Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The other day, a smart executive observed that the decisions in baseball are becoming more and more bloodless, made without emotion or sentiment, and this is more true for the Tampa Bay Rays than any other team. Few fans attended their games when they lost consistently, and almost nobody attends now that they win, and while the debate over why that is swirls within the mayor's office in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Rays' baseball operations must function like a leaking rowboat. While they are trying to move forward, they are bailing water.
So they will listen to just about every trade proposal thrown their way, regardless of who is involved, and if it's a good baseball trade, they'll do it, without fretting about public backlash. Because there can't be that much backlash when you're drawing 22,000-plus for a game against the Yankees in the middle of the summer, which is what happened Tuesday night.
B.J. Upton is a homegrown product, a Ray for his entire professional career, and the perception among other teams is that Tampa Bay is ready to move him. Now. The Nationals have long been interested; the Phillies might make sense. Johnny Damon has had a nice showing for Tampa Bay, and they gave him a bobblehead day Sunday, and rival evaluators say they definitely could see Damon moving to another team in the last nine weeks of the season. Casey Kotchman, a nice find for the Rays, probably has some value on the open market right now.
James Shields has had a big turnaround this season, making the All-Star team, and of all the veterans on the team, his performance would probably be the most crucial for a late rush by Tampa Bay. But the Rays really don't buy into Hail Marys and fairy-tale finishes, and the fact is that Shields's trade value may never be higher than it is right now.
At the All-Star break, the Rays weren't seriously entertaining the idea of trading the right-hander, but the cold, bloodless reality is that Tampa Bay has the mountainous task of trying to chase down the sport's two financial superpowers -- while knowing from experience that the Yankees and Red Sox will inevitably outbid them and get better before the trade deadline. Tampa Bay is 5½ games behind the Yankees, and trail the Red Sox by more, and 13 of its final 19 games will be against Boston and New York.
Shields is signed to team-friendly options for 2012 ($7 million), 2013 ($9 million) and 2014 ($12 million). The market is very thin in starting pitching and the Reds and Tigers are desperate for a high-end starting pitcher -- and maybe that explains why the Rays had evaluators watching Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate, which sports prospects like first baseman Yonder Alonso, with his .382 on-base percentage, and catcher Devin Mesoraco. Shields has thrown well, and he's not irreplaceable; the Rays have outstanding young arms on the rise.
No team weighs options and dabbles more than Tampa Bay, and maybe in the end the Rays will decide to keep Shields. But remember, this is a team that traded Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza when the timing was right, and made the choice to let Carl Crawford walk away, which was the right baseball decision.
The Trop taketh away and it also giveth, as it did Tuesday for the Rays.
Something needs to be done about the Trop, says Rays president Matt Silverman.
• Brandon Beachy got hammered, as David O'Brien writes. The Braves have talked to the Tigers about a possible Derek Lowe trade, which would be a gamble; Lowe is experienced, and he showed in September how great he can be. But he also eats up about 15 percent of the Atlanta payroll, and if the Braves can move him, it could create some flexibility for them to make other moves and to improve the team for 2012.
But a trade of Lowe would mean that the Braves would be placing much trust in Beachy to continue to throw well, because his place in the Atlanta rotation would become that much more important.
• For years, the fan base in Pittsburgh has been dormant, waiting to be inspired -- and now that the team is winning, the Pirates faithful are turning out. On July 19, 2010, the Pirates drew a crowd of just over 12,000. The crowd that turned out to watch the Pirates register their second consecutive shutout Tuesday was more than twice that, and they stood at the end, when Pittsburgh closed out a win to stay in first place. Cool stuff. Watched a lot of this game, and James McDonald was outstanding, as Bill Brink writes.
The Pirates beat the Reds 1-0 and remain in first place in the NL Central. At 51-44, Pittsburgh is seven games above .500 for the first time since April 21, 2002 when the team was 12-5 (and finished the season 72-89).
The Pirates need a jolt, writes Dejan Kovacevic.
Sources say the team has been looking hard at relief help.
I e-mailed Frank Coonelly, the Pirates' president, and asked him two questions: first, about whether the strong response of the Pirates' fans would fuel the team's effort to add help before the trade deadline, and second, about the future of GM Neal Huntington. His responses:
1. "Our fans have been energized by this team. The re-bonding between the city and its team that Clint talked about wanting to be a part of is happening. Yes, the great response at the gate gives us greater capacity to add players as Neal looks to make the team better at the deadline and into August. When we are not successful in securing a player who we have targeted, it is likely to be because of the acquisition cost ask in terms of players and prospects rather than because of an inability or unwillingness to take on the financial commitment."
2. "As I said in spring training, I expect Neal to be the GM of the Pirates for a long time. Nothing has changed on that front."
Wrote here last month that the Giants' focus, in looking for hitters, was to find players who can put the ball in play and fuel San Francisco's current style. The Giants hit a lot of homers late last season and this lightning-strike offense worked for them, all the way through the World Series.
But this season, without Buster Posey and without consistent production from Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, San Francisco manufactures runs one or two a time. Every time the Giants get a runner on base, manager Bruce Bochy will try anything to make something happen -- a steal, a hit-and-run, a bunt, anything.
Keppinger can hit-and-run and advance runners with a ground ball to the right side and bunt. He's got only 43 strikeouts in his last 744 plate appearances.
• One evaluator on Anthony Rizzo, the Padres' top young prospect: "He's having a difficult time getting to good fastballs. He's got a pretty big hole there right now."
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Diamondbacks already were looking for pitching before Barry Enright took the mound Tuesday, and you'd have to believe his performance will accelerate Arizona's search for a starting pitching; Enright got hit hard.
2. It's still not cut-and-dried on whether the Dodgers will be sellers, writes Ned Colletti.
3. J.P. Ricciardi, advisor to Mets GM Sandy Alderson, went to watch the Red Sox minor league team, at a time in which the Red Sox and Mets are discussing Carlos Beltran. He should keep his bags packed, as Joel Sherman writes.
Dings and dents
2. Erik Bedard's return could be pushed back.
A. Ogando dialed up his highest heat of the year, throwing 87 fastballs at an average speed of 95.8 mph, a season high for velocity. His average fastball velocity increased for the third start in a row, all of which he has won. His fastest pitch was a 99.1 mph fastball that Maicer Izturis fouled off in the third inning with a 3-2 count. It's the fifth time in his major league career that Ogando has hit 99-plus mph, but the first time he has gotten a strike.
B. The Angels were unable to keep up with Ogando, recording 12 missed swings. He recorded 10-plus missed swings for the third game in a row, his longest streak with 10+ since a streak of four games from April 23-May 13. In his career, Ogando is 8-0 in 10 games when he has recorded 10-plus missed swings.
C. In many cases, Angel hitters didn't even try and keep up with Ogando. The Angels took 17 called strikes, four more than Ogando has gotten in any start in 2011. Ogando hasn't lost a game in his career when he has recorded 10-plus called strikes (7-0 in 10 games).
From Elias: During their past six games, the Rangers have allowed only two runs. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, only one other major-league team has allowed two (or fewer) runs in a six-game span within one season: the 1974 Orioles bookended a streak of five consecutive shutouts with a 7-1 win and a 3-2 win.
2. How Madison Bumgarner shut down the Dodgers:
A. Bumgarner relied on his slider, throwing it a season-high 49 times, accounting for almost half of all his pitches, and recording five strikeouts with the pitch. The Giants have won all three games in 2011 when Bumgarner has recorded 5-plus strikeouts with his slider.
B. Bumgarner also was able to get his slider to move out of the strike zone more than he has in any other start this season. His slider was caught an average of 2.3 inches outside the edge of the strike zone Tuesday. Bumgarner has been successful when he has been able to land his slider 2-plus inches outside the strike zone, including his start against the Dodgers exactly one year ago.
The counter-effect? Bumgarner is 0-7 in 11 games when his slider has stayed inside the strike zone by one or more inches.
San Francisco's current win streak against the Dodgers has reached six.
Longest win streaks versus Dodgers in San Francisco Giants history:
April 12, 2011-current -- 6
July 19-Sept. 26, 1969 -- 6
Sept. 6, 1966-May 26, 1967 -- 6
Aug. 22, 1965-May 5, 1966 -- 6
Apr. 19-May 13, 1958 -- 6
3. The Angels were shut out again, tying with the A's for the league lead with 11 this season.
4. Barry Enright got pounded.
5. The Dodgers lost again.
7. The Mariners' losing streak is at 10, and counting.
Brett Gardner is red-hot, and he has the highest on-base percentage of any hitter in the Yankees' lineup Tuesday. And he was batting eighth.
Schedules for fringe contenders.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the trade deadline just 11 days away, a lot of the gossip is focused on who are the "buyers" and "sellers." Eleven days might not seem like a lot of time, but a team's outlook can change dramatically with a particularly good (or bad) stretch of play. And nothing portends a particularly good (or bad) stretch of play better than strength of schedule.
Below is a breakdown of some teams on the fringe of the race, with their opponents between now and July 31. (The number of games against each team is listed in parentheses.)
Tampa Bay Rays
7 games out of first, 5½ games out of wild card
Yankees (2), at Royals (3), at A's (4), at Mariners (3)
After squeaking out an ugly win against the Yankees last night, the Rays are in great position to gain ground on the wild card with games against the Bronx Bombers today and tomorrow. After that, they have a Charmin-soft slate to end the month, so they should be able to hang around in the toughest division in baseball. Besides, the Rays don't really have a lot of great parts to deal that they'd actually be willing to move, so they might as well ride it out no matter what happens.
In theory, B.J. Upton would be worth trading since his salary is starting to surpass his production, but his value is not all that high right now, and none of the Rays' other core players are going to price themselves out of Tampa in the near future. Besides, with that kind of weak schedule over the next 11 days, we can expect the Rays to be closer to a playoff spot on July 31 than they are today.
6 games out of first, 12 games out of wild card
Indians (1), Tigers (4), at Rangers (4), at A's (3)
After beating the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, the Twins had climbed to just five games back in the AL Central, and appeared to be right back in the mix. Then they got swept in a doubleheader by the Indians and were on the verge of losing to the Tribe again Tuesday night before a two-run, ninth-inning rally pulled them back within six games of first.
With four against the Tigers, the Twins have a great opportunity to gain ground against their division rival. However, four games in Texas is not a recipe for success. At 31-18, the Rangers are the AL's best home team. While the Twins might end up in a position where they should be looking to move the likes of Francisco Liriano and Michael Cuddyer, don't expect it to happen. In 2003, 2006 and again in 2009 they defied the odds to win the division with a late-season surge, and even if the odds are against them, you can be sure the front office won't give up, particularly in a division that lacks a standout team.
Chicago White Sox
4½ games out of first, 10½ games out of wild card
at Royals(1), at Indians (3), Tigers (3), Red Sox (3)
What's more amazing: The fact that Adam Dunn has a .588 OPS, the fact that Alex Rios has an even lower OPS (.558) or the fact that despite those previous two facts, the White Sox are actually in contention. (And that's without mentioning Brent Morel's .553 OPS.)
Long story short, there is a lot of room for improvement in the Sox's lineup. And if those three guys could raise their games from embarrassing to putrid, the Pale Hose could actually make this a race. Their pre-deadline schedule is no picnic, but it's hard to imagine the Twins or Tigers running away with the AL Central, so Chicago's best hope is probably hoping for a bit of a bounce back from Dunn and Rios.
Los Angeles Angels
5 games out of first, 6½ games out of wild card
Rangers (2), at Orioles (3), at Indians (3), at Tigers (4)
It would be a blessing to the rest of the AL if they don't make the playoffs, because the 1-2 punch of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren could really do some damage. Unfortunately, their punchless offense has just one player with an OPS above .800 (Howie Kendrick, .802), and the Rangers, who have a significantly superior run differential, are probably too good for the Halos to catch.
The Angels could have really done themselves a favor by beating the Rangers last night because they have Haren and Weaver pitching today and tomorrow -- a great opportunity to gain some ground. They were shut out by Alexi Ogando, however, and fell even further back. If they don't win the next two with their aces on the mound, the Angels might want to start seeing if they can get something for a few of their vets. Joel Pineiro, for example, is an impending free agent and reliable, albeit unspectacular. Scott Downs is one of the best setup men in baseball, and he could have a lot of value should a contender get desperate for some bullpen help.
Lead NL Central by a half game
Reds (1), Cardinals (3), at Braves (4), at Phillies (3)
The Bucs are almost certainly contenders and probably don't belong here, but their upcoming schedule warrants mentioning because it's absolutely brutal. And while they're playing the Braves and Phillies -- arguably the NL's two best teams -- to close out the month, the Brewers and Cards, their main competition in the NL Central, are both playing the Cubs and Astros. In other words, the complexion of this division could change quite drastically in a hurry. If the Bucs do end up making an acquisition, they might regret not doing it sooner so they could have had a beefed-up roster before this late-July gauntlet.
The good news? They open August with home series against the Cubs and Padres.
5 games out of first, 10 games out of wild card
at Pirates (1), Braves (3), Mets (4), Giants (3)
The biggest problem for the Reds is that they have three teams in front of them in the Central. And despite the fact that they have a plus-26 run differential, they are now three games under .500. How did that happen? They're now 14-22 in one-run games, which is the worst mark in the NL. Their late-July schedule is tough enough that the playoffs are becoming a very unlikely proposition.
It's time for the Reds to begin looking at trading Ramon Hernandez, as Buster Olney suggested on Twitter last night. Hernandez is in the midst of a late-career renaissance with an .844 OPS, and considering Buster Posey's injury, he's a perfect fit for the Giants. Plus, Devin Mesoraco, the Reds' catcher of the future, is raking in Triple-A, so there won't be a need for Hernandez much longer.
4½ games out of first, 5 games out of wild card
Brewers (2), Rockies (3), at Padres (3), at Dodgers (3)
Last night's 11-3 loss notwithstanding, the D-backs are in excellent shape to make up some ground. The Brewers are actually a pretty mediocre road team (19-32 away from Miller Park), and once the D-backs are done with them they have the three NL West bottom-feeders to close out the month. While they're feasting on the chum, the first-place Giants will host the Brewers and then head to Philly and Cincy. In other words, this NL West race could significantly tighten up between now and the end of the month. If so, that could also put the Giants in position to be major buyers, since they desperately need some offense. Hernandez, as already mentioned, could be a target, and the Giants could also get in on the Carlos Beltran bidding.
Ideal trades for NL contenders.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)