SweetSpot: Andy Pettitte

I wasn't around when Roy Halladay announced his retirement at the winter meetings on Dec. 9, so this piece is a little late to the game, but it's also about a few of the pitchers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot -- Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine.

Whenever a great player such as Halladay retires, the Hall of Fame discussion immediately follows. But what makes a Hall of Fame pitcher? Do you prefer Halladay's short but brilliant career or the consistency and longevity of Glavine?

Halladay finished with 203 wins -- a low total for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. Only Sandy Koufax since World War II has been elected with fewer wins among starters. On the other hand, Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and finished second in two other votes (he probably should have won in 2011, when he had a much higher wins above replacement total than winner Clayton Kershaw). Over his 10-year peak from 2002 to 2011, he went 170-75 (a .694 winning percentage) with a 2.97 ERA while averaging 219 innings per season. He had seven top-five Cy Young finishes.

That's a remarkable run of dominance. But again: What makes a Hall of Fame pitcher?

Let's see how Halladay -- not to mention Mussina, Schilling, Glavine or also-retired Andy Pettitte -- compare with Hall of Fame pitchers and other recent starters. Warning: Big chart to follow. I've included all post-1960 Hall of Fame starters, plus a bunch of other guys of interest. The chart includes each pitcher's career WAR from Baseball-Reference.com plus his 10-year peak WAR. Since we're using Halladay as our base comparison, we're using the best 10 years in a row, not the 10 best overall seasons. I also listed each pitcher's percentage of total career value earned in that 10-year period. (WAR includes only value earned as a pitcher; Glavine, for example, also earned 7.5 WAR from his hitting in his career.)

For those looking for excellence over individual seasons, we've listed the number of 7-WAR seasons (Cy Young-type year) and 5-WAR seasons (All-Star caliber).

OK, some random comments...

Roy Halladay: As you can see, he is unique in that most of his career value is wrapped up in that 10-year stretch, with 95 percent (his career value is also hurt by his two awful seasons in 2000 and 2013, worth minus-3.9 WAR). Only Koufax had a higher percentage of his career value from his 10-year peak (of course, his peak was really only five or six seasons). The impressive thing is how high Halladay ranks: Among 31 pitchers listed in the chart, he's 10th in peak value.

I tend to weigh peak value heavily, especially when it's as high as Halladay's was ... and 10 years is a pretty long period of dominance for a pitcher. Compare Halladay with Glavine, who is new to this year's ballot. Glavine, playing most of his career for much better teams, won 305 games. He was very good -- he won two Cy Young Awards -- and durable, never missing a start for 20 years. In his 10-year peak, he earned 47.7 WAR; in his other 12 seasons, he earned 26.3 WAR, barely 2 per season ... but also earned credit for another 130 wins. You can win a lot of games simply by being average for a long period, especially when you have Andruw Jones playing center field behind you.

Does that average period of pitching make Glavine that much stronger of a Hall of Fame candidate than Halladay? History suggests it will.

As for Halladay, the most similar pitcher to him is probably Juan Marichal, who wrapped up most of his value in a 10-year stretch, as well. Marichal pitched in an era when starters made more starts and pitched more innings, so he won more games, but their careers map pretty closely. In fact, Halladay has more career WAR and the higher peak. Marichal won 243 games and was inducted in his third year on the ballot.

Curt Schilling: Based on career value, peak value and postseason results, Schilling should be a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Instead, voters looked at his 216 wins and gave him only 39 percent of the vote last year, his first time on the ballot.

Mike Mussina: Mussina is middle-of-the-pack in peak value and higher in career value. He also has 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR, topped by only six starters. The view might be that Mussina's peak wasn't good enough (he never won a Cy Young Award), but this chart says that's just not the case. If you combine career WAR and peak WAR, he should be an easy Hall of Famer. Yet I still fear he will fail to get 5 percent of the vote and will get booted from the ballot.

Andy Pettitte: Pettitte won 256 games, which might make his Hall of Fame case pick up steam, much as Jack Morris' eventually did. Factor in his World Series rings, and he might fare better than Mussina (although he also admitted to using PEDs). My view is Pettitte's case is much weaker than Halladay's or Schilling's or Mussina's, as he lacks peak value while being borderline in career value.

Don Sutton: Sutton's case was a bitter Hall of Fame dispute for several seasons, until he finally got elected in his fifth year thanks to 324 career wins. The view of the naysayers was that he was merely a compiler -- a guy who was very good and lasted a long time but was never elite. That looks like an accurate assessment. His 10-year peak is low, and he had no 7-WAR seasons. He's similar in many ways to Glavine, although Glavine was a little better. Still, 324 wins is 324 wins ...

David Cone, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen, Orel Hershiser: I listed these guys, all of whom fell off the ballot right away, to see how they stack up. It's hard to argue with the Hall of Fame voters here: These guys don't quite compare to the Hall of Fame pitchers in career or peak value. Cone probably has the best case of the group, kind of a poor man's Halladay. He went 194-126 in his career, won a Cy Young and started for five World Series winners (although he was in the bullpen in the playoffs for the 2000 Yankees). Cone received 4 percent of the vote his one year on the ballot, with his case to be reviewed at some point by the veterans committee.

Jack Morris: Morris was never as good as the four pitchers above at his peak, whether it's one-year peak, three-year peak or 10-year peak. His case boils down to 254 wins, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and a nebulous title as "Pitcher of the '80s," which is just another way of saying he won the most games in the decade. OK, you want to give credit to Morris for the postseason? Why did Hershiser and Cone and even Saberhagen -- who threw his own Game 7 shutout -- get no credit for theirs? Anyway, this is Morris' last shot. It will be interesting to see, once he clears the ballot -- in or out -- how voters will start evaluating wins. Hey, Pedro Martinez won only 219 games.

Nolan Ryan: You know what? Nolan Ryan was a compiler. He compiled strikeouts, walks and longevity. He was one-of-a-kind and I'd certainly classify him as a clear-cut Hall of Famer, but he was never the pitcher Halladay or Schilling was. (I mean, at his best, on those days he was throwing a little harder and with a little better control, sure, he was more dominant than anyone, but for one season or period of seasons, I'd take Halladay or Schilling.)

As for Halladay, I'd vote for him without a second thought. Voters need to realize that they shouldn't overemphasize wins -- plus, look at the chart. The period of the late '60s and '70s was conducive to a lot of wins for several reasons. Three of the pitchers had the exact same peak years, with others just a year or two off. Just because many from that generation won 300 games doesn't mean that should continue to be the Hall of Fame standard.

Roy Halladay, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine are all Hall worthy.

SweetSpot TV: Is Rivera overrated?

September, 25, 2013

Jim Caple has a piece up on Mariano Rivera. He calls Rivera overrated, which ... well, read the piece. Eric Karabell and myself discuss Jim's suggestion and compare Rivera to his longtime teammate, Andy Pettitte.

Let me lay the groundwork: Everyone says Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, or as Buster Olney wrote the other day, potentially the first unanimous selection ever (if it's not Greg Maddux).

There's no denying Rivera was great his job, certainly the best modern closer ever. But the crux of Jim's argument is that the closer position itself is overrated. Which gets us to Andy Pettitte, who has 255 wins and has thrown 2,000 more innings in his career and has won 19 career postseason games, the most ever (yes, Rivera has saved many of those, but it's also true that Rivera doesn't get the save opportunities without Pettitte and the offense).

Anyway ... career Wins Above Replacement:

Pettitte: 60.5
Rivera: 56.5

That doesn't include postseason, but again, it's not like Pettitte didn't do a lot of good things in the playoffs. But whose career was more valuable? The durable starter -- maybe not quite an ace -- who gave you 200-plus innings every year or the guy who pitched 70 innings a year? The point here: Why is Rivera a slam-dunk Hall of Fame while Pettitte's best hope is probably the Jack Morris route ... and Morris hasn't made it in yet.

I know, I know ... Rivera is the best ever at his role. Does that make him a unanimous Hall of Famer?

As a point of argument, how about this: Keith Hernandez is widely regarded as the greatest defensive first baseman of all time. Like Rivera, he was the best at a specific role. But he was also an MVP winner (he also finished second in another year). And a two-time World Series champ who had a great Game 6 (four RBIs) and Game 7 (2-for-3, 2 walks, 2 RBIs) for the Cardinals in 1982. And a guy with a .296 career average with a .384 on-base percentage and over 2,000 hits. In other words, he was much more than just a good glove. His career WAR is 60.1.

He didn't sniff the Hall of Fame and eventually fell off the ballot before his 15 years were up.

Just some food for thought.

Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.
Struggling starting pitchers will certainly be on display this weekend as teams -- both real and fantasy -- wonder if their aces will deliver. Of course, it's not even Tax Day yet, so in general it's wise to be patient. By the way, don't forget to pay your taxes on time!

Cy of relief? The defending Cy Young Award winners each come off brutal outings and both feature ERAs around 9. But who's really worried about Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price and Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey hurling Saturday? Each permitted eight runs their last time out, but they won a combined 40 games last year. Price has performed well at Fenway Park, going 4-1 with a 2.22 ERA over seven starts. Don't worry about him. With Dickey, it's tough to control the knuckleball at times. His career numbers at Kansas City (5.28 ERA) are irrelevant because he was ineffective while with the Texas Rangers, but don't be surprised when he needs more time to find his 2012 form.

In a Halladaze: Of far greater concern is a two-time Cy Young winner in Philly. Do not assume work-in-progress former ace Roy Halladay will suddenly dominate the terrible Miami Marlins on Sunday. Even struggling offenses have their day. The Houston Astros scored 24 runs Tuesday and Wednesday. Halladay can't locate his pitches, his cutter has been ineffective and while the Phillies claim all is well physically, you should know better than to listen to what a team says. If John Buck and Evan Gattis are taking Halladay deep, what do you think Giancarlo Stanton will do? Fantasy owners should bench Halladay, while the Phillies have no choice but to send the $20 million man out there. This might again be painful to watch. The game to check out in this weekend series is Saturday, when exciting rook Jose Fernandez takes on Cole Hamels.

The real NL East battle: Early division bragging rights are on the line as the Braves visit the Nationals. Fifth starters Julio Teheran and Ross Detwiler open the series Friday, but then the Braves have to face Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Maybe Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm can match up with them this weekend, but Washington's top starting pitching is a differentiator in this top-notch race. Meanwhile, MVP candidates Justin Upton and Bryce Harper are always worth watching.

O for offense: Runs were at a premium when the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees met in the playoffs last season. Baltimore hit .187 in the series, the Yankees .211. Big money ultimately trumped overachieving bullpen, and neither team has distinguished itself in the early going as a team to beat. Sunday night’s ESPN game features underrated lefties Wei-Yin Chen and Andy Pettitte. Chen was Baltimore's top starter a year ago, and figures to deliver a similar performance, while the 40-year-old Pettitte has won both of his starts, giving up only one run in each. Who has the better season? I'll go with Pettitte for 15 wins, and take the minority opinion he avoids the disabled list as well.

A for effort: The Detroit Tigers outlasted the Oakland Athletics in the other ALDS last October, with Justin Verlander allowing one run in his two victories. Oakland's nominal ace, the oft-injured Brett Anderson, didn't allow any runs in his Game 4 win, either. On Saturday afternoon these fellows are scheduled to meet, assuming Anderson's left (pitching) thumb contusion allows him to work. Anderson's upside isn't to the level of Verlander, but his presence in Oakland's rotation is as critical as teammate Jarrod Parker's, who doesn't look like the same guy he was in 2012. As always with Anderson, it's not about performance, but health.

Enjoy your weekend!
Quick thoughts on Tuesday's games …

  • Ahh, just a few short days ago the New York Yankees were 1-4 and the butt of jokes across baseball land. Now they've won three in a row after beating the Cleveland Indians 14-1. Andy Pettitte allowed just an Asdrubal Cabrera home run in his seven innings. He's 40 and looks as good as ever. Remember when Robinson Cano was hitting .130? This is why you should never look at first-week statistics unless you're Chris Davis' agent. In his past two games, Cano has seven hits, including three doubles and three home runs, and is now hitting .303. For the Indians, the rotation shuffle might already be starting. Carlos Carrasco made his first start since Tommy John surgery in 2011, wasn't effective and got ejected after hitting Kevin Youkilis. Brett Myers, Cleveland's scheduled starter for Wednesday, pitched the final 5.1 innings Tuesday, so Terry Francona will need to find a different starter, which maybe isn't the worst thing since Myers has already allowed seven home runs.
  • [+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
    AP Photo/Jeff ChiuTim Lincecum had another bumpy outing, but the Giants comeback got him off the hook.
    Tim Lincecum had another shaky outing. After walking seven in his first start, he walked four in this one but did manage to scuffle through six innings. Through four innings he had thrown 71 pitches -- 37 strikes, 34 balls -- and had twice walked opposing pitcher Juan Nicasio. He was, as the ball/strike ratio indicates, all over the place. He was a little better his final two innings -- 33 pitches, 24 strikes -- but he certainly didn't placate any concerns. It ended up being a tough loss for the Colorado Rockies, off to a nice start, as the San Francisco Giants rallied from a four-run deficit.
  • Caught a little bit of Nick Tepesch's debut for the Texas Rangers, a 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. He pitched into the eighth inning, allowing four hits, walking three and striking five, flashing a low-90s fastball, slider and a curveball that worked on this night (the Rays went 1-for-8 with four Ks in plate appearances ending with the curve). Tepesch was the surprise winner of the No. 5 slot in the rotation, but it appears he knows what he's doing out there. Todd Wills of ESPNDallas.com has the reaction from Tepesch's teammates.
  • Wild 8-7 victory for the Washington Nationals over the Chicago White Sox on a hot April night in D.C. Jake Peavy and Gio Gonzalez were locked up in a 1-1 duel through four innings, but then Ian Desmond homered in the fifth and Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche homered in a four-run sixth. LaRoche later added another home run off Matt Thornton (his first two hits of the year after an 0-for-15 start). Peavy said he ran out of gas in the sixth; game-time temperature was a humid 81 degrees. Gonzalez labored through 99 pitches in his five innings, but escaped with just one run. The biggest takeaway from this game, however, is that Rafael Soriano struggled again, giving up two runs in the ninth on Alex Rios' two-run homer, although still absurdly getting credit for the save. Just something to watch. One more thing to watch: Bryce Harper is hitting .379 but hasn't drawn a walk. Let's see if pitchers can take advantage of that aggressiveness (and then see how Harper adjusts).
  • Kudos to the Houston Astros for their 16-run explosion against the Seattle Mariners. They even limited their strikeouts to 10! (They went 22-for-37 when putting the ball in play.) The eight combined home runs at Safeco were the third-most ever in a game there; there were nine twice in 2004. Mariners rookie starter Brandon Maurer was terrible, giving up seven hits and a walk while retiring only two batters. As good as Maurer looked in spring training to win a rotation spot, it's a reminder that he wasn't exactly dominant last year in Double-A, striking out 117 in 137.2 innings with 48 walks. His slider has been up in the zone and batters are 7-for-12 against it.
This will be the year.

How long have we been saying this about the New York Yankees? This will be the year. Too old, too many bloated contracts, not enough young talent coming up through the minors and now ownership that -- horror of horrors! -- seems intent on keeping the team's payroll below luxury-tax thresholds.

The collapse is imminent. The dynasty -- the one that has seen the Yankees win 13 division titles and make the playoffs 17 times in 18 years during the wild-card era -- will come to a crashing termination. Derek Jeter, it's been nice knowing you all these Octobers.

After the four-game wipeout in the American League Championship Series against the Tigers and a relatively inactive offseason, the doomsayers have been more vociferous than ever. The Yankees didn't pursue any of the big free agents, lost effective role players in Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez, might lose their closer, will lose Alex Rodriguez for several months, have to hope Jeter returns from his broken ankle, and, in the lowest point in franchise history since Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson exchanged wives, saw their starting catcher sign with the Pirates.

Before I explain why I'm not willing to count out the Yankees in 2013, let's take a year-by-year look at their remarkable run of the past 18 seasons.

One of the main arguments against the 2013 Yankees is their age. After all, the 2012 club was old, and the core of the 2013 club will be another year older (yes, oddly, this is true).

But look at the above chart. The Yankees have always been an old team during this run. The '95 team had the oldest lineup in the AL, and while the pitching staff was younger, the Yankees haven't had a staff that young since. That doesn't mean there isn't cause for concern here. The 2012 lineup was the oldest one yet, and while the Yankees have parted ways with Ibanez (40 years old in 2012) and Chavez (34), they will be counting heavily on 39-year-old Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, 33-year-old Mark Teixeira, and 32-year-old Curtis Granderson.

It's also worth noting the team's run differential in 2012, always a good way to evaluate a team's base talent level. While the plus-136 differential was a 74-run drop from 2011, it was still the best in the AL. It also was better than those of several of those previous playoff teams. Meaning: The Yankees were a good team in 2012 (as long as you ignore the offensive collapse in the playoffs). The Blue Jays, everyone's team du jour of the offseason, were 204 runs worse than the Yankees in 2012. Yes, they added a lot of parts; that's still a lot of runs to get to the 95-win level the Yankees achieved.

Yankees fans and local columnists have complained the Yankees haven't done anything this offseason. What they mean, of course, is the Yankees didn't sign Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton. But the club will be making additions for 2013:

1. Kevin Youkilis. Granted, he's just an insurance policy until A-Rod returns from offseason hip surgery, but Youkilis could slide over to the designated hitter role when A-Rod returns in June or July (or allow A-Rod to serve as the DH).

2. The Yankees re-signed Ichiro. While he is a downgrade from Nick Swisher, Ichiro did play well in his 240 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2012, hitting .322 and slugging .454. He hit particularly well at Yankee Stadium -- .338/.363/.531 (BA/OBP/SLG) in 139 plate appearances -- and while we have to point out that obviously has small-sample-size warnings written all over it, it's possible Suzuki retailored his swing to the short porch or was rejuvenated after leaving the Safeco Field dungeon. The larger point: Ichiro shouldn't be a complete disaster.

3. They get Brett Gardner back. He was a superb player in 2010 and 2011, and having Gardner back in left field will provide a big lift defensively and offer the team speed and better on-base ability than what it got from the likes of Ibanez and Andruw Jones. He easily could be a three-win improvement.

4. They get Mariano Rivera back. Would you bet against him?

OK, OK, there are reasons to be concerned about the lineup. But remember again what the Yankees did this past season: They led the AL in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It's true that some of those power totals came courtesy of Yankee Stadium, but power does play anywhere; only the Orioles had a better AL road record.

But the main reason I won't write off the Yankees: the pitching staff. I still like the quality and depth of the starting rotation:
  • CC Sabathia -- He did have surgery to remove a small bone spur from his elbow but is expected to be ready for spring training. Otherwise, he was arguably better than ever in 2012, with a league-leading strikeout-walk ratio and .238 batting average allowed.
  • Hiroki Kuroda -- Pitched a career-high 219 innings while winning 16 games with a 3.32 ERA, adapting without a problem to the AL.
  • Phil Hughes -- Had a solid season other than the 35 home runs allowed. Walked just 46 batters in 32 starts, so if he can cut off 10 home runs, he'll look more like a No. 3 than a 4 or 5.
  • Andy Pettitte -- Made just 12 starts but was very effective with a 2.87 ERA. He hasn't lost much in stuff -- in fact, his strikeout percentage matched the highest of his career. If the Yankees can get 25 starts out of him, they'll likely be good ones.
  • David Phelps -- Sleeper breakout candidate for 2013. Fastball in the 90-92 mph range, good cutter, a curveball and an improving changeup. Good minor league numbers, good numbers as a rookie as a reliever/spot starter.
  • Ivan Nova -- Good rebound candidate, despite the ERA spike from 2011. His strikeout rate was much higher than in 2011 and his walk rate was slightly better, but he suffered a .331 average on balls in play, third highest among all qualified starting pitchers. There are reasons that happened but the stuff is there to suggest improvement is possible if he adjusts.
  • Michael Pineda -- The wild card if he can bounce back from shoulder problems.

When I look at the strengths of teams entering a season, I place a huge emphasis on the depth of rotations. Few teams make it through the season with just five starters. Few make it through with six. So you need that depth. The Yankees have it -- certainly more depth than the other AL East teams. Yes, Toronto's rotation could be outstanding if Josh Johnson makes 30 starts (good luck) and if R.A. Dickey has another Cy Young-caliber season (I do like his chances) and if Brandon Morrow can pitch more than 179 innings for the first time and if Ricky Romero can bounce back. The Tampa rotation could be terrific again, but the Rays have to replace James Shields' 33 starts and 227 innings.

So, yes, I like the rotation. I like the bullpen. I like the power. I know you can look at the chart above and note the last time the Yankees didn't make any big moves in the offseason was 2008, the one year the team missed the playoffs during this period.

The fall will come. When it does, it could be as hard as what happened when the original dynasty collapsed after 1964. The Yankees went from the World Series to last place in two seasons. Maybe 2013 will be that year. But we've said that before.

Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?

November, 28, 2012
In a couple of weeks the clouds will burst, thunder will crackle and explode and children will run for cover. That's right, the annual Jack Morris Hall of Fame debate will commence.

Morris will almost assuredly get in this year. He received 66.7 percent of the vote last year, putting him on the brink of the 75 percent needed for election, and once a player gets that close the voters will put him over the top.

Which brings me to Andy Pettitte, who is apparently about to sign a deal to return to the Yankees for another season. Pettitte and Morris certainly have comparable résumés: similar career win totals and ERAs, key member of multiple World Series champions, workhorse mentality, big postseason moments, right on down to neither ever winning a Cy Young Award. Here, the career numbers for each:

The problem in electing a marginal candidate like Morris to the Hall of Fame is it opens the door for similar players. In fact, it's hard to prove that Morris is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Pettitte. Once you adjust for the different offensive eras each pitched, Pettitte comes out on top, with a better ERA and a higher Wins Above Replacement.

Morris, of course, has THE GAME, but it's not like Pettitte is devoid of big performances in the playoffs. Pettitte has started more games (44), pitched more innings (276.2) and won more games (19) than any pitcher in playoff history. Since 1995, he's in appeared in every postseason except four. His signature playoff performance was a 1-0 win over John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series (8.1 scoreless innings).

But like Morris, his overall postseason numbers don't quite match the reputation as an ultra-clutch playoff performers. Pettitte is 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA; Morris is 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. In other words -- good numbers, but essentially what both did in the regular season.

That's not to discount those accomplishments. The Hall of Fame does include the word "fame" and making 44 starts in the postseason serves to boost Pettitte's reputation. One thing Hall of Fame voters have historically rewarded is being a key member of championship teams -- players like Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Tony Perez have weak statistical arguments for the Hall, but played on multiple World Series winners. That's one reason Morris will get in (he played on four winners, although he was injured in 1993 and had pitched poorly and didn't pitch in the postseason).

One more Pettitte note: Here are the career ERA+ (this statistic normalizes a pitcher's ERA for his era and home ballparks) of some pitchers, all with at least 3,000 innings pitched, since 1950:

Bert Blyleven 118
Tom Glavine 118
Gaylord Perry 117
Andy Pettitte 117
Dennis Eckersley 116
Steve Carlton 115
Phil Niekro 115
Fergie Jenkins 115
Jim Bunning 115
Robin Roberts 113
Nolan Ryan 112


Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,761)

All of them are in the Hall of Fame, of course, except Glavine (who will be, with his 300 wins) and Pettitte. Now, most of those guys pitched a lot more innings than Pettitte -- Perry, Carlton and Niekro each have more 2,000 innings on Pettitte -- so Pettitte isn't going to match them in career WAR. Even Eckersley, despite spending the second half of his career in the bullpen, has 150 more innings.

Morris, on the other hand, with his 105 ERA+ is aligned with pitchers like Kenny Rogers (107), Charlie Hough (106), Bob Welch (106), Frank Tanana (106), Tim Wakefield (105), Jamie Moyer (104) and, yes, Hunter (104). In fact, of 61 pitchers since 1950 to have thrown 3,000-plus innings, Morris ranks 50th in adjusted ERA. In terms of career WAR since 1950 (no innings qualification), Pettitte ranks 32nd, Morris 74th (remember, WAR calculates regular-season contributions only).

Look, player-versus-player Hall of Fame comparisons can be the worst kind of arguments to make. But when Jack Morris gets inducted in early January, Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy will take a gigantic leap forward.

(OK, I realize I didn't give an opinion, in case you want one: Morris is below the fence for me; Pettitte is straddling it ... but I would be inclined to vote for him, assuming more qualified candidates like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are in by the time Pettitte hits the ballot.)

Why each team can win it all

October, 4, 2012
With help from the blog network writers, here are reasons each team can win the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals
1. A potent, balanced lineup. The Cardinals had the best on-base percentage in baseball, including four starters -- Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, David Freese and Yadier Molina -- with a .370 OBP or better, and that doesn’t even include two of their most dangerous sluggers, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig.

2. Deep and solid starting rotation. Cardinals starters featured the second-best fielding-independent pitching in the majors, and Chris Carpenter has rejoined the staff just in time for the playoffs.

3. Playoff experience. If there’s an advantage to be gained from experience, the Cardinals have it, with nearly three-quarters of their championship team returning to the tournament.

4. "The postseason is a crapshoot." As a wild-card team, the Cardinals proved this last year by beating a dominant regular-season team in the Phillies in a short series, then the powerful Rangers in the World Series.

5. They’re saving their best ball for last -- again. As with the 2011 squad, the Cardinals are coming together at the right time. They won their last two series of the season against potential playoff foes Washington and Cincinnati and their regulars are generally healthy.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes.net

Atlanta Braves
The biggest thing the Braves need to do this postseason is hit left-handed pitching. For the year, they have an 85 wRC+ compared to the league average of 100 against left-handed pitching, the lowest of any of the playoff teams. If they win the play-in game against the Cardinals on Friday, they could face three left-handed starting pitchers in the first round in Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and John Lannan.

On the pitching front, Kris Medlen has taken the ace role of the staff, but the Braves will specifically need Mike Minor and Tim Hudson to perform at a high level to compete with the other National League teams. Defensively the Braves have been stellar, so the key for all of their starters will be to avoid free passes and long balls. They do not have an overpowering or star-filled staff as other rotations do, meaning their starters will need to rely on command and pitch sequencing to perform well against upper-tier offenses.

If the Braves get solid pitching performances from Medlen and Minor, and manage to scrape enough runs across against left-handed starters and relievers, they should be able to advance through the playoffs and potentially win their first World Series since 1995.
--Ben Duronio, Capitol Avenue Club

Cincinnati Reds
Here are five reasons that there will be a celebration in Fountain Square the first weekend in November:

1. The bullpen. This is the Reds' most obvious advantage. Their bullpen ERA ranks first in baseball at 2.65. How deep is this bullpen? One of these pitchers probably isn't going to make the postseason roster: Logan Ondrusek (3.46 ERA), Alfredo Simon (2.66) or J.J. Hoover (2.05).

2. Jay Bruce. The Reds' right fielder is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. If he gets hot, the Reds will be tough to beat. Bruce was twice named National League Player of the Week this year. In those two weeks, Bruce hit .488 AVG/.542 OBP/1.186 SLG (1.728 OPS). If Bruce gets on a hot streak like that, he could carry the Reds to the 11 wins they need.

3. The defense. Defensive metrics are flaky, but when you look at all of them, you start to learn something. The Reds rank near the top of almost every leaderboard. Seven of their eight starters are plus defenders, and three-quarters of the infielders have Gold Gloves on their shelves.

4. Ryan Hanigan. One of the things I'm most excited about this postseason is the broader baseball world discovering Ryan Hanigan. He does a lot well. His .365 OBP is better than any Red but Joey Votto. He walked more than he struck out. He threw out 48.5 percent of would-be base stealers -- the best in baseball -- and his handling of the pitching staff has the Reds' coaching staff speaking about him in hushed tones.

5. Luck, or something like it. The Reds outperformed their Pythagorean W-L by 7 games. Since Sept. 1, they have an 8-3 record in one-run games. This could mean they're due for a reversion to the mean. I like to think it means they're destined to win the Series.
--Chris Garber, Redleg Nation

Washington Nationals
1. The one-two punch of Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Few teams could lose a starter like Stephen Strasburg and still claim that starting pitching is a strength, but the Nats can. Cy Young candidate Gonzalez leads the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings and is second in hits per 9. Zimmermann rarely allows a walk, and has an ERA under 3.00. I'd match Gonzalez and him up with any team's one-two.

2. The infield defense. Each position is manned by someone you could argue is one of the majors' top 10 fielders at his spot. The staff throws a lot of ground balls. Put them together and you get a lot of outs.

3. The re-emergence of Drew Storen. Tyler Clippard had been manning the closer role effectively but has recently looked very shaky. No matter. Storen returned to the 'pen and has been dominant, allowing just one run in his past 16 appearances. He’ll be closing games going forward.

4. The offense with no holes. While there is no individual superstar, six of the Nats' eight regulars had an OPS+ between 112 and 128 for the season. A seventh, Danny Espinosa, would have been right there as well if not for a hideous April. The weak link is Kurt Suzuki -- and he hit over .300 in September.

5. Davey Johnson. Outside of Jayson Werth, this team has little postseason experience, but this is the fourth team Davey has led to the playoffs, and he’s won five postseason series. You have to expect that he can guide this team through the highs and lows of October baseball.
--Harper Gordek, Nats Baseball

San Francisco Giants
1. Buster Posey. His second half was off-the-charts awesome, hitting .385/.456/.646. He was the best hitter in the majors after the All-Star break -- even better than Miguel Cabrera.

2. The rest of the Giants' offense. Even though they ranked last in the NL in home runs in the second half, they still managed to rank second in runs per game. Marco Scutaro proved to be a huge acquisition, hitting .362 with the Giants.

3. Matt Cain. Remember his dominant postseason performance in 2010? In three starts, he allowed just one unearned run. This time around he's the Giants' No. 1 guy.

4. Sergio Romo. The Giants rode Brian Wilson a lot in 2010, but this time they'll have Romo, who could be just as dominant closing games. He allowed just 37 hits and 10 walks in 55.1 innings while striking out 63. He was equally crushing against lefties (.491 OPS allowed) and righties (.537).

5. Bruce Bochy. He's considered by many to be the best manager in the game. If a series comes down to in-game tactics, most evaluators would rate Bochy superior to Dusty Baker, Fredi Gonzalez and Mike Matheny.
--David Schoenfield

Baltimore Orioles
1. No. 1 -- and, you could certainly argue Nos. 2-5 as well -- is the bullpen. The O's went 73-0 when leading after the seventh inning. As relievers, Tommy Hunter is touching 100 mph and Brian Matusz has struck out 19 batters in 13 innings. Then there's Troy Patton (2.43 ERA), Pedro Strop (2.44), Darren O'Day (2.28) and Jim Johnson (2.49, 51 saves) to finish things out. While it might not be the best bullpen ever -- or even the best bullpen in the league this year -- it may have been the most "effective" 'pen in history, as noted by its record-setting (record-obliterating, really) +14 win probability added. Maybe 16 consecutive extra-inning wins and a 29-9 record in one-run games (the best since the 1800s) is partially a fluke, but having a quality bullpen certainly doesn't hurt in keeping that going.

2. Buck Showalter. Aside from bullpen management that's been so effective, Buck seems to just make all the right moves, putting guys in positions to succeed and making in-game decisions that seem to work even when they probably shouldn't. Sac bunt? You get the run you need. Hit and run? Batted ball goes right to where the second baseman was. Bring in Chris Davis to pitch? Two shutout innings, a pair of strikeouts (including Adrian Gonzalez!), and a win. Judging managers is tricky, but it would be mighty hard to argue that Buck isn't a net plus.

3. A surging offense. Overall, the O's were a little below average, but since the beginning of September they've actually been one of the league's better hitting teams (with an AL-best 50 home runs). It's mostly been the Davis show recently (.320/.397/.660, 10 home runs), but Matt Wieters (.296/.389/.541), Adam Jones (.295/.343/.504) and Nate McLouth (!) (.280/.355/.456) haven't been slouches either.

4. An improved defense. The glove work was often sloppy early in the year, all around the diamond, but not so much lately (largely since Manny Machado was called up). Machado is a shortstop (with the range that implies) playing third base, and adjusting both well and quickly to it. J.J. Hardy is one of the game's better shortstops. Whoever is playing second is decent (Robert Andino or Ryan Flaherty). Mark Reynolds may have found a home at first base, even if he's not a Gold Glover there (yet). The O's fielding (via FanGraphs) for the first four months: -20 runs. Fielding since: +0.

5. Orioles magic. Even if you count the O's as underdogs in each playoff series -- and really, you probably should -- they still have a 3-5 percent chance of winning it all (those chances double if they knock off Texas, by the way).
--Daniel Moroz, Camden Depot

Texas Rangers
1. An obvious on-paper advantage in the wild-card game. Yu Darvish has been dominant down the stretch with a 2.13 ERA and just 10 walks over his final seven starts. He's a strikeout pitcher against a lineup that strikes out a lot. Meanwhile, Joe Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts in Arlington.

2. Big-game experience. Matt Harrison had a terrific season, and having started a Game 7 of the World Series won't be fazed by the postseason. Derek Holland has had an inconsistent season but, as he showed in the World Series last year, is certainly capable of huge performances. Ryan Dempster also has playoff experience with the Cubs.

3. Defense. The infield defense with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler is arguably the best in baseball and was a key component to the Rangers' World Series run a year ago.

4. Josh Hamilton. If these are his final days with the Rangers, you get the feeling he'll be focused to go out with a bang, especially after his disastrous game in the regular-season finale. After his hot start, Hamilton recovered from his slump in June and July to hit 14 home runs over the final two months.

5. One game equals momentum. OK, the series sweep in Oakland was a disaster, but all it takes is one win over Baltimore and the Rangers can forget what happened down the stretch. Do that and this team is still the scary opponent everyone figured it was a few days ago.
--David Schoenfield

Oakland Athletics
1. Sometimes a very good overall team matches up poorly against a playoff opponent. As far as lefty-righty goes, the A's won't have that issue. General manager Billy Beane gave manager Bob Melvin the pieces to construct platoons, including at first base (Brandon Moss/Chris Carter), designated hitter (Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes) and catcher (Derek Norris/George Kottaras). Further, the top two everyday hitters, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, bat from opposite sides of the plate, and leadoff man Coco Crisp, a switch-hitter, has very similar career splits from both sides of the plate.

2. The top three relievers, Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, have pitched remarkably well. All three bring gas. Cook can struggle with his command and Doolittle might hit a rookie wall any minute, but Balfour's 3.01 FIP is the highest of the group.

3. The A's are third in baseball in runs scored after the All-Star break. Ahead of the Yankees. Ahead of the Rangers. Well ahead of the Tigers. The current roster has been legitimately excellent on offense.

4. Defensive efficiency is a very simple metric: It is the rate at which a team turns balls in play into outs. It doesn't account for everything, but it does measure the core skill of a team's run-prevention unit. The A's are third in baseball in this number. Either the pitching staff doesn't give up hard-hit balls, the defense catches everything in sight, or both. Regardless of the why, the what is indisputable: Hits don't happen against the A's.

5. By record, the Tigers are the worst squad in the playoffs, yet the A's, the No. 2 AL team, play them in the first round because of the structure of playoff seeding. It likely isn't a huge advantage (the A's did just sweep Texas, after all), but every little bit counts on the way to a trophy.
--Jason Wojciechowski, Beaneball

Detroit Tigers
1. Miguel Cabrera. MVP or not, the Triple Crown speaks for itself. He is the best pure hitter in baseball and, unlike last year, is healthy heading into the postseason.

2. Prince Fielder was the American League’s only .300/.400/.500 hitter, and he’s not even the best player on his own team. He isn’t completely helpless against LOOGYs either, posting an OPS of .808 against left-handed pitchers this season.

3. Justin Verlander, who has been just as good as he was in 2011. If Mother Nature cooperates this year, he will put a serious dent in that career 5.57 postseason ERA.

4. The rest of the rotation. With Doug Fister finally healthy, Max Scherzer’s breakout second half, and the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers have the best playoff rotation in the big leagues. The four starters (Verlander included) combined for a 2.27 ERA in September and October.

5. Jim Leyland. The Tigers’ skipper has been ridiculed by the fan base for most of the year for the team’s lackluster performance, most of which was a mirage created by its early struggles. He has had his finger on this team’s pulse all season and deserves credit for managing the outrageous expectations for a team with more flaws than people realized. Now he has the Tigers playing their best baseball heading into October and is the biggest reason why they could be parading down Woodward Avenue in early November.
--Rob Rogacki, Walkoff Woodward

New York Yankees
1. The rotation. This looks like the strongest playoff rotation the Yankees have had in years, even better than 2009, when Joe Girardi rode three starters (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett) to the World Series title. Sabathia has battled a sore elbow but looked good down the stretch, including eight-inning efforts in his final two starts. Pettitte is 40 years old but still looks like Andy Pettitte. Hiroki Kuroda had a quietly excellent season, finishing eighth in the AL in ERA and 10th in OBP allowed among starters. Phil Hughes is a solid No. 4.

2. Home-field advantage. While this generally isn't a big factor in baseball, the Yankees' power comes into play with the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Earning the No. 1 seed was probably more important to the Yankees than any other team.

3. Robinson Cano. He's locked in right now, going 24-for-39 in his final nine games, all multihit games. Don't be surprised if he has a monster postseason.

4. Lineup depth and versatility. In this age of bullpen matchups, the Yankees are difficult to match up with. They can run out a lineup that goes right-left-right-left-switch-switch-left-left/right-right. You'd better have a deep bullpen to beat this team in the late innings.

5. Health. While Mark Teixeira may not be 100 percent, at least he's back in the lineup, meaning the Yankees finally have all their position players available (even Brett Gardner may make the postseason roster as a pinch runner/defensive replacement). They've been dinged up all season, but Sabathia and Pettitte should be strong. The only question: The Yankees haven't won a World Series without Mariano Rivera since 1978.
--David Schoenfield
The New York Yankees led the AL East by 10 games in mid-July and it appeared they would cruise to the division title. It hasn't been easy, of course; from July 19 through Sept. 11, the Yankees went 22-28. For nearly one-third of the schedule the Yankees played like the Royals.

It's perhaps not a coincidence that Andy Pettitte was injured during that entire span. The Yankees have gone 10-2 over their past 12 games with Pettitte making two of those starts and allowing zero runs. A 40-year-old pitcher coming back from a broken bone in his left leg to deliver 12 scoreless innings without the benefit of minor league rehab starts? Incredible. You can see why the Yankees -- and Yankees fans -- love the guy so much.

[+] EnlargeAndy Pettitte
AP Photo/Jim MoneThe 40-year-old Andy Pettitte is proving that he can still be a factor for the Yankees when the postseason begins.
As Nick Swisher said after Monday's win over Minnesota, "Guy takes a full year off. Comes back. Breaks his foot on a crazy play. Has been itching to get back in the lineup for a long time. And once he does, he delivers every single time. Every time he takes that mound, he's locked in out there."

Pettitte barely survived the first inning against the Twins, loading the bases with one out but he struck out Justin Morneau looking on a 2-2 fastball and got a groundout to escape the jam. He got a double play in the third and Curtis Granderson threw out Ryan Doumit at home plate in the fourth, but it was still vintage Pettitte: fastballs, cutters, sliders. He was throwing 90-91 early in the game, but his velocity dipped in the later innings and he responded with more offspeed stuff, even a couple slow curves. Overall, he actually threw his highest percentage of fastballs in any start this season (57 percent).

As Pettitte continues to build up arm strength, the Yankees' rotation suddenly looks better than it has all season with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes joining Pettitte as the likely playoff starters. That's a far cry from last season, when Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett started playoff games; or even 2009, when the Yankees managed to win the World Series with a three-man rotation of Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte.

With a 1.5-game lead over Baltimore and a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way (two more in Minnesota, four at Toronto, three at home against Boston), it appears the Yankees will hold off the Orioles to win the East. Which puts Andy Pettitte back where we've seen him 42 times previously, more than any pitcher in history: Starting a postseason game.

His postseason reputation probably exceeds his actual performance (his career 3.83 ERA is more very good than great), but the one thing he'll do is keep you in the game. He's gone at least six innings in 13 of his past 14 postseason starts, and the one time he didn't was a 5.2-inning effort in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series on three days' rest.

Solid, reliable and sometimes great. Even at 40 years old, he's a guy you want out on the mound in a big game. That presence may just make the Yankees the AL favorite heading into the postseason.

On July 18, the New York Yankees blanked the Toronto Blue Jays 6-0 in a rain-shortened game. Hiroki Kuroda pitched the seven-inning shutout, Mark Teixeira homered and the Yankees ripped 12 hits off Ricky Romero. The Yankees were cruising, having won nine of 11 and 16 of 22 games, and were leading the American League East by 10 games, on pace for 95 wins.

The hated rivals up in Boston already were turning into a bad joke, barely a rival anymore after the Yankees had taken three of four a few days before. The upstart Baltimore Orioles had won that day but had lost 13 of their pevious 19, slowly drifting into their usual pathetic irrelevance. The Tampa Bay Rays? Hey, never discount them -- they'd made a big comeback in 2011, after all -- but this wasn't their year, the lineup wasn't any good and the rotation wasn't as dominant as expected.

Yes, the Yankees were going to cruise to another division title. Print the playoff tickets.

* * * *

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the modern Yankees dynasty is their numbing consistency. Sixteen playoff appearances in 17 years. Twelve division titles. Twelve 95-win seasons in the past 15. Yes, they have more money than Zeus, but money is no guaranteed road to success.

Just look at their neighbors to the north, who are going to miss their third postseason in a row and have won just one division title in 16 years. Look at the Philadelphia Phillies, the team with the second-highest opening-day payroll. The Phillies had a nice run, five National League East titles in a row, but age and injuries caught up to them this season, and they're struggling to finish .500. The Angels will have spent more than $300 million the past two seasons and another $104 million in 2010, and might have no playoff appearances to show for that.

The Yankees have kept their dynasty going, defying age and bad luck. They did miss the playoffs in 2008, a season in which they won 89 games. Yes, that was the season they gave 20 starts to Darrell Rasner and 15 to Sidney Ponson. That offseason, they reloaded with Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and then they won the World Series.

Still, this can't go on forever, can it?

* * * *

The Yankees lost 5-2 to the Rays on Tuesday as Tampa slugged three home runs off Freddy Garcia, and a lineup that featured Raul Ibanez, Jayson Nix, Chris Dickerson and Chris Stewart failed to do much against Alex Cobb. The Orioles pounded the Blue Jays 12-0 on Tuesday as Zach Britton pitched seven scoreless innings and Mark Reynolds belted his fifth home run in five games.

The Orioles are now tied with the Yankees for first place.

"We're just having a good time and we're not putting pressure on ourselves," Reynolds said after the game. "Everybody knows the situation we're in but we're just taking it day by day and having fun."

Something tells me the Yankees aren't having a lot of fun right now.

Here's some data from Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information:

Since July 19:
Yankees: 19-25, run differential of plus-3
Orioles: 29-15, run differential of plus-37
Rays: 28-16, run differential of plus-84

As Katie points out, Nick Markakis returned from an injury after the All-Star break and the Orioles' offense has been vastly improved since. The O's hit .240/.302/.402 (BA/OBP/SLG) in the first half and .253/.322/.423 in the second (entering Tuesday's game). Markakis' .343 average and .902 OPS in the second half rank fifth and 13th, respectively, among AL hitters (before he went 3-for-5 on Tuesday). In their past 11 games, Orioles starters have nine quality starts and a 2.22 ERA.

Why not Baltimore?

* * * *

If the Orioles and A's are this year's miracle teams, that means we now have to consider the Rays grizzled vets, even if their $64 million payroll is higher than that of just five other teams. The Rays were a miracle in 2008 and a mini-miracle in 2011. We are no longer surprised.

Since the All-Star break, the Rays have a 2.45 staff ERA, which would be the second-lowest second-half ERA by an AL team since the first All-Star Game in 1933 (the 1972 Angels had a 2.37 ERA).

Pitching, my friends, pitching. The Yankees are relying on Sabathia's elbow to hold up, and the retread Garcia, and the inconsistent Phil Hughes, all the while hoping 40-year-old Andy Pettitte will return to offer a lifeline.

The Yankees look old, mediocre and beaten up.

Why not Tampa Bay?

* * * *

From 10 games ahead to pure panic. Yankees fans should be worried. Right now, they're the third-best team in the AL East. They're even with the Orioles, and the Rays are 1.5 games back, with a chance to cut the deficit to a half-game with a win Wednesday.

Sure, injuries. Sure, Alex Rodriguez just returned and Robinson Cano didn't play Tuesday and Teixeira is out. But that's what happens when you get old. Ibanez is old. Ichiro Suzuki is old. Andruw Jones is old. Curtis Granderson isn't old but has morphed into Dave Kingman in the past couple of months, a guy who hits home runs and strikes out.

The Yankees are struggling. The Yankees are not going to win the AL East.

The playoffs? Hey, it's still the Yankees; you never want to count them out. They have four games left with Tampa Bay and a four-game series this weekend in Baltimore, but the rest of the schedule is soft other than one series with Oakland -- six games against the sinking Red Sox, seven against the banged-up Blue Jays, three against the Twins. Even if the Orioles and Rays rise past the Yankees, New York can make the wild card if it can hold off the Tigers/White Sox loser and the A's and Angels.

I want to say the Yankees won't make it, that they're too old, overpaid and overrated. People in baseball often talk about digging deep. It's just something they like to say.

But I'll say this: Get out your shovels, Yankees.

Nick MarkakisBrad White/Getty ImagesNick Markakis slips in the same way the Orioles tied for first: Stealthily and safely.

You have to love August baseball. This is when the grind of the long season settles in, when depth becomes even more important, when pitchers have to pitch through fatigue and soreness and maybe a little pain. It's when we find out if the pretenders are contenders and whether the favorites really do have the firepower.

August is time for scoreboard-watching. August is time for your ace to go on a five-win hot streak. August is time for the MVP candidates to shine. August is time for big wins, like the one the Giants had on Sunday at home, when they scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to defeat the Colorado Rockies. Trade-deadline acquisition Hunter Pence had the decisive blow, a three-run home run, his first since joining the Giants. Pence is hitting just .137 with the Giants, but his homer off Rafael Betancourt capped a rally started when Brandon Crawford's leadoff pop fly fell for a single.

Beginning with the Giants, here are 10 important things you need to know as August rolls on.

1. The Giants have an offense.

Since the All-Star break, the Giants are second in the National League in runs scored to the Nationals, hitting .270 with a .339 on-base percentage, also second in the league. Buster Posey, of course, has been on fire, hitting .443 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs since the break. Only Boston's Adrian Gonzalez has more post-break RBIs (35). Melky Cabrera hasn't slowed down either; his .918 second-half OPS matches his .910 of the first half. If Pence can get going to provide another power threat, the Giants' offense looks even better.

2. Remember Jayson Werth.

Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Mike Morse have combined for 23 home runs since the break to power the Nationals, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday, but Werth provides something the offense has needed all season: A leadoff hitter. Since his return from a broken wrist, Werth has hit .400 with a .500 OBP. On the season, Nationals leadoff hitters rank just 13th in the National League in OBP. "I am totally surprised how my wrist is doing, how I’ve recovered," Werth told the Washington Post a couple days ago. "When I look down at my wrist and I see that scar, it almost reminds me. Like, 'Oh, yeah.' I almost forget about it until I see the hatchet wound." Werth won't ever live up to the $126 million contract, but he's a a huge key as the Nats push for a division title.

3. Who will step up for the Angels behind Jered Weaver?

Can we stop declaring that the Angels are guaranteed to secure one of the AL wild cards? They're 3-8 over the past 11 games after Jason Vargas outdueled Weaver on Sunday and have slipped 8 games behind the Rangers in the West, and to fifth in the wild-card race behind the Rays, Orioles, A's and Tigers. Dan Haren has allowed at least one home run in nine consecutive starts, Ervin Santana continues to pitch like a ticking time bomb and has allowed the most home runs in the majors, Zack Greinke has been terrible in two of his three starts with the Angels, including the fifth five-plus walk game of his career, and even C.J. Wilson has allowed 27 runs in 29.2 innings over his past five starts. With the starters getting knocked early, the overtaxed Angels bullpen has also been an issue. For all the Mike Trout love, the Angels have a good chance of becoming the season's most disappointing -- yes, even more disappointing than the Red Sox.

4. The Rays are scorching hot on the mound.

If pitchers feed off each other, the Rays are like a pack of hungry wolves right now. Tampa Bay owns a 2.33 ERA since the All-Star break and has held opponents to a .200 average in going 17-11. The Rays swept the Twins by scoring four runs in the top of the 10th and have won eight of 11 to surge into the wild-card lead with the Orioles. Next up on this road: Trips to Seattle and Anaheim. That four-game series against the Angels looms large and David Price and James Shields will start the first two games.

5. Jim Leyland is right ... sort of.

The Tigers manager started a minor firestorm when he referred to Mike Trout as "Wonderboy" in suggesting his own Miguel Cabrera is deserving of the AL MVP Award so far. Leyland's comments really weren't derogatory, as he was simply referring to the potential of voters getting caught up in Trout's storyline. Hey, he's right in that regard; voters do love a good storyline. It's why Ichiro Suzuki won in 2001 over Jason Giambi and teammate Bret Boone. Or why Miguel Tejada won over Alex Rodriguez in 2002. Interestingly, the last "Wonderboy" to challenge for an MVP trophy was A-Rod in 1996, and he finished second to Juan Gonzalez in one of the worst MVP votes of all time.

That's because what MVP voters really like is a player who makes the playoffs. It's why Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp in 2011 or why Joey Votto collected 31 of 32 first-place over Albert Pujols in 2010 despite basically identical numbers. Of the 34 MVP trophies handed out during the wild-card era, only six have gone to players whose teams didn't reach the playoffs: Pujols (2008), Ryan Howard (2006), Barry Bonds (2004 and 2001), A-Rod (2003) and Larry Walker (1997). So maybe Trout is the MVP favorite right now, but that all changes if the Angels don't reach the playoffs (the same, of course, can be said for Cabrera).

6. The Cardinals have the same record through 115 games as 2011.

Just like a season ago, the Cardinals are 62-53. However, in 2011 they were just 3 games behind the Brewers and 4 behind wild-card leader Atlanta. While they're 7 behind the Reds in the National League Central, they trail the Braves and Pirates by just 2.5. Like a year ago, the bullpen is struggling -- on Sunday, St. Louis blew a three-run lead in the eighth to the Phillies and lost in 11 innings. Of course, we know the bullpen buttoned down last year.

7. The best trade deadline pickup may have been ... Paul Maholm?

Maybe the Braves got the best Cubs pitcher being shopped around. Maholm's record since June 29: Eight starts, eight runs allowed. He's pitched in obscurity for years in Pittsburgh, often with some terrible defensive teams behind him. He doesn't light up the radar gun but his strikeout rate has ticked up a notch this year, perhaps because he's throwing his slider with greater frequency. Oh, another note: Mike Minor, much-maligned by Braves fans in the first half, has a 1.99 ERA over his past five starts.

8. Manny Machado is here to stay.

Can a rookie lead the Orioles to the first playoff berth since 1997? In four games since his surprise call-up from Double-A, all the 20-year-old rookie has done is hit three home runs, a double and a triple, scored five runs and knocked in seven. Maybe we have a second Wonderboy.

9. The Yankees are 26-22 since June 18. A-Rod is on the DL. CC Sabathia is again on the DL ...

Since reeling off that 10-game winning streak in mid-June, the Yankees have played just above .500 baseball. They're actually 14-14 over the past 28 games. Phil Hughes, having looked better, has returned to being Phil Hughes his past two starts. Ivan Nova lives and dies on whether his curveball and slider have enough bite on any given start. Sabathia has a tender elbow. Andy Pettitte had a setback. And then there's the offense. Curtis Granderson is turning into an extreme all-or-nothing hitter. He has seven homers since the break, but is hitting .218 with a 39/9 SO/BB ratio. Ichiro Suzuki has a sub-.300 OBP since joining the Yankees. And ... the Yankees are still up 5 games in the East.

10. We don't know anything.

Nine teams in the AL are within 5.5 games of a playoff spot. Seven teams are within 5 games of a playoff spot in the NL. That means more than half the teams have legitimate playoff hopes. There is no clear-cut No. 1 team in baseball. We have parity, we have excitement, we have fans filling ballparks (well, at least some of them) and we have a crazy, unpredictable finish ahead of us. Why is that important? Because it gives all of us reason to do plenty of scoreboard-watching.
On Thursday’s fun Baseball Today podcast, SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield and I delved into many interesting topics, from players being lost (and found!) to injury to an All-Star Game from our youth!

1. First the Yankees had to deal with the CC Sabathia disabled list stint, and then Andy Pettitte suffered a broken fibula when he was hit by a line drive. Can the Yankees overcome this?

2. The Dodgers still haven’t scored a run all week and the Giants certainly have, not only changing the NL West race but reminding people that it doesn’t take long for standings to be turned upside down.

3. The Phillies welcomed back Chase Utley and one of us was on hand for the fun. A certain relief pitcher was not much fun, however.

4. Our emailers are focused on Brandon Belt, Rangers fans and All-Star topics, and Dave shares thoughts from a midsummer classic he attended as a child!

5. It’s Trevor Bauer night! The hard-throwing right-hander is scheduled to make his big league debut, but he’s not the only interesting arm in action on this fine Thursday!

So download and listen to Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast and have a great day!
Andy Pettitte is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a fractured fibula and CC Sabathia will miss a couple starts with a pulled groin. What's the impact on the Yankees? For now, Freddy Garcia and rookie Adam Warren will step into the rotation.

ESPN Stats & Information ran a simulation of 10,000 seasons to see the affects. Assuming Pettitte misses nine starts and Sabathia misses two, here are the simulation results before the injuries and after:

So the injury effects are small, although not insignificant, dropping the Yankees' projected playoff chances by 5 percent. The Yankees still rate as the heavy favorite in the AL East.

"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.)

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.

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.

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.

Javier Lopez Jake Roth/US PresswireJavier Lopez is sending a message to Mark Kotsay: Tag, you're out!
Ah, the highs and lows of being a New York Mets fan! We’ve got Mark Simon to discuss this, and many other topics, for Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1 .One day they get a no-hitter, and on Tuesday the Mets somehow manage to lose to the Nationals in a crazy game. We celebrate Bryce Harper, the annoying Stephen Strasburg angle, and of course, talk Mets.

2. The Diamondbacks are struggling, and the team’s managing general partner decided it was time to verbally motivate a few players. Was he out of line?

3. Tuesday was a night for barehanded defense, and we point out the season leaders in this unique category.

4. We take your Tweets on a variety of topics, including late draft steals, being clutch and the Pirates.

5. Wednesday’s schedule features interesting arms for the Rays and Yankees, Zack Greinke and the underrated Felipe Paulino! Of course, you know all about Felipe Paulino, right?

So download and listen to Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast as we bring the passion and hope you enjoy it!