SweetSpot: Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. While it's certainly a tough blow for the Orioles, it's hardly a season-ending blow for them.

Despite his respected reputation and two All-Star appearances, Wieters is a good player, not a great one, especially last season when he hit .235/.287/.417. That's not criticism; there's a lot of value in being a good player. He had been off to a great start in the 26 games he played, hitting .308/.339/.500, but that was well above his career norms and way above what he did last season, obviously. There was little reason to expect Wieters to keep hitting .300 all year.

Baseball-Reference valued Wieters at just 0.5 WAR in 2013. He was better in 2011 (4.9) and 2012 (3.5). FanGraphs had him at 2.4 WAR last season, but similar totals in 2011 (4.5) and 2012 (3.9). Let's say last year was just a bad year and that Wieters is roughly a four-win player. That's hard to replace; good two-way catchers don't exactly fall off trees. The other three catchers the Orioles have used -- Steve Clevenger, Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley -- have combined to hit .184 with no home runs and 12 RBIs. That's pretty bad, certainly about replacement-level offense if not below. Collectively, the three have been worth minus-0.3 WAR heading into Monday's game, according to Baseball-Reference.

Throw it in the mixer and those three should provide at least replacement-level performance, possibly better depending on how Hundley does, if he gets to play. Last year with the Padres Hundley produced a batting that was basically a replica of Wieters', especially when you adjust for parks: .233/.290/.389. The Orioles will take that. Anyway, we're talking about a lot of possibilities and variables here, but the difference in value could be four wins, or it could be one win.

So Wieters' injury hurts, and that's without recognizing that there may be some relative intangibles we risk missing here. StatCorner.com has rated both Joseph and Hundley as better pitch framers than Wieters in 2014. Wieters didn't rate well last year in pitch framing. It's possible the Orioles don't less anything defensively and actually improve with Joseph.

Anyway, I would argue the Orioles have other issues as important or more so if they're going to chase down the Blue Jays in the AL East.

[+] EnlargeManny Machado
AP Photo/Gail BurtonThe Orioles have to hope Manny Machado starts producing like the star they expect him to be.
1. Manny Machado has to start hitting and fielding better. We know what he did last year, hitting .283 with 14 home runs and a league-leading 51 doubles. We know he played Gold Glove defense at third base, deservedly winning with what the defensive metrics said was one of the best seasons ever by a third baseman (the eye test agreed).

My gut says he'll improve in both areas from where he's at now, especially as his knee continues to get better after he injured it late last season. I do worry about the overaggressive approach at bat and the inability to lay off breaking stuff off the plate, but he also has a low .265 average on balls in play compared to .322 last year. His line-drive rate is actually higher than last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information (23 percent to 20 percent). He hit .757 on line drives last year but is hitting .531 this year. The MLB average is .675. That looks like some bad luck to me.

Defensively, he's making 3.07 plays per nine innings this year; he made 3.05 last year. His error rate is up, but you have to dig deep into the metrics to figure out why he's not grading out near as well this year as last year.

2. Chris Tillman needs to get people out. Maybe he's not an ace but he's supposed to be the Orioles' No. 1 starter and he's 5-4 with a 4.80 ERA and impossible to figure out. On May 16 he pitched a shutout; his next start he gave eight runs and got three outs. On May 31 and June 10 he allowed one run each time; in between those two games, he again got just three outs. In his last start on Sunday he gave up three runs in seven innings but didn't record a strikeout.

Here's the concern: His hits and walks are up from last year, while his strikeouts and home runs are down. Overall, however, the package is similar: He had a 4.42 FIP in 2013 and is at 4.61 this year. He managed to outperform his FIP in 2012 (2.93 ERA) and 2013 (3.71 EA), but isn't doing so this season. Regardless, a staff leader can't afford five-inning starts let alone one-inning starts.

3. Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy: Where's the power? Last year, with Davis hitting 53 home runs and Hardy 25, the Orioles clubbed 212 long balls, the most in the majors. That was the basis of their offense. They don't walk much (next-to-last in the AL last year and last year this year), so they have to the ball over the fence to score runs. Davis has 11 home runs (he did miss 15 games) while Hardy is sitting on zero. Overall, the Orioles are on pace to hit 36 fewer home runs that last year, and that's with Nelson Cruz playing the Chris Davis role with an MLB-leading 21.

4. Big hole at second base: Baltimore's second sackers are hitting .245 with a .289 OBP. Buck Showalter loves Ryan Flaherty's defense and rookie Jonathan Schoop has some potential, but this position was an issue last year and remains a problem. An upgrade -- like trading for Arizona's Aaron Hill? -- is a possibility.

5. Ubaldo Jimenez: The big wild card. Among 99 qualified starters, he's No. 99 in walk rate. His walk rate is 13.5 percent, up from 10.3 percent last year and way up from the 7.8 percent in the second half of last season when he went on the great roll with Cleveland, his first consistent stretch since he began the 2010 season red-hot for the Rockies. Who is the real Ubaldo Jimenez? I'd suggest that what he has done over most of the past four seasons is a better barometer than three months.

What's it all mean? The Orioles are clearly a team with some fatal flaws: They don't walk so they are too reliant on hitting home runs; they lack a No. 1 to lead the rotation; and now they potentially have a hole at catcher. That's without mentioning the bullpen, which lost Monday's game in the eighth inning.

Look, this team could get hot, for all sorts of reasons: Davis goes on a tear, Machado improves, Tillman or Jimenez get straightened out, the bullpen settles down. But right now, the Orioles are 35-34 and that's what they look like to me: a .500 team.

First-place O's get Chris Davis back

May, 11, 2014
May 11

So the first-place Orioles are getting Chris Davis back. That comes after they’re already getting Manny Machado back. Along with the big-bopping benefits of Nelson Cruz, they should be ready to roll, right?

Well, maybe not so much, because Matt Wieters’ long fight to avoid the DL finally ended with his heading there to get some rest for his elbow soreness to recede. He may be gone until July.

Still, let’s take the big-picture view of where the Orioles offense is right now. Despite losing Davis for some time, not having Machado for most of the season so far and needing to lean heavily on weak-hitting subs like Ryan Flaherty, Steve Lombardozzi, Jonathan Schoop and David Lough in the early going, the Orioles are nevertheless seventh in the league in runs scored at 4.3 per game. That’s nevertheless a little below average because of the big split -- almost a half-run -- between the league’s six best offenses and the rest of the league.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Orioles are hoping Chris Davis starts crushing like it's 2013 all over again.
But now that Davis is back, you can see how things should improve for the Orioles, even if Wieters has to rest his elbow until June or perhaps even July. Cruz has already powered 10 home runs in his PED suspension redemption campaign. Machado has struggled, but in his defense, he has less than two weeks’ worth of live-game at-bats between his rehab work and his time since being reactivated; it shouldn’t be much longer before he’s back in a groove. J.J. Hardy hasn’t really gotten going, but he was hampered by early hamstring problems.

And then there’s Davis, last year’s third man in the Trout-Cabrera MVP duel after his 53-homer campaign. That built on Davis’ end-of-season heroics in 2012, when his 10 homers after Sept. 1 powered the Orioles into the postseason. If the Orioles are going to sustain another October bid, they need him to be producing at the plate.

One potential problem for Davis? According to BrooksBaseball.net pitch data at Baseball Prospectus, Davis is seeing 23.75 percent of all pitches below the strike zone and 25.68 percent of all pitches away and outside: low, high, you name it. Between those two categories, that should amount to a lot of balls (Eric Gregg strike zones excepted), but it means a lot of pitchers are throwing him low and outside. As he waits for cookies that haven’t come, Davis hasn’t been able to resist. He has swung at almost 60 percent of breaking and off-speed pitches below and outside the strike zone, swinging and missing on 56 percent of them while notching just three base hits. He may not like being more of a walking man, but until he can force pitchers to come back into the zone against him, those cookies are going to be a long time coming.

Getting Davis back is very good news. And I don’t think it’s at all coincidental that getting Lough out of the lineup at the same time that Machado has replaced that unproductive Schoop-Flaherty combo at the hot corner has helped. Wieters’ move to some time at DH while Steve Clevenger chipped in a surprising amount of offense? Another benefit. With Davis back, this could mean a whole more at-bats for Davis’ substitute at first base, Steve Pearce, in the DH slot, keeping Lough among the playing-time losers.

But getting more out of the regular lineup is a matter of finally getting some production out of several weak slots in the Orioles’ lineup. They are last in the league in walk rate, getting a free pass in just 5.9 percent of at-bats. Davis’ return will be a big help on that score, but a significant problem is the absence of almost anyone else in the lineup who might walk much. Counting on Pearce for any length of time will be a risk, and waiting on Wieters while hoping Clevenger can keep popping as their regular catcher in the meantime will be another. And the absence of any acceptable answer at second base figures to be a season-long problem; I don’t consider Schoop a real answer, not when he hasn’t hit very well anywhere for any meaningful length of time since mashing in the Sally League in a half-season in 2011.

It’s clear the Orioles need to deal for some help, but GM Dan Duquette’s job on that front won’t be easy. This early, with few teams in sell mode, there aren’t a ton of options available at second base -- mighty mite Jose Altuve of the Astros, perhaps? There are almost as few options to trade for behind the plate.

If there’s good news, it’s that the organization may finally have some pieces to deal, ranking 10th in the Keith Law’s preseason organizational sorting, but it’s a system with a few great high-upside arms and not a ton of depth, so perhaps not exactly the sort of hand you want to deal from to land some of the right-now help the Orioles need. Even assuming Duquette were willing to deal, high-end talent demands high-end returns, and Altuve probably ain’t that.

Which brings it back to Davis and right now. If he starts pounding at the same time that Machado and Hardy get in gear, that could buy the Orioles the time they need. Time to see when Wieters will be back. Time to see whether an answer to their needs at second base and either DH or left field -- wherever Cruz isn’t -- present themselves. For a team in first place in the tight fight in the American League East, they can afford to take the time to find out.

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

SweetSpot TV: Rapid fire!

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29

Eric and myself take questions via Twitter and answer them in this week's edition of rapid fire.

Early trends: Bruce, Fielder, Rizzo, Heyward

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
We've reached the point in the season where the first calls are coming into sports-talk radio. You know the kind. The ones that say "Bench (fill in the blank), he's terrible" or "(fill in the blank) is finally going to be a star."

But there are usually explanations for these small-sample spikes or sputters, the most common of which is "It's early!"

Nonetheless, some trends are starting to emerge. We'll see how long-lasting these are.

Jay Bruce
Bruce has been a victim of infield shifts this season.

He's 0-for-9 when hitting a groundball against a defensive shift and you can see from his spray chart that he's already got a fair number of outfield ground outs.

Bruce is a good example of someone for whom shifts have contributed to frustration in a number of areas.

Over the last five seasons, his batting average on groundballs has sunk from .314 to .275 to .205 to .185 to its current 1-for-14. That's what happens when you pull 71 percent of your groundballs, as he has this season.

Prince Fielder
Fielder is also having trouble with shifts.

But his issue isn't with pulled balls, it's with getting the ball through the middle of the diamond.

Fielder is 3-for-18 when hitting a grounder or soft liner against shifts. He's 0-for-9 on the ground balls hit between where the second baseman and shortstop would typically play, as since they've shifted slightly, they're in ideal position to field his ground balls. Last season, on balls hit to those same locations he was 21-for-78 (.269).

Anthony Rizzo
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is off to a good start after a 2013 in which his numbers never reached anything near the expectation level the Cubs had for him.

Anthony Rizzo got a base hit on this pitch against the Pirates last week.
Rizzo is hitting .319 in his first 47 at-bats and he can thank his duck snorts for that start.

Rizzo is 10-for-33 on balls classified as either softly-hit or medium-hit after batting .156 when hitting those same types of balls last season.

The classic example of that is this -- Rizzo reached out and got a base hit on a pitch that was thrown to the spot noted in the image on the right. Those hits make a big difference in the numbers this early in the season.

Jason Heyward
Last season, Victor Martinez of the Tigers got off to a slow start. But there was reason to believe that Martinez's performance would eventually catch up with how often he was hitting the ball hard (a lot) and it did.

This year, it looks like Jason Heyward is headed down the Martinez path.

Heyward is hitting .160 and is 4-for-11 when hitting a ball that our video-tracking system classifies as hard hit. Over the previous two seasons, Heyward hit .746 and .718 on his hard-hit balls.

Heyward is 0-for-15 in 2014 when hitting a fly ball that doesn't go out of the ballpark. That includes a pair of well-muscled fly balls that found gloves against the New York Mets and Washington Nationals.

He's also 1-for-11 on his groundballs despite not being regularly shifted against and that might be a little misleading since he has reached base twice on errors (had those been scored hits, his batting average would have jumped 40 points).

Matt Wieters
At least for two weeks, Wieters has used the center of the field as his primary means for reaching base. From 2011 to 2013, Wieters pulled 43 percent of the balls he put in play and hit 28 percent of them to center field. This season, he’s reversed those numbers, pulling 29 percent and centering 41 percent.

The result of that has been more line drives. Last year, Wieters totaled 15 line drives to center field as a left-handed hitter. In the first two weeks of the season, he’s already got seven. The effort to pull the ball less often is a route that Torii Hunter went last season with modest success. We'll see if Wieters has made the adjustment or if it's just temporary results.

Switch-hitting is a relatively new thing, at least in terms of the long history of baseball. Among the 50 switch-hitters with the most career plate appearances since 1901, only eight played before World War II. Eighteen of those began their careers in 1970 or later. Mickey Mantle was a phenomenon -- the first switch-hitter with power -- but Maury Wills was the switch-hitter who proved to be an important influence.

Wills was a fast guy who slapped the ball around and used his speed. Wills helped bring the stolen base back into the game in the 1960s after it had basically disappeared for several decades, and with the advent of artificial turf, an entire generation of speed players were made to switch-hit and told to pound ground balls through the infield and, hopefully, a few line drives in the gap.

That practice isn't as popular as it once was, but it's what the Reds have done with Billy Hamilton, the speedster who made his major league debut Tuesday night. From Buster Olney's blog today:
There are unanswered questions among some evaluators about whether Hamilton will be a good enough hitter from the left side, in his continued development as a switch-hitter, and whether he’ll be consistent enough to be a productive everyday player in the big leagues.

As a right-handed batter in Triple-A, Hamilton hit .250/.317/.331; from the left side, he hit .269/.285/.369. While the splits appear similar, the big difference is in his strikeout-to-walk ratio: It was 64/34 from the right side versus 38/4 from the left side. He clearly has a better approach from his natural right side, albeit not with any increase in power.

But that's the trouble with switch-hitters: Once you've done it, it's hard to give it up, even if the numbers suggest it's a bad idea. Remember U.L. Washington? He was the shortstop on the Royals' 1980 World Series team, although you probably remember him for playing with a toothpick in his mouth (yes, the '80s were awesome). In 1980, his OPS was 160 points higher from the right side. In 1982, he hit .323/.367/.581 from the right side, .266/.323/.330 from the left. What if he had remained a right-handed batter? Eventually he stopped hitting from either side.

Look at Shane Victorino. He's always been a better hitter from the right side. A recent injury has forced him to bat right-handed against right-handed pitchers. Guess what? He's been great, hitting .310/.403/.500 in those matchups (in a small sample size of 67 PAs). It's entirely possible, however, that Victorino would be a better just hitting from the right side.

Another case right now is Matt Wieters. Lofty expectations were placed on Wieters after he hit .355 with power in his first season in the minors in 2008, becoming the top prospect in baseball. While he's reached 20 home runs for the third straight season, he's also hitting .232 with a .287 OBP. His Wins Above Replacement have declined from 5.1 in 2011 to 3.6 to 0.6 -- you're just not that valuable of an offensive player with an OBP below .300.

The low batting average has been fueled by a .241 average on balls in play, so it's possible he's been hitting into some bad luck, but Wieters hasn't hit for average from the left side for a couple seasons now. He has some power -- 11 home runs -- but his overall line is .215/275/.370, well below the .270/.318/.526 line from the right side. He had a similar split last year: .715 OPS versus .908. For his career, his OPS from the left side is .707 versus .823 from the right side (and trending worse after hitting well from the left side his first two seasons).

Wieters' switch-hitting has been a hot topic in Baltimore the past couple of years. He's obviously unlikely to stop -- Mariano Duncan did it early in his career and J.T. Snow eventually stopped hitting from the right and stuck to hitting left-handed -- a decision that paid off, as his production against left-handed pitching improved -- but for the most part, once a switch-hitter, always a switch-hitter.

Hamilton is a much different type of hitter from Wieters or Snow, of course, and hitting left-handed certainly helps him beat out more infield singles. It remains to be seen if that will make a better hitter, however.
The Franchise Player Draft has been completed, so it's time for Eric Karabell and myself to continue our tradition of doing the second round. All picks were made by Eric and myself, not the franchise "owners," so yell at us, not them. Eric made all the odd-numbered picks and I made the even-numbered picks.

And, no, I did not draft Eric Hosmer.

31. Keith Law (David Price): Oscar Taveras. KLaw knows a few things about prospects, and Taveras was his No. 2 guy entering the season, after the already chosen Jurickson Profar.

32. Manny Acta (Jose Bautista): Matt Moore. Bautista is a win-now type of building block, but so is Moore, a 24-year-old with terrific stuff, hasn't been overworked and has as good a chance as anybody to be the best pitcher in baseball over the next five years.

33. Eric Karabell (Andrelton Simmons). Carlos Gonzalez. Defense in Round 1, offense in Round 2. And even if this mythical team doesn't play its home games at Coors Field, note that CarGo is hitting better on the road this season.

34. Jonah Keri (Joe Mauer): Madison Bumgarner. Hard to believe that he doesn't turn 24 until August, but he already has two World Series rings and two 200-inning seasons. He's so efficient that he should be a 200-inning guy for years to come.

35. Scott Spratt (Felix Hernandez): Jean Segura. I'll admit I considered Segura late in Round 1, but instead opted for the elite defense of Simmons. Segura won't hit .350 all year, but he's not a bad pick at this spot.

36. Jim Bowden (Stephen Strasburg): Jordan Zimmermann. Hey, don't blame Strasburg and Zimmermann for the Nationals' problems this year! Jim was the Nationals' GM when the club selected him in the second round of the 2007, so he's happy to snag him again.

37. Paul Swydan (Jurickson Profar): Matt Wieters. Build teams up the middle! Wieters remains a building-block player, despite a slow start to 2013.


Who should be the first pick of the second round?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,661)

38. Curt Schilling (Shelby Miller): Paul Goldschmidt. Too early for a first baseman? Maybe, but Goldschmidt is more than just a slugger. He's an elite defender at first, swipes some bases, and at 25 is entering his prime years.

39. Mark Simon (David Wright): Zack Wheeler. Well, Mark is, after all, a Mets fan. And pretty soon Wheeler will have many fans.

40. Justin Havens (Ryan Braun): Prince Fielder. A relatively safe pick considering Fielder's durability and on-base skills. Plus, Justin can now watch that 2011 Brewers highlight DVD that has been collecting dust.

41. Orel Hershiser (Justin Upton): Adam Wainwright. OK, so maybe the Cardinals right-hander has never tossed 59 consecutive scoreless innings, but he's pretty good.

42. David Schoenfield (Troy Tulowitzki): Miguel Sano. Prospects are overrated! Plus, Sano is only in Class A ball, you say? Sure, but he'll be in Double-A soon, putting him on track for a midseason promotion to the Twins in 2014. And then my future third baseman will start winning home run titles.

43. Mike Greenberg (Matt Kemp): Chris Davis. Well, at least one of these sluggers is healthy and producing. And Davis does look legit.

44. Mike Golic (Dustin Pedroia): Elvis Andrus. With that double-play duo behind them, the pitchers on Golic's team will be very happy pitchers. Well, assuming the outfield doesn't consist of Raul Ibanez, Lucas Duda and Mike Morse.

45. Richard Durrett (Justin Verlander): Adam Jones. This elite center fielder looks even better than his breakout 2012.

46. Christina Kahrl (Jason Heyward): Xander Bogaerts. He probably doesn't stick at shortstop, but he's going to hit at whatever position he plays. Plus, his name starts with an X, and he'll be better than Xavier Nady.

47. Buster Olney (Robinson Cano): Clay Buchholz. Olney got a close-up look at Buchholz on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, and had to be impressed. Perhaps he can build an entire fake team with all Yankees and Red Sox.

48. Dan Szymborski (Yu Darvish): Carlos Santana. We're not privy to the super secret ZiPS projection system that Dan keeps stored in a bank vault somewhere in Maryland, but we have to think it likes a catcher with power and on-base skills.

49. Jon Sciambi (Giancarlo Stanton): Yasiel Puig. Could be 80 home runs from this duo in 2014. Or, we suppose, fewer.

50. Mike Petriello (Andrew McCutchen): Yadier Molina. Talk about building up the middle. Molina turns 31 in July and caught a lot of games before turning 30, so there's risk that he won't hold up. But he's the kind of guy you take a risk on.

51. C.J. Nitkowski (Joey Votto): Austin Jackson. Terrific center fielder and leadoff hitter could have gone in the first round. It's tougher to find an all-around center fielder than a first baseman.

52. Alex Cora (Miguel Cabrera): Chris Sale. Some believe he's an arm injury waiting to happen, but there's no denying he's one of the best starters in the game.

53. Tim Kurkjian (Matt Harvey): Wil Myers. One future Cy Young winner is set, and here comes the prototypical slugging right fielder to join him. If the Rays would just cooperate and promote him.

54. Jim Caple (Yoenis Cespedes): Matt Cain. We know Caple loves those West Coast guys, so let's give him Cain, who is still just 28. Don't overreact to his current 5+ ERA. He'll be fine.

55. Dave Cameron (Evan Longoria): Mike Zunino. Mariners fan gets the next great Mariner. Thought about giving him Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero, picks from last season, but that seemed a bit unfair.

56. Molly Knight (Clayton Kershaw): Cole Hamels. What's wrong with Hamels? As with Cain, let's not overreact to two subpar months. A rotation with these two lefties would look pretty sweet.

57. Jayson Stark (Buster Posey): Jose Fernandez. Future ace has certainly impressed as a rushed rookie this season.

58. Aaron Boone (Manny Machado): Starling Marte. He's playing left field for the Pirates, but could easily move to center, giving Aaron two elite young defenders who have some ability at the plate as well.

59. Doug Glanville (Bryce Harper): Starlin Castro. What a fall from grace! A year ago the Chicago Cubs shortstop was the ninth overall selection in Round 1. Now he barely gets chosen at all. I have to admit, he doesn't seem to be growing at the plate or in the field, but Glanville probably has more patience.

60. Jerry Crasnick (Mike Trout): Mark Appel. Jerry loves Dylan Bundy, but he was just recently cleared to start throwing for the first time since late March. So let's go off the board and give him a guy who hasn't even started his professional career yet. Thanks us later, Jerry.
Matt WietersRick Osentoski/US PRESSWIRE Backed by his strong defense, Matt Wieters could be an MVP if his bat develops a little more.
Earlier, we listed our top five stealth MVP candidates for the National League. As a reminder, MVP winners usually meet these criteria:

1. Be on a playoff team (see Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout, Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp, etc.)
2. Be an RBI guy.
3. Hit .300 (Jimmy Rollins is the only non-pitcher MVP since 1990 to hit under .300).

Here are my five sleeper MVP choices for the American League. The criteria to qualify as a sleeper is if the player has never finished in the top 15 of an MVP vote. I will say this: It was much harder coming up with five candidates in the AL. I don't know if that means the NL has been producing more young talent in recent years or if the AL voters have done a better job identifying MVP candidates in previous years. I think we're much more likely to see a stealth MVP in the National League.


Who is the best AL stealth MVP candidate?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,588)

5. Carlos Santana, C, Indians. Best MVP finish: None. This is a long-shot choice, and not only because the Indians need a lot to go right to contend for the playoffs, let alone reach them. Santana has power (27 home runs in 2011, 18 last year) and draws walks (91 in 2012), but hit just .252 last year. That, however, includes a homerless June in which he hit .162 after suffering a concussion in late May. He's not to going to hit .300, but if he hits in the .280 range, draws 100 walks, posts a .400 OBP, hits 30 home runs and drives in 100 runs as Cleveland wins the wild card, he could be that rare catcher MVP.

4. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers. Best MVP finish: None. Entering his age-26 season, Jackson is coming off a .300/.377/.479 season, hitting 16 home runs, while missing 25 games. His problems as an MVP candidate are two-fold: He's a leadoff guy, so he isn't going to rack up the RBIs that MVP voters drool over; and he has a couple of teammates named Cabrera and Prince Fielder to steal his thunder. (I mean, if Trout can't beat out Cabrera, how can Jackson?) But if Jackson hits .315, swats 25 home runs, scores 120 runs, plays outstanding defense ... well, maybe the voters will do what they didn't do in 2012.

3. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays. Best MVP finish: None. In about a full season's worth of plate appearances, Lawrie has hit .278/.336/.446. His sophomore campaign was disappointing with just 11 home runs in 125 games, but as he enters his age-23 season the talent is there for a breakout. Projected to hit fifth in the lineup behind Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he's in line to get a lot of RBI opportunities. The defensive metrics love his glove at third, so if he can hit .300 and drive in 100-plus runs, his all-around game could impress.

2. Alex Gordon, LF, Royals. Best MVP finish: 21st in 2011. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Gordon ranks fourth in the AL in WAR among position players over the past two seasons, behind Cabrera, Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano. If the Royals surprise, maybe Gordon's all-around game gets some recognition. He's won two straight Gold Gloves, led the AL with 51 doubles last year and has hit .303 and .294. Trouble is, he's 29, so he is unlikely to improve much (like hit .330 and win a batting title). If he hits leadoff, like he did half of last season, his RBI total will suffer, as well. And if the Royals do make the playoffs, it may be because Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas or Salvador Perez makes a huge leap.

1. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles. Best MVP finish: 21st in 2012. Wieters' numbers last year were similar to Santana's, so a lot of the same things apply to him. He'll have to hit much better than .249 and drive in 103 instead of 83. At 27 and with three seasons now under his belt, maybe he'll be one of those catchers who develops late with the bat. His edge compared to Santana is he may be the premier defensive catcher in the AL -- he's won the past two Gold Gloves (not that defense helped Trout a year ago). His second edge is that Orioles are probably a better bet to reach the postseason than the Indians. If Wieters improves with the bat and the Orioles return to the playoffs, his perceived leadership skills help make him a perfect stealth MVP candidate.

If you want a pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners (16th in 2010). Seattle is a deep dark horse, but if the Mariners do make it, maybe it's because Felix has a Verlander-like season.

You may have thought they were stealth but they’ve finished in the top 15 of the voting: Zobrist, Yoenis Cespedes, Encarnacion, David Price, Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler.

Brian McCann's value on D

January, 18, 2013
Brian McCann’s future with the Braves is certainly open to speculation, as Jerry Crasnick points out so effectively. And if McCann does wind up a free agent, a lot of potential earnings will be tied to two qualities: His bat and position scarcity, because catchers who can hit as well as McCann had before 2012 are rare.

Two things might get in the way of a big payday for McCann after 2013. As Jerry points out, after stumbling to a career-low .699 OPS in an injury-riddled 2012, McCann will be working to recapture his reputation as an offensive force. But the other half of his reputation is that he’s not the best defensive backstop around, certainly suffering from comparisons to contemporaries like Yadier Molina or Buster Posey.

[+] EnlargeBrian McCann
AP Photo/John BazemoreKnown for being one of baseball's top hitting catchers, Brian McCann has shown that he can impact games defensively, too.
Criticisms of McCann’s defense are fair if you limit your focus on McCann’s ability to throw out opposing basestealers. Major league caught-stealing rates during McCann’s career have hovered around 27 percent, and he’s delivered a below-average 24 percent, bettering the MLB average just once during his career (in 2010, with a 30 percent CS rate).

However, it’s important to remember that while McCann rates as a below-average thrower, the impact of the running game has declined. Last year, there was less than one stolen base attempt per game, at 0.9. Whatever impact McCann’s below-average throwing performance might have, it hasn’t encouraged opponents to run wild on the Braves: Opponents have averaged just 0.9 stolen base attempts per nine innings against McCann on his career, so if this is supposed to be a significant weakness in his game, they aren’t exploiting it. Which suggests that in the scope of a 162-game season, as problems go, this isn’t a big one.

Moreover, defining McCann’s value on defense only by his caught-stealing rate would be a mistake because it ignores McCann’s effectiveness at containing damage on loose balls around home plate. While the distinction between a passed ball and a wild pitch might be a near-nightly cause for debate in the press box, analyst Matt Klaasen has been tracking the impact of pitch blocking plays since 2008, and had McCann in the positive at 0.8 runs. FanGraphs has developed a runs metric for evaluating value blocking pitchers (RPP); they had McCann tied for fourth in the majors last year at 3.5 runs above average, outperforming the all-world reps of Matt Wieters (3.4) and Molina (2.0).

What about game-calling, another key component of catcher performance. Using a stat like Catcher ERA is problematic (opportunities for who you catch and who you’re catching against aren’t evenly distributed), but metrics like Baseball Info Solutions’ Catcher Pitch Calling Runs (or RerC) on Baseball-Reference.com suggest that McCann has more than held his own here as well, bouncing between plus-7 in 2008 to minus-6 in 2010, totting up to zero for his career so far. That isn’t great if you’re comparing him to “best catcher on the planet” candidates like Yadi (plus-12 career) or Wieters (plus-13), but it’s far from a serious handicap for a potential employer. In 2012, McCann was one of the few catchers who made a measurably positive impact (plus-3).

On some level, you also need to give McCann some credit because he’s going to suffer by direct comparison with a teammate. That’s because he was paired up with David Ross, a much better thrower. Ross nailed almost 40 percent of opponents’ stolen base attempts in his four years as a Brave, consistent with a 39 percent career clip. However, McCann has outperformed the highly regarded Ross in these other metrics: Ross rated negative as a plate blocker in 2012 (Klassen’s PBWPRuns have him at minus-0.7, FanGraphs at minus-1.6), and at minus-1 by BIS on pitch-calling. Not huge negatives, but notably worse than McCann.

What comes through with these smaller numbers is that they suggest how much we shouldn’t obsess about McCann’s performance as a receiver. This isn’t Olympic figure skating: The guy’s clearly playable, and the defensive impact of his limitations against the running game border on negligible. He’s not the best backstop in baseball, but he’s above average in some important areas of a catcher’s responsibility. If you want a receiver who gets the job done, you could certainly do much worse.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

What should Team USA look like?

January, 14, 2013
The World Baseball Classic provisional rosters will be announced later this week and news is starting to slip out on who Joe Torre will be naming to the roster. Giancarlo Stanton has committed to playing for Team USA, but Mike Trout will not, instead sticking to a full spring training with the Angels. That's certainly understandable in Trout's case, since he battled an illness last spring that caused him to lose 20 pounds and begin the season in Triple-A. Other players who have committed include R.A. Dickey, Andy Pettitte, Craig Kimbrel, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Mark Teixeira.

In a perfect world where every player wants to play, who should be on the Team USA roster? Since the World Baseball Classic is to a large degree a marketing vehicle for the sport, you want a mix of the best players in the game and young stars. In the cases of Trout and Stanton, they would be easy inclusions: They're young and already among the game's elite players.

Here's my 30-man roster:

Catcher -- Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, Joe Mauer
Pretty easy choices here, especially with Brian McCann coming off a bad year and offseason shoulder surgery. One of the interesting story lines for 2013: Does Wieters have any offensive growth left in his game? After back-to-back years hitting .262 and .249 with 22 and 23 home runs, he may have maxed out his power, but if he can learn to hit for a little more average against right-handed pitchers (.223 in 2012) and improve his batting line to something like .280/.360/.500, then he's one of the most valuable players in the game, not just one of the most valuable catchers.

First Base -- Prince Fielder, Anthony Rizzo
Is first base the weakest position in the majors right now? Joey Votto missed 50 games and was still easily the most valuable first baseman in the majors. Prince is the obvious No. 1 choice but with guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Teixeira having down years, let's promote and up-and-coming star like Rizzo. Plus, it gives us a Cub.

Second Base -- Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia
The switch-hitting, slick-fielding Zobrist would be the starter with Pedroia coming off the bench or playing against a left-hander. You can make cases for Aaron Hill (terrific season for Arizona) or the always reliable Brandon Phillips.

Third Base -- David Wright, Chase Headley
There's a lot of depth at third base in the majors right now, but not all of it is U.S.-born players. Wright and Headley were the two best in the majors in 2012 -- yes, arguably better than Miguel Cabera. On the road, Headley had more home runs and a higher OPS than Cabrera.

Shortstop -- Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins
With Troy Tulowitzki and Derek Jeter returning from injuries, it's an easy call to give our roster slots to Desmond and Rollins, who ranked 1-2 in FanGraphs WAR among all shortstops in 2012 (not counting Zobrist, who started there the last month and a half, but will move back to second with the acquisition of Yunel Escobar). Desmond will have to prove his power burst is for real -- from eight home runs to 25 -- but I'm a believer.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Austin Jackson
A good mix of MVP candidates (Braun, Trout, McCutchen) and future MVP candidates. The tough choice for Torre: Who do you start? An outfield of Braun in left, Trout in center and Stanton in right gives you three right-handed batters, so maybe you mix in Harper or Heyward against a right-hander.

Starting Pitchers: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain
You don't see many starting pitchers on the World Baseball Classic rosters, in part since they're limited by pitch counts and there aren't that many games to play anyway. But we'll pick five. Verlander and Kershaw are clearly the top two pitchers in baseball right now, as both could have easily picked up their second consecutive Cy Young Awards in 2012. Price and Dickey are the reigning Cy Young champions and are the type of players you want to expose in this kind of event. There are many defensible choices for the fifth spot but Cain gets my nod as the leader of the staff for the World Series champs and the kind of guy you want starting a big game.

Relief Pitchers: Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Sergio Romo, David Hernandez, Kris Medlen, Jake McGee, Sean Marshall, Charlie Furbush
For the bullpen, we're not too worried about just looking at the saves leaders. We want dominant arms in the pen but also the ability to match up late in games if needed. Kimbrel is obviously our closer -- and hopefully Torre will use him for more than three outs if needed, especially with a one-run lead! Papelbon had a couple big blown saves for the Phillies but had a dominant 92/18 strikeout/walk ratio. I'm not sure he's our top setup guy, however. That role may fall to Romo and his death-to-righties slider and the underrated Hernandez, who fanned 98 in 68.1 innings for the Diamondbacks.

Medlen has to be on our team after his dominant transition to the rotation last year -- 0.97 ERA in 12 games as a starter. Are you kidding? With his experience pitching in relief he can be our long guy. And then I went with three left-handers. Tampa Bay's McGee finally had the season long expected of him with his power arsenal. He had a 73/11 SO/BB ratio in 55.1 innings, but he's not just lefty killer as right-handers hit a .098 against him. Marshall has long been one of the best against lefties and Furbush is the new Marshall; with his fastball/slider combo, lefties hit just .147 off him, with just three doubles and no home runs in 75 at-bats.

That's my team. Who would be on yours?
If you watched Game 1 of the NLCS, you saw an obvious problem with Madison Bumgarner: He was struggling to reach 90 mph and finally fell apart in the fourth inning. After throwing eight shutout innings against the Dodgers on Aug. 20 -- throwing a season-high 123 pitches in the process -- Bumgarner struggled down the stretch, with a 5.89 ERA over his final seven starts. Chris Quick of Bay City Ball examines Bumgarner's declining velocity and wonders if it's time to just shut him down.

Other stuff to check out:

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

Keith Law has an Insider piece up on 10 prospects with the most trade value Insider. To sort of go along with Keith's piece, Eric Karabell and myself discuss the player with the most trade value (take a guess) plus a few other players.

"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!

Matusz's example might teach Moore

May, 13, 2012

What do we know? Let’s face it, six weeks ago, if you’d said that Brian Matusz would outpitch the Rays’ Matt Moore for an Orioles win, you might chalk it up to one of those things, lightning in a bottle, a random outcome, the baseball gods acting in all of their capriciousness. Or you might be willing to read into it a transient lesson, that sometimes expectations get the best of all of us, because where Moore is now, with a 5.31 ERA (and allowing 6.2 runs per 9), Matusz has been in an even deeper hole.

Maybe you’d take this one ballgame as a necessary curb to the perhaps-exaggerated enthusiasm for Moore before the season. Not to knock the young power lefty’s upside and long-term future with the Rays, but let’s remember that Clayton Kershaw didn’t become Clayton Kershaw overnight. Heck, Sandy Koufax didn’t become Sandy Koufax overnight. The hysteria that gets associated with whatever is new and exciting, the desire to see today’s prospect become tomorrow’s star can lead you to too-soon enthusiasm for a top prospect. Any top prospect.

Which is why it’s worth remembering that Brian Matusz has been here. Little more than a year ago, Matusz was considered a top pitching prospect, not just in the Orioles organization, but anywhere, in baseball, on the planet. Heck, the entire baseball-related universe. After a nice season-ending spin in 2009 to make his debut (5-2, 4.63 ERA and 7.7 K/9), Baseball America rated him the fifth-best prospect in baseball, period. After a solid first full season in 2010 (4.30 ERA with 7.3 K/9), the former fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft looked like he would be a key contributor to any impending baseball renaissance in Baltimore.

In the virtual world, Moore topped that this past winter by being the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, per Baseball America. But Matusz’s tale of intervening woe should provide an important cautionary note about getting too wrapped up in any young pitching prospect. In 2011, Matusz got lit up, posting a 10.69 ERA.

During and after Matusz’s 2011 implosion, the explanations offered up as his potential became so much street pizza were legion: Maybe it was because he wasn’t throwing enough sinkers, maybe because his changeup flattened out and maybe it was because his work ethic wasn’t perfect. After all, these days a little dose of PitchF/X analysis can make everybody an expert in what you oughta do. And maybe it was easy to get down as a young guy on a bad Baltimore ballclub -- say what you will about talent always shining through, but as Kevin Goldstein always likes to say, players aren’t Strat cards. The Orioles have been D.O.A. on so many Opening Days that you can understand how anybody banished to Baltimore by the Rule IV draft might mull the point of it all.

This year, Matusz is better, but far from good: A WHIP of 1.7 to 1.8 reflects a guy who’s getting hit, and the batting average on balls in play that he’s allowing (.349 before Saturday’s start) reiterates that bit of obviousness. You can’t just say that “regression” is going to bring that down -- the Orioles’ defense rates as one of the best in baseball. This year’s strikeout rate of 6.2 K/9 may sound nice, but it’s headed in the wrong direction as strikeout rates keep getting higher every year, which is why he’s below average at fooling some of the people some of the time, for his career as well as this year.

Which goes a long way toward saying that Matt Moore’s latest loss is a great reminder that it’s a rare top prospect who becomes truly great overnight. Good as he might be, whoever he may be, perhaps nobody out on the mound is as good as you wishcast for him. As Tom Hanks’ fictional Jimmy Dugan exclaimed in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Moore had his moment in the sun last October, beating the Rangers in the American League Division Series, and there’s nothing you should knock about that -- it was a great game pitched by a tremendous young talent. But it’s worth remembering that Bob Wolcott had that sort of introduction to baseball when he was a rookie, spinning a win for the Mariners in the 1995 American League Championship Series against the Indians with fewer than 40 big-league innings to his credit. When you’re good enough to get the opportunity, you’re good enough to do something magical, something people will remember you by.

Going up against Moore, Saturday night belonged to Matusz, as far as that goes, and his importance to the Orioles going forward, even as their fourth or fifth starter du jour, reflects how tentative and potential-laden are their possibilities if the AL East no longer belongs to the Yankees or Red Sox, or even the Rays. If Matusz lives up to the billing that was once automatically his, he’ll join Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and Chris Davis and Nick Markakis in the ranks of young Orioles who are finally living up to the expectations that we -- meaning you and me, and not just prospect mavens and experts -- larded up on top of the difficulties that every player has to deal with when it comes to breaking through. If Matusz breaks through now, at the same time as so many other young O’s, it’ll be a bit of redemption for a prospect many folks may have forgotten deserved it. Points to him for providing the reminder.

Tony CampanaBenny Sieu/US PresswireTony Campana takes a tumble as Cesar Izturis fires to first to turn the deuce.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

One play doesn't make a season. Logically, we understand this. But you know, it's a lot more fun to throw logic out the window and turn to the emotion of a moment sometimes, the emotion of one important victory and believe, "Maybe ... just maybe, the Baltimore Orioles are a team of destiny."

We're allowed to think like this, right? Put the history and preseason predictions aside, focus on the Orioles' hot start, focus on their big week and focus on how they completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway: With infielder Chris Davis pitching two innings to get the win in a 17-inning, 9-6 victory, one I would call implausible except the Orioles forged ahead against another position player, Darnell McDonald.

Davis, who pitched in high school, retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the 16th, including a strikeout of Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a pretty 83-mph changeup that showed some nice vertical drop. But third baseman Wilson Betemit booted Marlon Byrd's routine grounder and Mike Aviles lined a double into left-center that rolled to the Green Monster. Then, the play, one that could go down in Orioles history if this season builds into the unthinkable: Adam Jones to J.J. Hardy to Matt Wieters, who tagged out a piano-on-his-back Byrd. A perfect relay by Jones, a perfect missile by Hardy, a perfect block of the plate by Wieters to send the game to the 17th inning.

The Red Sox had also churned through their bullpen by now and turned to outfielder McDonald, but Jones deposited a three-run homer into the Green Monster seats. With two runners on in the bottom of the frame, Davis struck out the slumping Adrian Gonzalez (0-for-8 this game) on another changeup and then, on his 23rd pitch and 570th of the game, induced McDonald to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

Some of the crazy factoids: It was the first time two position players pitched in the same game since 1925, when Ty Cobb and George Sisler pitched in the second game of a doubleheader on the season's final day; Wilson Valdez won a game last season for the Phillies, but Davis became the first American League position player to record a win since Rocky Colavito of the Yankees in 1968; Davis also went 0-for-8 and struck out five times to record the season's first platinum sombrero (he was also the only position player to strike out five times in 2011); it was the Orioles' first sweep in Boston since June of 1994.

The game left the Orioles ecstatic and the Red Sox despondent.

"I was like 'Sweet! I get to try something different today -- because hitting ain't working,'" Davis said.

"Basically, that was my first thought." Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Just when you think you've seen it all, some days you come out here and just assume the position. That was fun. It was a long day, but you like to get something good out of it."

Bobby Valentine, looking in his postgame news conference like he was ready to break into tears at any moment, oddly stated that Gonzalez wanted to pitch. "And for the record, I didn't put him out there," he said. You do wonder, once Showalter had gone to Davis in the bottom of the 16th, why Valentine didn't try to eke at least one more inning from veteran reliever Scott Atchison, who had thrown 23 pitches over two innings. Yes, Atchison had thrown 35 pitches on Saturday and three on Friday, but it would seem the value of one more inning would have been huge. Who knows how Davis would have responded pitching in a tie game, for example, rather than with a three-run lead.

It all leaves the Orioles at 19-9. First place by a half game over the Tampa Bay Rays, four games ahead of the New York Yankees and 7.5 games ahead of the Red Sox.

At the start of the week, we said this would be an important week for the Orioles. They entered 14-8 but had three games in New York and three in Boston. This stretch would reveal the real Baltimore Orioles. And by "real" we meant "a team playing over its head." But they went 5-1 as they held the Yankees to three runs and took extra-inning games against the Red Sox. They outscored their AL East rivals 36 to 15. There was nothing flukey about the week. They hit, they pitched and they fielded.

On Sunday, the bullpen (including Davis) allowed just one run in 12.2 innings, lowering their season ERA to 1.41 (no other team is below 2.00). Closer Jim Johnson hasn't allowed a run, Luis Ayala and Matt Lindstrom have yet to allow an earned run and Darren O'Day has allowed just one run. It should be noted that the latter three are new to the club, new additions brought on to improve a pen that ranked 13th in the AL in ERA. Much like the 2011 Diamondbacks improved from 65 to 94 in part by revamping one of the worst bullpens in baseball, so hope the Orioles. The starting pitching has also been solid, and Baltimore's 2.78 ERA ranks second in the majors. Not bad for a team that has ranked 29th or 30th in ERA in five of the past six seasons.

Look, playing in the AL East, it's not going to get easier for the Orioles, so they'll need this bullpen to continue pitching lights-out baseball. Their next 32 games: Four against the Rangers, three against the Rays, two against the Yankees, two at the Royals, three at the Nationals, three against the Red Sox, three against the Royals, three at the Blue Jays, three at the Rays, three at the Red Sox, three against the Phillies. Whew.

For a franchise with the long stink of losing, it's a fun start. Check out, however, their records after 28 games the past 10 seasons. Check, in particular, 2005 (Orioles fans may wish to stop reading now):

2012: 19-9, +0.5
2011: 13-15, -4.5
2010: 7-21, -13.5
2009: 11-18, -8
2008: 16-12, -0.5
2007: 12-16, -6
2006: 14-14, -4
2005: 19-9, +2.5
2004: 16-12, -1.5
2003: 15-13, -6.5

Yep, that same 19-9 record. That team blazed out of the gate thanks to a strong offense. The club hit .302 in April and was still hitting .287 with a .483 slugging percentage through June 19 ... when the Orioles were 41-27 and still in first place.

And then the bottom dropped out. They hung in the race through mid-July, but then went on a 2-16 stretch, during which manager Lee Mazzilli was fired. They'd finish 74-88, just another in a long string of losing seasons.

Now, there is one big difference between those 2005 Orioles and these 2012. That team had a mostly aging lineup -- Rafael Palmeiro (in his final, steroid-tainted season), B.J. Surhoff, Sammy Sosa, Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada were all 31 or older. The rotation of Rodrigo Lopez, Erik Bedard, Bruce Chen, Daniel Cabrera and Sidney Ponson eventually wilted in the summer heat. The bullpen was thin behind B.J. Ryan.

This team, however, is young. At 30, Betemit is the oldest regular in the lineup, although 34-year-old Endy Chavez is playing right now with Nolan Reimold on the disabled list. At 29, Jason Hammel is the old man in the rotation.

Being young perhaps means this team could eventually collapse under the relentless pressure of games against the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox. But it could also signify a team on the rise.

Or, maybe, a team of destiny.

Chris PerezAP Photo/Amy SancettaThe Tribe did not just win the World Series, but Chris Perez likes sealing up a win over Texas.