is a team playing Daniel Murphy at second base.

Reds trade C Ryan Hanigan to Rays for P Alex Cobb and C Kelly Shoppach.

The Rays are getting no production from their John Jaso/Shoppach platoon. The Reds' 4.71 ERA from their rotation ranks 14th in the NL. Thus, a perfect trade matchup.

Hanigan is probably the best backup catcher in the majors. He doesn't have much power, but takes a walk and rarely strikes out (he has more walks than strikeouts in his career). More importantly for the Rays, he's signed to a cost-friendly contract of $4 million total through 2013.

Cobb is an underrated pitching prospect who doesn't wow scouts with his stuff, but he gets great results. He throws strikes and led the Southern League with 9.6 Ks per nine innings last season. He had a 1.31 ERA in seven Triple-A starts with a 45/10 SO/BB ratio and made his major league debut on May 1. The Reds can afford to trade Hanigan with two excellent catching prospects in the minors (Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal) and Ramon Hernandez still on the big league roster. Who gets bumped from the rotation? Take your pick. Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez have both been terrible.

Padres trade P Mike Adams to Tigers for 3B Francisco Martinez.

The trade speculation with the Padres revolves around closer Heath Bell, an impending free agent, but they could possibly extract more in a trade by dealing setup man supreme Adams, who has a 1.25 ERA, 21/2 SO/BB ratio and .55 WHIP.

The Tigers make perfect sense: They have the worst bullpen ERA in the majors (5.97) and the highest batting average allowed (.287). Closer Jose Valverde has been the team's only reliable reliever. Martinez is a 20-year-old third baseman currently hitting .261 with five home runs in Double-A. He's a bit of a project, but scouts like his tools and the Padres need to take some chances in hopes of finding some offense.

Astros trade OF Hunter Pence to Phillies for OF Domonic Brown and P Jarred Cosart.

Why should the Astros trade their best player? For several reasons: (1) He's good, but not that good; he does a lot of nice things on a baseball field, but a mediocre OBP prevents him from being a true star. (2) He's starting to get expensive. He won $6.9 million in arbitration for 2011 and will likely get at least $10 million next season. (3) He's 28, and while he's at his peak right now, he may not be at his peak as he turns 30 ... aka, by the time the Astros are likely to be good again.

As for the Phillies, they are in win-now mode. Sure, Brown and Cossart are arguably their top prospects, but the jury remains out on how much Brown will contribute this season. They risk giving up a future All-Star, but Pence gives them a much-needed dependable bat for the middle of the lineup. With $24 million of Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge coming off the books after this season, the Phillies can also afford to pick up Pence's future salary.

Royals trade 3B Wilson Betemit to Rockies for CF Dexter Fowler and P Esmil Rogers.

Colorado third basemen have been beyond awful, hitting .169 with two home runs. Betemit is hitting .315 with a .379 on-base percentage, but with Mike Moustakas soon to arrive in the big leagues, Betemit looks like perfect trade bait for the rebuilding Royals. Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton aren't the answer at third, so unless you think Ian Stewart can rebound from his 3-for-47 start and banishment to Triple-A, Betemit looks like a nice fit to play third and take over Colorado's leadoff spot.

The man currently holding that position is Fowler, but the former top prospect just hasn't developed as expected. His game has regressed this season with too many strikeouts, a lack of power and just two steals in eight attempts. He needs a change of scenery and maybe a wake-up call. Rogers is a power arm in need of refinement.

So there you go. Five trades that make sense from all angles. And I didn't even mention Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder or ...

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Phillies FansHoward Smith/US PresswireThink Phillies fans were kind of waiting for Chase Utley to return? Well, yes, yes they were.

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