Most notable September call-ups.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Sept. 1 is the day each year when major league teams can expand their active rosters from 25 players to as many as 40. As such, teams have begun the process of recalling a few select prospects, either to provide a boost for a playoff push or to get a key prospect some major league development time. Some prospects may come up after their minor league teams complete playoff runs, and others who appear to be ready might not come up at all due to roster rules (the Cubs' Kris Bryant foremost among them).
Here are my thoughts on eight players who already have been called up and what they might provide in the next month in the big leagues:
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs (No. 28 in my midseason top 50 prospect rankings, No. 26 in my preseason top 100): Soler has been up for a few days, going 10-for-19 with seven extra-base hits in his first five games in the majors. Soler is a budding superstar, with monstrous bat speed and raw power, a surprisingly polished approach at the plate for a guy with just 621 minor league plate appearances (scattered over three years) and the athleticism to eventually develop into an above-average defender in right field. He won't hit .500 the rest of his career, but I don't see any reason why he won't continue to hit well in September.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 22 at midseason, No. 41 in preseason): If Pederson were a right-handed hitter, he probably would have been up in June, as he's the Dodgers' best defensive center fielder and provides a power/speed combination they could use now that Andre Ethier's bat has gone on leave. Pederson has been ready to face MLB right-handed pitching all season, and I'm not sure he could develop much in the hitters' paradise at Triple-A Albuquerque (possibly the best hitters' park in all of minor league baseball). He probably will need some time to pick up breaking stuff from major league lefties, but his defense and his power against right-handed pitching should help him make an impact right away.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays (No. 37 at midseason): Norris' ascent during the past 15 months is a big credit to the Jays' player development staff, as they took a power arm with poor command and an inconsistent delivery and turned him into a top-flight pitching prospect who struck out 162 batters in 124 2/3 innings across three levels this season. Given how much he has already thrown this year, he's best-served working in relief in September, where his repertoire of three above-average offerings will play up to the point where he might post a 40 percent-plus strikeout rate in a small one-month sample.
Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays: Pompey's promotion is probably the most out-of-nowhere call-up, as he spent most of the year in the Florida State League and has just 177 at-bats above Class A. He projects as a leadoff-type hitter eventually, an OBP/speed guy who can play plus-defense in center field, but I'm not sure he can offer much at the plate right now or even early next year, given his inexperience and current strength level.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies (No. 63 in preseason): Franco was horrendous in the first half at Triple-A, went off in July and August (11 homers during that span) and has likely regained the lead in the race to be the Phillies' third baseman of the future. He is very, very strong, and makes up for some of his poor pitch recognition with his hand and wrist strength. He's likely to be a low-OBP guy for most of his career (he has drawn just five walks since the Triple-A All-Star break). At third base, his hands and arm are more than enough, but his feet are slow and he'll need a lot of work on his positioning and first step to remain at the hot corner. He should play a lot of third base in September, although he may sub in at first base as well to keep him in the lineup.
Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers: Moya has huge raw power, with quick wrists and a very long swing, so when he connects it goes far (35 homers in Double-A this year), but he misses a lot more often (29 percent strikeout rate). He's wiry, not a big one-dimensional slugger, and if he ever develops some patience, which would probably require shortening his load by moving his hands up and closer to his shoulder, he could be a pretty good 5- or 6-hole hitter. His 21 unintentional walks this year (3.8 percent of his plate appearances) was his best single-season total since he left the Dominican Republic, but I think major league pitchers will exploit this weakness.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Kansas City Royals: The former TCU star, who missed time this spring because of shoulder soreness, has pitched sparingly this summer, never exceeding 51 pitches in any outing in his pro career to date. That allowed the Royals to consider calling him up to help their bullpen in September. Finnegan sits in the low 90s as a starter, but will regularly hit 96-97 mph out of the bullpen, with an above-average to plus-slider and a usable changeup. He's under 6-foot, with some effort to the delivery, and he already has had the bout of shoulder trouble, so there's a decent chance the bullpen is his long-term role anyway. For now, it's a great way for the Royals to add a left-hander who's more than just a specialist to their relief corps.
Cory Spangenberg, 2B, San Diego Padres: The 10th overall pick in the soon-to-be-storied 2011 draft, Spangenberg struggled to hit in full-season ball until repeating Double-A this year, hitting for more average on contact and more power. He was once a 70 or 80 runner but is now merely above-average, and second base is occupied in San Diego now that Jedd Gyorko has signed a long-term deal. Spangenberg could find a role as a utility player who can handle second base, center field and perhaps a little third base, but his lack of power or patience prevents him from being projected as a regular anywhere.
High-impact potential call-ups.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Starting Monday, major league rosters will expand from 25 men to 40, and while most might associate the expansion with teams that are no longer in contention, it's also a chance for teams that are firmly in the playoff mix to reinvigorate their respective rosters as they make the final push for the postseason. We saw examples of this last year -- sort of -- as both Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Martinez weren't Sept. 1 call-ups, but did receive promotions late in the year to make an impact on their respective clubs' march to the World Series.
"It's not just about getting young guys looks," an AL front-office member said. "That's obviously part of it, but you can absolutely use this time to your advantage if you're a team that plans on playing in October as well. I can't tell you how many times we've seen a kid come up that you expect to just play a bit part, and he ends up being one of your key contributors to a deep postseason run. You can pretty much mark it down that it'll happen for someone."
Not all of these players are guaranteed to get called up before the end of the regular season -- and none of them are certain to receive huge amounts of playing time should they receive a promotion -- but here's a look at some potential call-ups who could make a difference over the final month of the season:
Christian Walker, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
The loss of Manny Machado has caused the Orioles to shuffle their infield around, and it wouldn't be surprising if they gave Walker a look over the final month of the season. The former South Carolina Gamecocks star has hit 25 homers in stops with Bowie and Norfolk, and his above-average raw power and solid approach at the plate give him a chance to be an average regular at the not-so-hot corner. At the very least, he could be a solid bench option against left-handed pitching should Baltimore decide to make the move.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Norris has been one of the most improved prospects in all of baseball, thanks in large part to a vastly improved delivery that allows him to throw more pitches for strikes. Two of those offerings are plus -- his fastball and slider -- and his change is a solid-average to above-average pitch with good fade and deception from arm speed. Toronto likely will have him in the bullpen, akin to what they have done with fellow top prospect Aaron Sanchez, but he and Sanchez could form a very nice power combination late in games, with both having a chance to start in 2015.
Robert Refsnyder, 2B, New York Yankees
This seemed like a no-brainer call-up a month ago, when the Yankees were struggling to get any kind of production from the infield, but the acquisitions of Martin Prado and Stephen Drew have allowed the club to keep Refsnyder in Scranton-Wilkes Barre. That being said, no prospect in the New York system has a better approach at the plate, as seen in his .388 on-base percentage this season. With an above-average hit tool and average power, New York might turn to Refsnyder as a quality bench option who can play an average second base as well.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Lindor is arguably the best defensive shortstop in all of minor league baseball, with a plus throwing arm, excellent hands and the speed and instincts to make plays to his left and right. He's not just a quality defender, however, as Lindor swings a quality bat from both sides of the plate, and his speed goes to work on the bases as well. If Cleveland is serious about catching the Royals and Tigers, Lindor should be the everyday shortstop for the remainder of the year. Whether or not he will get that call-up remains to be seen, however.
Terrance Gore, OF, Kansas City Royals
Gore is a one-tool player, but that one tool gives him a chance to make a difference late in games, as the diminutive outfielder is one of the fastest players in all of baseball. With slow-footed runners -- to put it nicely -- like Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Josh Willingham in the lineup, Gore could make a big difference late in games as a pinch-runner who is a threat to steal a base or two anytime he's on.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Walker was not good in his time with the Mariners this summer, as he struggled to command pitches and walked 13 batters in his 14 innings of work. His control has improved considerably since he was sent back down to Tacoma, and with a high-90s fastball and a plus cutter, Walker has the ability to be a weapon for Seattle down the stretch, either out of the bullpen or replacing Roenis Elias in the rotation.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
Bethancourt is not without offensive ability, and he'll show plus raw power in batting practice from the right side. Where he's going to make his living, though, is behind the plate, as he has a plus-plus throwing arm and is already one of the better receivers in all of baseball. Evan Gattis is the everyday guy because of his power, but Bethancourt should allow Fredi Gonzalez to remove Gattis' woeful glove behind the plate late in games, and he should keep all but the fleetest of runners at their respective bases.
Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals
Taylor is not without his flaws -- few players are -- as the outfielder has a great deal of swing and miss in his game and his hit tool is a 45 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) at best. But he also possesses plus power thanks to his strength and hip rotation, and he's a base-stealing threat with his plus speed as well. He's no threat to take the spot of any of the Nationals' outfielders, but as a late-inning threat to hurt you with a homer or a stolen base, Taylor can play a part in Washington's charge to the postseason.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Kingham is probably the least likely of this group to receive a call-up, as he's not currently on the 40-man roster and there's not an obvious place for him on the Pirates' pitching staff. However, with two plus pitches -- his fastball and change -- an above-average offering in a much-improved curve and plus command of all three selections, Kingham deserves to be listed here. Like Walker, he could be a contributor either pitching out of the bullpen or starting every fifth day.
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
The industry has always been higher on Grichuk than I have been -- and I was not surprised to see him struggle in his month with the Cardinals this summer because of his poor plate discipline -- but I can still see the outfielder helping St. Louis over the final month. There's plus bat speed here, and enough natural loft to allow him to hit for power; he's also a competent defender at all three defensive positions. If Mike Matheny doesn't feel confident having Peter Bourjos take at-bats in high-leverage situations, or wants to pinch hit for Oscar Taveras against southpaws, Grichuk could be the player Matheny turns to in those situations.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Those of you who have followed my top 10 prospect list all season are aware that I'm a big fan of Pederson's skill set. Unfortunately, Pederson's above-average to plus tools across the board have been stuck in the PCL because the Dodgers are currently paying their outfielders so much money that they'd be over the NBA salary cap. That won't matter with 15 additional roster spots, however, and Pederson has the ability to make as much -- if not more -- difference as any player that receives a promotion over this final month.
San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels
Not much to see here. Unfortunately, these teams either have systems that are bottom-heavy (San Francisco and Oakland) or just aren't very good (Detroit and Los Angeles), so it's unlikely you see a true prospect come up and make much of a difference. Obviously that doesn't preclude them from having solid ends of the year, but it's unlikely anyone in their systems makes a big difference over these final games.
Top 5 Executive of the Year candidates.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Major league general managers have remained busy on the trade and free-agency front all year long, and their hard work has created some of the best pennant races we've seen in years. In fact, as the calendar turned to September, 21 of the 30 teams were still within 9 1/2 games of a playoff berth.
But there are five general managers -- coincidentally, all of them are in the American League -- who have stood out for the job they did this year building teams that have legit playoff, and possibly World Series, aspirations. Three of these GMs happen to work in one division: Oakland's Billy Beane, Los Angeles' Jerry Dipoto and Seattle's Jack Zduriencik in the AL West. Veterans Dave Dombrowski (Detroit) and Brian Cashman (New York Yankees) round out the top five. All of these general managers made dramatic moves to attain high-end talent, as well as making effective under-the-radar transactions.
There are several other GMs who have done a great job of building playoff-level teams, but they've mostly done it over a period of the past few years, such as Mike Rizzo (Washington), Dan Duquette (Baltimore), John Mozeliak (St. Louis), Brian Sabean (San Francisco) and Dayton Moore (Kansas City).
With that, here are my top five candidates for Executive of the Year for 2014 (based only on moves made since Nov. 1, 2013):
1. Billy Beane, VP/GM, Oakland Athletics
Free-agent signings: Scott Kazmir, Eric O'Flaherty, Jim Johnson.
Trades: Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Geovany Soto, Adam Dunn, Billy Burns, Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry, Jonny Gomes, Fernando Abad, Luke Gregerson, Bryan Anderson
Payroll: $74,765,800 (27th in MLB)
Maybe a "Moneyball" sequel is in order? Beane has done the best GM work of his illustrious career in the past year. He wasn't afraid to trade his best prospects, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, to attain quality starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. He wasn't afraid to trade his best all-around power hitter, sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for their ace, Jon Lester. How many times in baseball history has a team traded for two top-of-the-rotation starters in the same month?
Beane also had to deal with many challenges, including losing projected Opening Day starter Jarrod Parker to a second Tommy John surgery before the season even began. He also lost his ace from the prior season, Bartolo Colon, in free agency and another key starter, A.J. Griffin, to Tommy John surgery on April 30. Beane completely revamped his rotation, including Scott Kazmir, who he signed as a free agent. He also rebuilt the bullpen, making a key trade for Luke Gregerson to secure the eighth inning and making two of his most brilliant under-the-radar moves by signing left-handed reliever O'Flaherty and trading for lefty Abad, who both have been dominating.
Beane also continued his blueprint of building roster depth with his deals for Gentry, Fuld, Gomes and Soto. He now has more right/left flexibility and platoons than any team in baseball (perhaps that could be one of the key themes for "Moneyball II" when it's filmed?).
His final move, acquiring Adam Dunn from the White Sox, already is paying off. Dunn's power, walks/on-base percentage, great makeup and platoon ability (only against right-handed pitching) make that a typical Beane move.
If the A's can make it to October, they'll have the best and deepest overall starting rotation they've had since the Mulder-Zito-Hudson days and a legitimate chance for Beane to get his first World Series ring.
2. Jack Zduriencik, Executive VP/GM, Seattle Mariners
Free-agent signings: Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, Corey Hart, Chris Young
Trades: Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales, Chris Denorfia, Logan Morrison.
Rookie call-ups: James Jones, Chris Taylor, Roenis Elias, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker
Managerial hiring: Lloyd McClendon
Payroll: $89,245,143 (20th in MLB)
The Mariners shocked the baseball world in the offseason when they outbid every team in baseball, including the New York Yankees, for the game's No. 1 free agent, Robinson Cano, inking him to a 10-year, $240 million pact. Although they took a lot of industry criticism for the length of the deal, they also changed the image and culture of the organization. Cano has been everything the Mariners had hoped for. He has again been one of the best hitters in the game, as well as the game's best second baseman. He's fifth in the American League in WAR (5.6), and most importantly, he has been a positive influence on the young Mariners players, leading by example in preparation, work ethic and having a winning attitude.
Zduriencik did a great job in signing proven closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million deal and also signed pitcher Chris Young a pitcher who might turn out to be the AL Comeback Player of the Year after he was released by the Washington Nationals in spring training. Rodney has 39 saves and a 2.28 ERA, while Young has gone 12-7 with a 3.46 ERA.
Zduriencik also upgraded center field when he acquired Austin Jackson in a three-way deal that sent Nick Franklin to the Rays. He improved his team's depth with deals for Denorfia, Morrison and Hart. He also did a great job in landing Kendrys Morales. After refusing to give in to Scott Boras' asking price and allowing Morales to sign with the Twins in June, Zduriencik swooped in and traded for him in late July, and they'll now pay him a fraction of what they originally offered. Now it's just a matter of whether Morales will be productive in the final month of the season.
The Mariners' farm system continues to develop top-end prospects like James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, as well as solid options such as Roenis Elias, James Jones and Chris Taylor.
Zduriencik's best work, though, might be the construction of his bullpen, where he has stockpiled six relievers with mid-90s fastballs and plus secondary pitches. The Mariners have been one of the top two teams in baseball in team ERA most of the season. They are well-suited for the postseason (if they get there) thanks to the quality of their pitching staff.
And finally, Zduriencik deserves credit for the hiring of veteran manager Lloyd McClendon, who has done more than a solid job in leading this team to postseason contention.
3. Jerry Dipoto, GM, Los Angeles Angels
Free-agent signings: Joe Smith
Trades: Huston Street, Tyler Skaggs, David Freese, Hector Santiago, Jason Grilli, Fernando Salas, Gordon Beckham, Joe Thatcher.
Rookie call-ups: Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Cron.
Contract extension: Mike Trout
Payroll: $127,062,000 (9th in MLB)
Dipoto has done the best job of any GM in baseball in revamping a bullpen in one season, highlighted by a deal with the Padres at the trade deadline that landed Huston Street, who has converted 35 of 37 opportunities this year and single-handedly solved the Angels' biggest problem of the past few seasons. Dipoto started the process of seriously rebuilding the bullpen in the offseason when he inked Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million contract, and the veteran right-hander has responded with a 2.07 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 66 appearances.
Another key move by Dipoto was promoting rookie Matt Shoemaker, who at age 27 has delivered for the Angels, posting a 14-4 record and 3.14 ERA.
However, his best work might be locking down superstar Mike Trout, who signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract, taking away future concerns of arbitration and free agency.
4. Brian Cashman, Senior VP/GM, New York Yankees
Free-agent signings: Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann
Trades: Chase Headley, Martin Prado, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, Josh Outman.
Rookie call-ups: Dellin Betances
Waiver pickup: Esmil Rogers.
Contract extension: Brett Gardner
Payroll: $209,416,323 (2nd in MLB)
Cashman went on a spending spree in the offseason that would have made the late George Steinbrenner proud when he signed Tanaka, Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann to a combined $438 million of future financial salary exposure. The signings have not all worked out quite as planned, but all four players have still produced. Cashman also did a great job in extending left fielder Brett Gardner to a four-year deal at a bargain rate based on the year he has had. But Cashman's best work came at the trade deadline, when he acquired Headley, Prado, Drew, McCarthy and Capuano in trades in which he gave up very little value in return. The farm system also produced this year, including one of the game's best eighth-inning relievers in Dellin Betances.
5. Dave Dombrowski, President, CEO & GM, Detroit Tigers
Free-agent signings: Joe Nathan, J.D. Martinez, Joba Chamberlain
Trades: David Price, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine
Rookie call-ups: Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, Steven Moya
Managerial hiring: Brad Ausmus
Payroll: $161,023,527 (4th in MLB)
Dombrowski barely made this list with so many strong candidates knocking on the door, but it was his last-minute trade deadline deal that landed David Price from the Rays that cemented his place in the top five. With the Tigers dealing with a key injury to Anibal Sanchez and another setback in Justin Verlander's shoulder inflammation, the Tigers' chances of making the postseason would have been much slimmer had they not traded for Price. Not only that, but Max Scherzer and Price make for a great top of a postseason rotation.
Dombrowski also did a good job of picking up J.D. Martinez and Joba Chamberlain off the scrap pile. Free-agent signing Joe Nathan has been very inconsistent, but he has time to revert to the way he pitched in 2012 and 2013 and could be a rock in the postseason.
And finally, the hiring of rookie manager Brad Ausmus was brilliant, as the Tigers are now in good hands for years to come with him at the helm.
Porter firing a sign of Astros' major issues.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we know a lot more about the position that Bo Porter signed up for in the fall of 2012, when he became manager of the Houston Astros. Whether he knew it or not at the time, this is what the job notice probably should've looked like:
Wanted: Manager of a Major League Baseball team
(Note: Your team will be designed to lose more games than any other. It has been stripped down completely, with all 25 players making less money combined than CC Sabathia or the MLB commissioner.)
• Tremendous opportunity to travel and see the whole country, with big league accommodations. Good pay.
(You will be paid less than other managers.)
• Tremendous opportunity for growth.
(We'll stock your team with what rival executives rate as Double-A talent, a lot of young guys who really aren't close to being finished products as players and will be completely overmatched in the big leagues. Good luck with that.)
• You'll be surrounded by young and energetic players.
(This is because we'll trade away anybody who has any experience and value to stock up on prospects and to ensure that, well, we're not very good and get to pick at the top of the draft.)
• You will get to implement organization strategy.
(We'll tell you who to play, and how much. Just hand your lineup card to the umpires and follow instructions.)
• You'll work with some of the best and brightest minds in the business of baseball.
(Your opinions will be asked for occasionally, but your input will not be especially desired or valued. Nothing you say will alter the organization's evaluation or development process substantively; we've got that covered.)
• You will be the most visible member of the organization.
(Sort of, in the way that the White House press secretary represents the President. You won't actually make the decisions, but it'll be your job to explain them, and to put a happy face on the organizational effort to lose games. Besides, the fans don't know any of the players besides Jose Altuve anyway.)
• You will be in a position of great leadership.
(We'll need you to cover for us in dealing with your players and staff, in keeping them in line and explaining why it's a good thing that the team is getting crushed day after day, and why better players who might be able to help immediately are being left in the minor leagues.)
• You'll have an opportunity to shape young minds.
(Because inevitably, as the failures multiply and we all have to live out the losses day after day after day, everybody -- players, staff, you, us -- will start to play the blame game. We'll need you to be a mental Jedi and keep everybody convinced this is all part of a master plan.)
Bo Porter did not thrive in these conditions, which is why so many of his coaches left after his first season. In fact, after that 2013 season, in which the Astros went 51-111, some within the front office had tremendous reservations about retaining Porter for the 2014 season. There was some preference for change. But sources say that the prevailing opinion was that it was too early to do that with a manager who had just been hired.
The Astros needed some combination of Mr. Miyagi, Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln to navigate through the past two seasons, to maintain some semblance of positivity through historic failure. It's one thing to come up with a plan built on statistical evaluation, but it's something completely different to expect actual human beings overflowing with ambition and competitiveness -- plus anger due to the competitiveness -- to adhere to it with the complete devotion of worker bees.
The meltdown from this amalgamation has been just about total, if some sources within the organization are correct. Players are angry, staffers have been outraged, and some club employees are looking for jobs elsewhere. The distrust of motives and skills and vision within the organization is extraordinary.
Porter's firing was inevitable. But hey, apparently the manager of the Astros is way down the list of who is really important within the organization. What must really change is the way the operating philosophy is carried out.
There needs to be greater inclusion rather than the sense that only a small group of people are making the decisions and everybody else is should stand outside the door. There needs to be debate and compromise, because as anyone who has worked in baseball will tell you, there are almost never absolutes; nobody is always right. The only sure thing is that the game will humble you.
Players and staff must be made to feel they are valued, and that their opinions and feelings are respected, if not always honored. If there's a funeral for a long-time employee, then folks within the organization need to show up.
I wrote here after the Brady Aiken fiasco that the Astros have a terrible perception problem, but that's not only about how prospective customers -- fans -- might view them. Their most significant perception problem is within their own organization.
Porter's short ride as a manager was not about a micro problem, about the way he handled decisions in key moments in games. It's about a problem with the macro.
There is failure in the design, and it's not limited only to trying to lose enough games to pick high in the first round.
More aftermath from the Porter firing
• For Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow, it's back to the drawing board, writes Evan Drellich. But Tom Lawless is ready to take over.
• Former Astros manager Larry Dierker had some interesting observations.
• Bo Porter released a statement.
• The Astros might have an opening for a Rangers coach, writes Mac Engel.
• From ESPN Stats & Information: Since the start of last season, when Porter took over as Astros manager, the team has had 25 players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances or 25 innings pitched produce at or below replacement level, six more than the next-closest team in the majors over that span.
Around the league
• What seemed to be inevitable actually occurred: The inconsistent Braves offense was no-hit by Cole Hamels and three relievers. In fact, the Braves have scored just one run in the past three games, writes Mark Bowman. From Bowman's story:
"It just feels like a loss," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "No matter if we get 20 hits or zero hits, we lost one. Tomorrow, we'll come out and try to win one."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez pinch hit for Justin Upton in the ninth inning.
From ESPN Stats & Info on how the Phillies pulled off the combined no-hitter:
A. Phillies pitchers did not allow a hard-hit ball the entire game. It was their third such game this season (April 21 versus the Dodgers, Aug. 30 versus the Mets).
B. Hamels recorded six of his seven strikeouts with the fastball, and Braves hitters were 0-for-10 in at-bats ending with a fastball against Hamels. Overall, Braves hitters were 0-for-15 against fastballs.
C. Hamels got 12 swings and misses with his fastball, his most in a start in the past two seasons. He got Braves hitters to chase 12 fastballs out of the strike zone, tied for his most in a start in the past five seasons.
D. Hamels recorded eight of his 10 fastball outs to his glove side (in to righties, away from lefties).
From the Elias Sports Bureau: This was the third no-hitter Carlos Ruiz has caught, one behind Jason Varitek for most in the expansion era (since 1961).
• Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to promote a top prospect and place him in the lineup Tuesday.
• Adam Dunn homered in his first at-bat with the Athletics, who snapped their losing streak. One swing can make a difference.
• The Cardinals rallied, and took over first place in doing so.
• Joc Pederson was called up to the big leagues by the Dodgers. One question that some evaluators have about Pederson is whether he'll hit lefties, but Mark McGwire is not among those; Pederson has the exceptional bat speed to make adjustments against any type of pitcher, he believes.
• Brett Bochy was promoted to the big leagues. The last time I saw him throw in person, he was playing catch at The Murph and accidentally drilled the opposing manager in the leg.
• You have to wonder if Henderson Alvarez's season might be over.
Dings and dents
1. Eric Hosmer was activated off the DL.
2. Cody Ross and Daniel Hudson were reinstated.
3. Jed Lowrie also was activated.
4. Anthony Rizzo might need an MRI on his back.
5. J.J. Hardy left Monday's game with lower back spasms.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Phillies will be making significant changes to their roster, says Ruben Amaro Jr.
2. The Mariners added a bunch of players to their roster.
3. Jason Giambi was recalled.
4. Aaron Hicks was called up.
5. Derek Jeter's slump raises some questions, writes Chad Jennings.
Hopefully the only determination for where Jeter hits in the Yankees' lineup in the midst of a pennant race is his potential for production. Many, many all-time greats have moved around in the lineup at the end of their careers to coincide with their slumps and streaks, including Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. If Joe Girardi believes he has better options to hit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup behind Jacoby Ellsbury -- perhaps Martin Prado or Brett Gardner -- he would be doing a disservice to the organization by not utilizing them there.
1. Miguel Cabrera found his power stroke and the Tigers blew out the Indians.
2. The Giants won a suspended game, but the Rockies rebounded in the nightcap.
3. The Mariners continue to struggle.
4. Corey Kluber had another tough game.
5. The Brewers fell out of first place.
6. Joe Mauer had a great day.
7. The Rays split a series.
8. The Orioles couldn't finish off a four-game sweep.
9. The Pirates lost the first game of a crucial series in St. Louis.
10. The Mets made six errors. They didn't play big league baseball, in the eyes of their manager.
• The Angels bullpen is much improved.
• The Rangers are getting a look at a player acquired for Michael Young.
• Matt Shoemaker's confidence is paying off.
• David Price shares some history with Bob Feller, writes John Lowe.
• It's time to see what the White Sox call-ups can do.
• Joe Girardi is unimpressed by the Rogers Centre weight room.
• Grant Balfour says his improvement is for real.
• Nick Markakis has seen it all.
• Chase Headley has a hit in every park, writes David Waldstein.
• Time is not on the Yankees' side. The Yankees will need to deliver on this homestand, writes George King.
• Rusney Castillo played his second game.
• Rob Bradford writes about what we've learned about the Red Sox.
• Billy Hamilton says this last month is a big one.
• Jorge Soler continues to hit.
• Starlin Castro and John Lackey jawed at each other over the weekend.
• Jonathan Broxton said he wasn't expecting a trade.
• As Tony Sanchez returns to the Pirates, he's in a slump, writes Rob Biertempfel.
• Brad Penny says his days of discord are over.
• Pete Rose has too many feats for one plaque.
• Jesus Montero's season is over following a suspension. He may well be playing for his pro baseball life next spring.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Sizing up offseason salary-dump market.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- August may be over but these are the dog days of player evaluations, the time of year when teams are ready to turn the page, ready to say something hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work. They’re looking for something different.
It’s the time of year when executives are beginning to mull over the possible salary dump in the offseason, and some are scanning other rosters for matches. “Your trash contracts for somebody else’s trash contracts,” as one official noted the other day.
Here are 16 players (and contracts) who figure to be analyzed and perhaps discussed in deals after this season ends.
1. B.J. Upton | Atlanta Braves
Owed: $46.35 million over the next three seasons
He’s batting .205 this season after hitting .184 in 2013, and he’s already posted his sixth straight season of 150-plus strikeouts. The Cubs could again have interest after trade talks that involved Edwin Jackson crumbled earlier this season. There might be a match with the Indians, as well.
2. Nick Swisher | Cleveland Indians
Owed: $15 million for each of the next two seasons, with a $14 million vesting option for 2017 if he reaches 550 plate appearances in 2016
Swisher had a terrible season that was ended by knee surgery, posting a .608 OPS and some of the worst defensive metrics in MLB. With Carlos Santana settling in at first base, it could be that the Indians will look to move Swisher’s contract in the offseason. He might be an interesting dollar-for-dollar dump with the Cubs and Edwin Jackson.
3. Jonathan Papelbon | Philadelphia Phillies
Owed: $13 million for 2015, but also has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished -- either 100 over the 2014-2015 seasons, or 55 in 2015 (he’s already got 44 games finished)
Inexplicably, the Phillies have let an opportunity pass in recent weeks to use talented young pitcher Ken Giles at closer, which would’ve given the team passage to steer around Papelbon’s vesting option. But now, as the Phillies go into the winter and continue working to trade Papelbon -- an effort that started about a year and a half ago -- other teams will continue to be leery of that massive vesting option. I wrote about the Giles option a couple of weeks ago, and a number of executives and agents agree that it makes all kinds of sense. Alas, the Phillies’ actions are nothing short of confusing.
4. Michael Bourn | Cleveland Indians
Owed: $27.5 million for 2014-2015, with a $12 million vesting option for 2016 if he gets 550 plate appearances
He’s 31 years old and his numbers aren’t that far off from his last season with the Braves, when he hit .274 with a .739 OPS. But there is one significant difference in Bourn: He has battled leg injuries the past two seasons and has stopped stealing bases. He had 23 in 35 attempts last year, and just nine in 14 attempts this year.
The Braves loved Bourn’s makeup and had wanted to re-sign him after 2012, so perhaps Atlanta and the Indians can find some common ground among Swisher, Bourn and Upton.
5. John Danks | Chicago White Sox
Owed: $14.25 million for each of the next two seasons
Rival scouts still see a pitcher who lacks stuff, and Danks has the fifth-worst ERA in the big leagues. He’s generated about as many runs allowed as strikeouts. The White Sox already have a lot of payroll flexibility, because of deals made this season, and could carve out a little more if they move Danks.
6. Brandon Phillips | Cincinnati Reds
Owed: $12 million in 2015, $13 million in 2016 and $14 million in 2017 ($39 million over the next three seasons)
The Reds worked to trade him last winter, without success, and could do so this winter as they search for ways to deal with the expense of a deep rotation.
7. Ricky Nolasco | Minnesota Twins
Owed: $37 million over the next three seasons, including a $1 million buyout of a club option for 2018
The signing of Phil Hughes paid off. The signing of Nolasco, not so much. He’s 5-9 with a 5.62 ERA. His dollars are pretty close to those of Swisher, so who knows.
8. Jose Reyes | Toronto Blue Jays
Owed: $66 million over the next three seasons, although the Marlins sent dollars to Toronto to help offset that salary when Reyes was traded to the Blue Jays (less than $10 million total)
Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
Trading Jose Reyes this winter would free up dollars for the Blue Jays.
It’s unlikely that the Jays will consider moving Reyes, at age 31, considering the scarcity of shortstops and the fact Reyes is valued for the energy with which he plays and for being an excellent veteran teammate. But just in case ...
There will be a good seller’s market for shortstops this winter, with the Mets, Yankees and Dodgers perhaps all looking for solutions. And if the Blue Jays want to extricate themselves from some of the dollars owed, this could be a good time to move Reyes. All you need to know about the shortstop market is what happened a week ago with Oakland and Yunel Escobar: He’s having a down year and there have been questions this season about his mental investment, yet the Athletics were ready to take him from Tampa Bay in a waiver claim.
As always, there is the question of how much Reyes stays on the field: He has fewer than 300 at-bats this year, with a .285 average.
9. Josh Hamilton | Los Angeles Angels
Owed: $83 million over the next three seasons
His performance has been erratic, and his contract is backloaded; he’ll make $30 million in both 2016 and 2017. In other words, it’ll be very difficult for the Angels to find a taker. Regardless, he has a full no-trade clause.
10. Elvis Andrus | Texas Rangers
Owed: $120 million over the next eight seasons
The Rangers are convinced that he will be better than he was this season, when he arrived at spring training out of shape. Given the need for shortstops around baseball, you’d have to figure the Rangers would at least explore the possibility that another team would take Andrus’ contract.
But more likely is that the Rangers would have to eat a lot of money to move him now, and it would make more sense for them to keep him. Given the volume of dollars, however, he is within range of what Matt Kemp makes with the Dodgers. If the Rangers got some talent in a deal, there might be a fit given L.A.’s need for a shortstop.
11. Matt Kemp | Los Angeles Dodgers
Owed: $107 million over the next five seasons
Teams say they are simply not interested in taking on a lot of Kemp’s money because they don’t know how good he is now. Two officials guesstimated what his value would be as a free agent, with one saying $16 million over two years and the other saying $15 million over two years -- which gives you an idea of how onerous this contract is regarded.
12. Ryan Howard | Phillies
Owed: $60 million over the next two-plus seasons
As Matt Gelb wrote recently, the Phillies have continued to play Howard in recent weeks in the hope that he would rebuild some value in the trade market. But his contract is enormous: Howard is set to make $25 million in each of the next two seasons and, like so many other Phillies, he’s got a massive option year (for 2017) that contains a $10 million buyout. Howard is in the same position as Jim Thome once was.
13. Ubaldo Jimenez | Baltimore Orioles
Owed: $38.75 million for the next three seasons
He has already been demoted from the rotation to the bullpen, with an ERA of 4.74 in 21 games. Presumably, Baltimore could be open to moving him, and you wonder if Cleveland -- with some contracts that it might want to shift -- could be interested in swapping some of its sunk cost for Jimenez, who had a lot of success with the Indians last year. Jimenez turns 31 in January.
14. Carl Crawford | Dodgers
Owed: $62.5 million for the next three seasons
Crawford is still a serviceable player, although not close to what the Red Sox envisioned when they signed him to a seven-year deal. Crawford is batting .265 for the Dodgers this year, with 21 steals in 26 attempts.
15. Andre Ethier | Dodgers
Owed: $56 million for the 2015-2017 seasons, including a $2.5 million buyout on a club option for 2018
He stopped hitting for power -- he’s posted just four HRs in 322 at-bats -- and he has a .681 OPS.
16. Edwin Jackson | Cubs
Owed: a total of $22 million for the next two seasons
Jackson has the worst ERA in the majors -- by far -- at 6.09, and he’s owed $22 million for the next two seasons. In terms of positives, he turns 31 later this month and has a relatively pristine injury history, so there’s hope there. But remember, other veteran pitchers like Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta have gone to Chicago and rebuilt their records under Chris Bosio.
Around the league
• Oakland’s collapse continues, with the Athletics again getting shut down Sunday as they were held to just one run. Manager Bob Melvin did not mince words in the team meeting or in speaking to reporters. From Susan Slusser’s story:
"It was embarrassing, pathetic. We don't play like that," Melvin said after Oakland's 8-1 loss Sunday, which completed a four-game sweep by the Angels. "The last three games here are the worst I've seen this team play in I don't know how long. I feel bad for our fans to have to watch that. ...
"The reason that I'm upset is, that is not who we are, that's not who we've been for three years," Melvin said. "It's mounted. It's been frustrating. ... We all should be embarrassed."
A's players agreed the meeting was necessary. "Something definitely needed to be said," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "It's a wake-up call. This is the time of season you need to start playing your best, and we're playing our worst."
With their offense dormant, Oakland landed Adam Dunn largely because the Athletics were willing to pay more of his remaining salary -- about half of the $2.5 million Dunn will be paid this month -- than the Dodgers were willing to pay.
Dunn has a .350 on-base percentage against lefties and could make up for the power that has disappeared, as Brandon Moss slumps, but this may be a case of too little, too late given the five-game deficit Oakland faces. Right now, Detroit and Kansas City are closer to Oakland than the Athletics are to the Angels in the overall race for the best record in the AL.
• The Angels are rolling, and held their fantasy football draft over the weekend.
• Jose Abreu will win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but Matt Shoemaker -- who beat Oakland in the series finale Sunday -- is positioned for a strong second place in light of how he has filled in for the Angels this season. From ESPN Stats & Info, more on Shoemaker’s season:
A) He is just the second pitcher this season to have six wins and a sub-1.40 ERA in a calendar month, along with Clayton Kershaw (June).
B) He cut his home run rate from 3.7 percent (pre-August) to 1.4 percent (in August).
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Shoemaker excelled throughout the month of August.
C) The Angels’ defense excelled behind him on balls hit in the air, turning 46 of 57 flies/liners (81 percent) that stayed in the park into outs for the month. His out rate on such balls was 64 percent entering the month.
D) He held left-handed hitters to .178 BA/.492 OPS in August (.288 and .802, respectively, entering August).
From ELIAS: Over the past 50 seasons, the only other rookie pitchers who won as many as six games in a calendar month while posting an ERA as low as Shoemaker's are Minnesota's Jim Hughes in May 1975 (6-0, 0.87), Milwaukee's Cal Eldred in September 1992 (6-0, 1.17), the Dodgers' Hideo Nomo in June 1995 (6-0, 0.89) and Atlanta's Brad Clontz in July 1995 (6-0, 0.00, all in relief).
Shoemaker keeps shutting them down, writes Helene Elliott.
• Madison Bumgarner finished a great month of August, too, with a win over the Brewers on Sunday. From ELIAS: Bumgarner had 56 strikeouts and three walks in August. He joined Curt Schilling as the only pitchers in MLB's modern era (since 1900) to have a calendar month with at least 55 strikeouts and three walks or fewer. Schilling had 62 strikeouts and two walks in May 2002.
The Giants continue to stay close to the first-place Dodgers, racking up 10 extra-base hits against the Brewers.
• Hyun-Jin Ryu returned and dominated the Padres.
• Before the Indians-Royals Sunday night game, Kansas City manager Ned Yost told about how he had to switch Alex Gordon’s hitting group in batting practice. Gordon used to hit in the third group after shagging fly balls aggressively for 30 minutes every day, practicing as if playing in a game, chasing pitchers out of his area.
Yost began to believe that Gordon was being worn down by such a long session of daily defensive work, and so he told Gordon he had to make a choice. Either he was going to move to the second hitting group, after taking 15 minutes of fly balls, or he was going to be taken out of the lineup occasionally. Gordon agreed to move to the second group.
“He is the perfect player,” said Yost, referring to the way Gordon prepares and plays.
Gordon's ninth-inning home run off Cody Allen tied the score at 2-2 -- the Indians would score twice in the top of the 10th before the game was suspended -- and Gordon’s homer was calculated at 462 feet, the longest home run of his career. It was also the longest home run by a Royals hitter in 2014, the second-longest HR in KC this season (trailing only one hit by Mike Trout at 489 feet) and the second longest by a Royal since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.
The Royals’ offense has been backsliding, writes Vahe Gregorian.
• The Indians have the look of a team playing with extraordinary confidence, as they appear nice and loose while boasting tremendous pitching. Cleveland’s staff ERA this season, by month: April: 4.44; May: 3.86; June: 3.94; July: 3.44; and August: 2.40.
• A big series starts Monday between the Pirates and Cardinals, and Gerrit Cole is the perfect guy to kick it off, writes Rob Rossi.
• The Reds’ trade of Jonathan Broxton was more about payroll management than anything else. Broxton is set to earn $9 million next season, and by moving his salary now, Cincinnati is a little better equipped to deal with the cost of trying to retain its starting pitching. Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Mat Latos will all be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Phillies traded John Mayberry Jr. to the Blue Jays.
1. Brad Ausmus was not happy with some sloppiness.
2. The Brewers are spiraling downward.
3. The Nationals hit some homers but lost.
4. A Yankees lead evaporated.
5. The Orioles continue to close on the AL East title.
Dings and dents
1. Michael Wacha had a successful rehab outing.
2. Carlos Gomez is having wrist trouble.
3. A Met is having an elbow issue.
• A Padre is ready for his debut.
• The Diamondbacks are limiting a pitcher’s workload.
• The Pirates have been resilient, writes Ron Cook.
• The Cardinals won and, once again, Matt Holliday drove in four runs. From ELIAS: It's the third time in Holliday's career that he drove in at least four runs in each of two consecutive games, but it's the first time that he's done that away from Coors Field. Holliday's previous two-game streaks of that kind were against the Marlins for the Rockies from July 4-5, 2008, and for the Cardinals versus the Rockies in Denver from July 31-Aug. 1, 2012.
• Bold words in spring have given way to reality for the Mets, writes Jay Schreiber.
• A.J. Burnett has really struggled since the All-Star break.
• Ruben Tejada knows he has likely run out of time with the Mets, writes George Willis.
• The Tigers are moving a prospect to center field.
• Caleb Joseph says his focus is defense.
• Casey Janssen got the call.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Time off was transformative for Duffy.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rehabilitating an elbow after Tommy John surgery can be the working definition of monotony, and Danny Duffy's experience was no different than that of many who preceded him. When he was going through the process at the Kansas City Royals' facility in Arizona, he would arrive at the ballpark by 9:30 a.m., finish all the work he was allowed by midday, and then hang out by the pool.
The early evenings presented the best part of Duffy’s groundhog days; he would head to the same restaurant for Mexican food, always ordering carne asada to enjoy from the same seat, and he would watch the other Royals do what he couldn’t wait to do again: play baseball.
“I didn’t miss a game,” Duffy recalled. “As painful as it is to watch knowing you can’t play, it’s important to stay on that learning track.”
This was a crucial part of Duffy’s mental and physical makeover, and when he takes the mound against Cleveland on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), the Royals will either be a half-game ahead or behind Detroit in the AL Central. Duffy is well-suited to bear the responsibility of the moment.
Duffy ranks fifth in ERA (2.47) among all MLB pitchers with at least 130 innings. That's a little ahead of Corey Kluber and Jon Lester, a shade behind Johnny Cueto.
He absorbed a lot while eating rice and beans in baseball purgatory. Before that, Duffy was renowned for his big arm, but also for what he did not know about pitching efficiently, about controlling his effort. For years, instructors had talked to him about focusing on location rather than velocity, as Duffy acknowledged Saturday. But it wasn’t until after those hours spent watching James Shields and other Royals fill the strike zone and succeed with far less velocity that the left-hander embraced a new philosophy.
“Surgery was the biggest thing that has happened, because I realized that I wasn’t invincible,” he said. “I tried to have the less-is-more mentality.
“I was not letting myself learn a whole lot when I was younger; I could out-stuff people in the minors. You get used to blowing it by people, then you get up here, and it doesn’t happen. You have to pitch. That’s so simply said by everyone. They tell you all about it, but until you experience it, it doesn’t really sink in.”
When Duffy returned after missing almost all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he and pitching coach Dave Eiland worked on shaving off the unnecessary movement in his delivery, streamlining his mechanics, from when he takes the sign and raises his hands to the instant the ball leaves his hand. This gives him a better chance to throw strikes, and repeat his delivery.
Only five MLB pitchers have thrown a higher percentage of fastballs than Duffy this season, and he’s been able to locate that pitch in a manner that he couldn’t before his surgery. In 2011, he averaged a whopping 18.6 pitches per inning, and in his first outings in 2012, that climbed to 19 pitches per inning.
This year, he’s cut that number dramatically, to 16 pitches per inning. His average fastball velocity has declined almost two miles per hour from the days before his surgery, from 95.3 to 93.4, but it’s a better fastball because he can throw it for strikes.
And in big spots or with two-strike counts, Duffy adds a little extra to finish off hitters. “When I need 95 or 96, I’ll go get it,” he said.
Duffy has doubled the use of his curveball and greatly diminished the use of his changeup, but the well-commanded fastball is at the core of what he does, something he began to understand in those hours spent watching.
More on Royals-Indians
• The Royals lost a heartbreaker to the Indians in 11 innings on Saturday night. The Indians have drawn to within 3.5 games of first place, Zack Meisel writes, and are operating with extraordinary confidence because of the dominance of their pitching.
The Indians have the best ERA in the majors in August -- their 2.40 is well ahead of No. 2 Seattle's 2.78 -- while holding opponents to a .219 average, with 238 strikeouts in 240 innings. Nobody with the Cleveland organization will ever say it, but evaluators with other teams believe the pitchers have been greatly helped by the decision to trade respected veteran Asdrubal Cabrera, whose defense at shortstop had diminished markedly, and replace him with Jose Ramirez.
• The Royals’ Omar Infante is banged up, but playing.
• On Friday’s "Baseball Tonight" podcast, Royals GM Dayton Moore talked about Duffy’s progression as a pitcher, and how K.C. put together an elite defensive team.
• Within the Royals’ organization, the prevailing view is that K.C.’s turnaround was spurred, in part, by a players’ meeting in Chicago in late July in which Raul Ibanez and others who had joined the team during this season explained to the young Royals exactly how they are perceived around the league: as an extremely talented group capable of great things.
Around the league
• Two rival evaluators raved about Jose Abreu's hitting ability this week, comparing him to Miguel Cabrera in his approach. “He’s like Cabrera in that he always seems to be working [in his mind] one pitch ahead, rather than one pitch behind,” said one official.
Said another: “You can’t stay with the same pattern against him, and can’t stay in the same place, or he’ll hurt you. There are hitters who you can attack in the same spot and have a reasonable chance for success. Like with [Mike] Trout, if your pitchers successfully execute and work up in the strike zone, you can get him out in that area. But there isn’t one place to get Abreu. You have to move the ball around and do different things against him.”
I’d guess that with a month to play, Trout remains the front-runner for the AL MVP award; he’s on pace for 85 extra-base hits, 36 homers, 113 RBIs and 109 runs, and the Angels are beginning to pull away in the AL West. But Abreu and the Royals’ Alex Gordon will (and should) get a whole lot of second-, third- and fourth-place votes.
Miguel Cabrera By Month
Month HR OPS
May 8 1.126
June 4 .845
July 2 .830
August 1 .691
Note: .143 BA, 9 K, 0 BB in past week
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
Cabrera, by the way, continues to be banged up; he was pulled in the fourth inning of the Tigers’ win Saturday, because of the ankle trouble that has hounded him all season.
He wants to play, says Detroit GM David Dombrowski. Cabrera’s injury situation has left a dark cloud over the Tigers’ pennant push, writes Lynn Henning.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Cabrera has not hit a home run since Aug. 2, and is slugging .307 in the 27 games since. In his past four games, he is 1-for-16 with six strikeouts.
• Jake Peavy flirted with a no-hitter. From ESPN Stats & Information, how he did it:
A. He recorded 18 swings-and-misses, his most since Aug. 13, 2011. Eight swings-and-misses occurred with two strikes, his most in a start since May 26, 2012.
B. He had eight strikeouts vs. right-handed batters, his most in a start since April 17, 2008 (six came on pitches out of the strike zone).
C. He threw 72 pitches out of the strike zone, tied for his most in any start since 2009 (36.3 percent of his pitches were in the strike zone, his lowest rate in any start since May 20, 2012); he induced 26 swings on pitches out of the strike zone, the most in any start since May 20, 2012.
• The Angels’ lead over the Athletics is now four games, after eight pitchers combined on a 2-0 shutout Saturday night. GM Jerry Dipoto said before the game that he doesn’t intend to trade for a starting pitcher, and the reality is that with the Angels separating themselves from the rest of the division, it's not a pressing need at the moment.
Oakland still leads the majors in runs scored with 637, but August continues to be a struggle for the Athletics’ offense: Oakland ranks 20th in the majors this month.
The Athletics are reeling, writes Susan Slusser. A pregame meeting didn’t help.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: The Angels used eight pitchers in their 2-0 shutout of the Athletics on Saturday. That's tied for the most pitchers used in a nine-inning shutout in MLB history, and the most the Angels have used in any nine-inning game.
• Manny Machado's injuries and the timing of them in the early climb through his career would seem to greatly hurt his chances of working out a long-term deal with the Orioles before he becomes eligible for free agency.
[+] EnlargeManny Machado
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Manny Machado needs to prove he can stay healthy before the Orioles sign him to a lucrative deal.
Machado, 22, will have two years and 56 days of service time after this season, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time after next season. Given the unusual nature of his knee injuries, the Orioles would want to see him play through an extended period -- say, at least two seasons -- before they would consider giving him the sort of deal that would run into his late 20s. The Orioles have long been regarded by agents as a team leery of injury risk, and have backed away from free agents -- from Will Clark to Grant Balfour -- because of that factor.
But within another couple of seasons, Machado will be closing in on free agency, and if he bounces back in a big way and stays healthy over the next two seasons, his representation would presumably look for the Orioles to be very aggressive in keeping him.
This is not going to be a case in which the Orioles don’t want Machado, but it could develop into a situation in which the timing of his injuries will affect the team’s interest in working out a timely big-money, long-term deal.
• The expectation among some rival officials is that the Braves will find a place to trade B.J. Upton this offseason, in a swap of his bad contract for somebody else’s bad contract. Their discussions with the Cubs have gotten the most exposure, but they also talked with other teams, as well.
• Jorge Soler continues to make a strong impression in his first days in the big leagues, and the young Cubs are having fun imagining what the lineup will look like when the player perceived to be the best hitter among all of the prospects -- Kris Bryant -- eventually arrives.
• All the stuff swirling within the Astros’ organization -- the TV situation, the continued struggles on the field, the controversial failure to sign the team’s No. 1 draft pick, the tension between important decision-makers -- have not touched two really important people within the organization: Reid Ryan and his father, Nolan Ryan.
What this does, of course, is to increase the Ryans’ practical power, if they choose to use it. There is so much perceived instability -- from within, with a lot of club employees extremely unhappy -- and the Ryans are viewed as potential anchors. If they were to leave, it would be a body blow for the organization, something worth remembering as the Astros make their choices in the weeks ahead.
• Stephen Strasburg had one of his best starts of the season, and the Nationals’ magic number is down to 21. He has been paired with Jose Lobaton, writes Adam Kilgore.
• The Orioles busily added depth on Saturday night with a couple of trades. Dan Connolly and Eduardo Encina analyze the deals here.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Phillies are playing Ryan Howard in the hopes of dealing him, writes Matt Gelb.
2. Ruben Amaro says that with Pat Gillick stepping in for David Montgomery, the baseball operations will be status quo. I’m not sure that’s really for Amaro to say, given the chain of command. We’ll see.
3. The Rockies need a better catcher than Wilin Rosario, writes Patrick Saunders.
4. Rick Hahn talked about the Alejandro de Aza trade.
Dings and dents
1. The time has come to shut down Joey Votto for the season, writes Hal McCoy.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury is sore, and the Yankees were shut down.
3. Masahiro Tanaka plans to resume throwing.
4. Dustin Pedroia suffered a concussion.
5. Joaquin Benoit is hurting.
6. Hanley Ramirez was a late addition to the Dodgers’ lineup.
7. There is no timeline for George Springer's return.
8. Derek Holland is set to pitch on Tuesday.
1. The Cardinals managed to split a doubleheader.
2. Drew Hutchison threw a gem.
3. Vance Worley had a strong outing for the Pirates.
4. The Mets have stopped hitting. Bartolo Colon was shelled.
5. Jake Odorizzi dominated the Red Sox.
6. The Braves were shut out again.
7. The Brewers have struggled of late, but have managed to stay atop the NL Central, writes Tom Haudricourt.
8. The Mariners continue to have a really bad week.
9. The Dodgers lost a game in the standings.
10. Scott Feldman shut down his former team.
• The Jays miss the old Edwin Encarnacion.
• Juan Nieves is adjusting from running a staff of veterans to overseeing a staff of young pitchers.
• Yunel Escobar says he feels fine mentally and physically. He was benched.
• Kyle Gibson was better.
• Jim Souhan writes about what the next moves should be for the Twins.
• The Rangers could get some consolation prizes.
• A Phillies prospect will not change position.
• Wally Backman deserves a bigger role with the Mets, writes John Harper.
• The Uptons have had a lot of ups and downs this month.
• The Reds face some difficult offseason choices, writes Joel Sherman.
• Justin Masterson continues to struggle.
• Jay Bruce says this is the most embarrassing year of his life. His track record speaks for itself, writes Hal McCoy.
• Jose Tabata is back to work.
• First base has become a hot corner for the Pirates, writes Rob Biertempfel.
• Starlin Castro has embraced a leadership role.
• The Diamondbacks are holding a reunion.
• Troy Tulowitzki is determined to remain at shortstop.
• Trevor Hoffman was inducted into the Padres’ Hall of Fame.
• Tony Gwynn's widow talked about how much she misses him.
• Nick Canepa writes that the Padres’ fiasco this week happened because of poor planning. From Canepa’s piece:
What the Padres have done here is outsmart themselves. They want an All-Star Game in Petco. They’ve been trying for years. [Bud] Selig, who thankfully leaves office in January, announced while here he plans to announce some future All-Star sites before he exits. This act, I truly believe, was polishing the apple for Bud, who isn’t averse to coddling.
Selig, on the bridge during a cancelled World Series, even was noticeably absent from the Tony Gwynn Memorial, sending an aide (new commissioner Rob Manfred). It was inexcusable. If a great Brewer had passed away, would he have been there? The question is rhetorical.
The only way out of this would be for Selig to say: “Thanks, but no thanks.” He should.
But that isn’t happening. The ship has sailed and its ill-conceived course is irreversible.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Only Selig can rescue Padres from debacle.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Only five months remain in Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, and with his successor chosen (Rob Manfred), most of his remaining duties are ceremonial. After stopping at a few more parks in his farewell tour, he'll crown the champion at the World Series and move on shortly thereafter, perhaps to do the teaching that he has spoken of.
But in the days ahead, he has the opportunity to make a decision which, within the span of his time in office, wouldn't be nearly as important to the sport as a whole as the addition of the wild-card teams or the television contracts. For one set of executives with one franchise, however, a move by Selig could be absolutely crucial.
On Tuesday, Selig was in San Diego as the Padres announced that they will name a ballpark plaza at Petco Park after Selig. Mike Dee, the team's president and CEO, explained the rationale. From Corey Brock's story:
"It's tough to find something to give someone who has the experience and background he does," Dee said. "I think at this point in his career, his legacy speaks for itself. But to commemorate it here today was not only fun for us, but important for us to do."
Later in the article: "We wanted to do something to recognize his contributions here in San Diego because they are unique," Dee said. "Make no mistake, his contributions to the creation of Petco Park are profound. For those of us who were around and know the trips he made and conversations he had with local officials."
Selig said he was "very, very grateful," and as far as the Padres were concerned, this was a done deal.
But the backlash from Padres fans has been resounding -- overwhelmingly negative. Dee acknowledged how much attention the choice has drawn, and some fans are petitioning for a change. From Jay Paris's story: "I recognize it's controversial," Padres president Mike Dee said Wednesday. "We read all the tweets, the emails and took the phone calls."
At the heart of the sentiment, questions being asked are why the Padres wouldn't have named the plaza after Padres great Tony Gwynn or longtime announcer Jerry Coleman, beloved figures in the organization's history who passed away earlier this year. They also question Selig's ties to the Padres.
At a time when agreement among parties -- in Congress, on Twitter, everywhere -- is difficult to attain, consider the results of polling done by the San Diego Union-Tribune (a newspaper I worked for two decades ago). The question asked of readers was this: Did the Padres err in naming it Selig Hall of Fame Plaza?
As of this morning, 1,464 had answered that question, and of those, 1,419 said yes, or 96 percent.
What can the Padres do to placate their angry fans? Not much. Reversing the choice on their own would be completely inappropriate, of course, and so Dee and the owners he works for will have to stand by the decision, which threatens to become a symbol of this ownership.
This is nothing new for Padres fans, of course. After the Padres' ownership executed the fire sale in 1992 and 1993, trading away Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Darrin Jackson, Greg Harris, Tony Fernandez and others, Tom Werner became a reviled figure in the community. He stopped attending games, and even though he sold the team to John Moores and Larry Lucchino before the 1995 season and the Padres went on to play in the 1998 World Series, Werner's reputation never got a makeover.
The simple fact is that the current ownership could be damaged in the same way by the Selig Plaza. The strong, visceral backlash promises that every failed decision, every season of struggle, will be viewed through that prism. You can tap into that feeling by reading the comments section below the poll.
Ask the fans. This is just another example of how out of touch ownership is with the fans. They need to do a lot more than talk the talk.
There is one way out of this morass, and only Selig has the power to make it happen, with a choice that would demonstrate leadership and grace.
What Selig could do is to give the Padres an opportunity to alter the honor, or reverse the decision entirely.
Selig, as commissioner, could issue a statement along these lines:
I was deeply touched by the Padres' announcement earlier this week that they intend to name the Hall of Fame Plaza after me, and it's the thought that really counts. I wish to reiterate my thanks to Ron Fowler and Mike Dee and others in the organization.
But it's evident by the response of the Padres fans that they disagree with the decision, which I fully understand as a former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. In Milwaukee, our fans prefer to honor our heroes, such as Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.
In light of that, this offer seems fully appropriate: I would encourage the Padres to rename the plaza after one of their cherished heroes, perhaps someone like Tony Gwynn or Jerry Coleman or Trevor Hoffman. Choosing to do this would make all the sense in the world to me.
The Padres cannot save themselves from this situation. Selig, who is still the king of the sport, has the power to do that.
Around the league
• David Montgomery is one of the more well-liked executives in the sport, and he will continue his treatment and step away from his role with the Phillies surrounded by enormous goodwill and good thoughts for recovery from his peers.
And the Phillies couldn't have found anyone better to step in for Montgomery than Pat Gillick, who built great teams in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia. Gillick is particularly adept at using all the resources at his disposal rather than insisting on bringing in only his own people and firing the existing staff. Gillick will serve as the rudder the Phillies need right now as they go about the business of reconstructing their roster.
• The Angels increased their lead to two games over Oakland. The Athletics and Angels are developing quite a rivalry.
It's worth noting, though, that Oakland protested the game, as Susan Slusser writes.
• On Thursday's podcast, Wally Matthews discussed the Yankees' playoff chances; Rob Biertempfel talked about Andrew McCutchen and his ability to play in pain; and Keith Law discussed Clayton Kershaw and the NL MVP race, as well as the swirling rumors about the Astros and Brady Aiken.
• Jonny Venters, whom I wrote about Wednesday, will need a third Tommy John surgery.
• Yusmeiro Petit set a major league record Thursday, retiring his 46th consecutive batter. From ESPN Stats & Information:
Most consecutive batters retired, single season
Yusmeiro Petit, 46 batters (2014)
Mark Buehrle, 45 (2009)
Jim Barr, 41 (1972)
Bobby Jenks, 41 (2007)
• And here's this from the Elias Sports Bureau: Petit struck out 21 batters during his streak and went to a three-ball count only once, when facing Colorado's Justin Morneau in the first inning Thursday.
Petit does have one streak still going: He has struck out 27 batters since last allowing a walk (to Ryan Howard on July 22), the longest current streak of that kind in the major leagues.
Petit's streak ended when Colorado's pitcher, Jordan Lyles, hit a double. Petit has allowed three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 22 at-bats against opposing pitchers, tying the highest total surrendered by any major league pitcher this season. Three other pitchers have allowed three extra-base hits to their counterparts this season, all in 30 or more at-bats.
• Yadier Molina says he's ready to go.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Orioles are remaining active in trade talks.
2. The Athletics shuffled their rotation.
3. The Royals claimed infielder Jayson Nix off waivers.
4. The Reds are going to add 7-9 players.
Dings and dents
1. Daniel Murphy is headed to the disabled list.
1. J.J. Hardy made the Rays pay.
2. The Yankees experienced an agonizing loss, writes David Waldstein.
3. The Twins had a big inning.
4. Alex Avila got a pivotal hit.
In that same game, Brian McCann was almost a hero for the Yankees.
5. Carlos Carrasco is in attack mode, while closer Cody Allen flooded the strike zone.
• Boston's outfield is taking shape, writes John Tomase.
• Rob Bradford writes about how good Yoenis Cespedes could be.
• Dioner Navarro has been solid as a rock, writes Bob Elliott.
• Derek Jeter's Toronto memories aren't so fond.
• A note on the Orioles from Elias: O's relievers haven't allowed a run in 16 innings over their past five games, and in August they have a 1.80 ERA and have held opponents to a .178 batting average. Each mark is the best in the major leagues this month.
• Bruce Chen had a really bad inning.
• One unheralded catcher is doing a nice job defensively for the Indians (we'll see them on "Sunday Night Baseball"):
Best Catcher Block Rate, 2014 (minimum 100 opportunities)
Player Catcher blocks Passed balls Wild pitch misplays Block rate
Roberto Perez, Indians 122 0 4 96.8 percent
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers 674 1 23 96.6 percent
Francisco Cervelli, Yankees 167 1 6 96.0 percent
Alex Avila, Tigers 484 3 20 95.5 percent
Michael McKenry, Rockies 206 3 7 95.4 percent
• The Mariners' bullpen has been extraordinary.
• Travis d'Arnaud might be better off moving to the outfield, writes Andy Martino.
• The Nationals are headed out west for a test.
• Matt Williams has earned a look for manager of the year, writes Thom Loverro.
• Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has been faring well as a reliever.
• Jimmy Nelson has seized the moment.
• Ike Davis is getting his first shot at the playoffs.
• Gerrit Cole is growing in his first full season, writes Karen Price.
• From Elias: The Reds stole six bases Thursday, all against the battery of Jake Arrieta and John Baker, with four of those base stealers coming around to score. No other major league pitcher has allowed six stolen bases in one game this season, and over the past 15 years, only one other pitcher has allowed a half-dozen steals in an outing of less than five innings (Chris Young in 2009).
• A Dodgers prospect won an award.
• The Diamondbacks have the prospects needed to help soon.
• Adam Jones had to explain a joke he made.
• It wasn't a good opener for Vanderbilt.
And today will be better than yesterday.
McCutchen admirably playing despite pain.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After Andrew McCutchen banged into the center-field wall making a catch Tuesday night, he paused for a moment, bent at the waist, and was probably doing one of three things:
1. Assessing whether his injured ribs had been knocked free from his body.
2. Catching his breath.
3. Managing the pain.
Maybe he was doing all the above, all at once, but McCutchen probably wouldn't tell you exactly what was going through his mind, because he seems to be another disciple of the Ripken-Jeter-Miggy Cabrera School of Grin and Bear It, where the mantra is that if you are on the field, you don't really acknowledge your injuries.
But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saw McCutchen hit the fence, and probably knows from precise trainers' reports how McCutchen is faring, and Hurdle removed the reigning National League MVP from the game in the late innings Tuesday. You wouldn't have blamed McCutchen if he had sat out Wednesday afternoon's game a mere 14 hours after the completion of Tuesday's game.
But McCutchen was back in the lineup in the third and final game of the series against the Cardinals, and he was hacking aggressively, as was Russell Martin, who had caught the night before. The Pirates took an early lead against Adam Wainwright and won the game 3-1. McCutchen discussed his decision, sort of. From Jenn Menendez's story:
McCutchen said he made an early determination that he would play Wednesday after slamming into the wall Tuesday night to make a catch.
"If I couldn't do that, I wouldn't be in there. I'm going to play when I'm good enough and I'm going to keep doing that," McCutchen said.
He said he woke up feeling no different than he has since his return from the disabled list (with the rib fracture) little more than a week ago.
"Same old. Same way. Same thing I've been feeling. No different," McCutchen said. "[Tuesday] was just one of those days. Take a break. Took a break. Got up [Wednesday] ready to go. Felt good. There's a difference between playing injured and playing hurt. I'm playing hurt."
McCutchen has the numbers to be considered for the NL MVP award again, including a .307 batting average and 20 homers, and he's basically running neck and neck in WAR with Giancarlo Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. But there's also something to be said for playing hurt, as Cabrera did last season and McCutchen is trying to do now.
After the Brewers' loss Wednesday night, the Pirates are just four games out of first place.
Speaking of the Brewers, Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke was unhappy with the strike zone Wednesday and was subsequently ejected. Here is what he had to say:
"This is the thing that bothers me," Roenicke said. "This is the same umpire that we had before, and he is terrible behind home plate. He calls pitches that aren't even close. The catcher sets up 6 inches off the plate, and he calls them strikes. I should have been kicked out the last time we saw him [on July 26 at Miller Park for a game against Jon Niese and the Mets]. I'm tired of sitting here watching the catcher set up off the plate and hitting his glove and [Mark Ripperger] calling it a strike. They are balls.
"So Frankie misses, OK, it is off the plate [an inch or two] the first one, he calls a ball. He's been calling it [a strike] all night. The next one was a little further off, but he's been calling that also. Just call the same pitches, but they are balls. I should have been kicked out in probably the second inning today. It is the same guy."
Around the league
• Clayton Kershaw started the year as the best pitcher on the planet, and in 2014 he has somehow gotten even better.
No team had loaded the bases against Kershaw even one time this season before the Diamondbacks did so Wednesday night. And naturally, Arizona didn't score. His success is predictable, writes Dylan Hernandez.
He gave everybody else a one-month head start by opening the season on the disabled list, yet as of this morning, Kershaw leads all starting pitchers in wins (16), along with his usual array of outstanding ratio statistics, from his ERA (1.73) to his WHIP (0.84), quality start percentage (91 percent), opponents' OPS (.524), etc. He has stranded the highest percentage of runners, at 83.3 percent. And he has the highest swinging-strike percentage (the guy in second place, Chris Sale, isn't that close).
From Elias: For the second consecutive year, Kershaw will take a sub-2.00 ERA into the month of September:
Sub-2.00 ERA through August in back-to-back years in live ball era (since 1920)
Note: Minimum 20 starts
Clayton Kershaw, 2013 and '14
Greg Maddux, 1994 and' 95
Sandy Koufax, 1963 and '64
Hal Newhouser, 1945 and '46
I would vote for Kershaw as NL MVP. As of today, I'd rank them this way:
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Giancarlo Stanton
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Jonathan Lucroy
• On Wednesday's podcast, Jayson Stark discussed the future of replay and some interesting umpire numbers; and Tom Haudricourt talked about the hurdles the Brewers face down the stretch.
• Jose Abreu should be a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year. We know about his power, but he's hitting for average as well.
• There are rumors swirling about the Astros possibly signing No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken, but Evan Drellich writes that it's unlikely. If it happens, there will be baseball operations people and agents going absolutely ballistic, and MLB would essentially be inviting other unsigned draft picks to threaten the sport with antitrust lawsuits.
• Nobody saw this coming: The Yankees got nine straight hits off David Price. Price said it was the worst game he has ever had. From Tom Gage's story:
"I'm human, and I have had bad games before," said Price, "but not that bad."
"They hit some balls hard off him; they hit some balls not so hard that found some holes," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Just an off night for David Price."
• The four best plays from Wednesday:
1. Andrelton Simmons going into the hole against the Mets. The throw is indescribable. Derek Jeter has made great throws from the hole in his career and so has Jimmy Rollins, but I can't remember seeing a throw made in that way with the kind of velocity and trajectory Simmons' throw had. Mark Simon writes here about Simmons' defense, which has been affected by his ankle troubles this season.
2. Jorge Soler introduces himself to Major League Baseball with a monster homer. It was a big bang in his first game, writes Fred Mitchell.
3. Kershaw's dominance.
4. Buster Posey is blistering hot right now; he mashed a walk-off homer Wednesday.
• A few nice round numbers: Mike Trout hit his 30th homer of the season Wednesday. And it was a long one. He joined some select company. And Billy Hamilton's 50th steal might have been his easiest.
• The turning point for Tim Lincecum, says one evaluator, came when hitters starting sitting on his changeup, in light of his diminished velocity.
• Here are some trade options for the Rangers, courtesy of Evan Grant, if they decide to deal Elvis Andrus.
• Ned Yost says he wasn't being critical of Royals fans. GM Dayton Moore says the Royals love their fans.
• Erasmo Ramirez continues to struggle for the Mariners, who were blown out. He had some good outings back in June, but you'd have to figure Seattle will be looking for an upgrade for this spot in the next three days.
Dings and dents
1. Michael Wacha might make a minor league start Sunday.
2. Pedro Alvarez was out of the lineup Wednesday.
3. Surgery has been ruled out for Anibal Sanchez.
4. It's looking more and more like the season is over for both Homer Bailey and Joey Votto.
5. Evan Longoria tested his arm Wednesday.
6. Jed Lowrie's finger is getting better.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Yankees are constructing their rosters differently, writes Joel Sherman.
2. The Yankees signed outfielder Chris Young.
3. Kevin Gausman was sent to the Gulf Coast League. Well, sort of.
4. Sergio Santos was designated for assignment.
5. Colby Lewis could be a no-brainer to return to the Rangers' rotation next season.
1. Liam Hendriks was an unlikely hero.
2. Doug Fister struggled.
3. Grady Sizemore got a big hit.
4. Marcus Stroman provided a pick-me-up for the Blue Jays.
5. Corey Kluber lost his second straight decision.
6. The Reds held on to win.
7. The Marlins are sliding.
8. Chad Qualls blew a save chance.
9. The Rockies lost on Buster Posey's walk-off homer.
• The Orioles have been scuffling lately.
• Drew Smyly keeps putting up good starts for the Rays.
ESPN Stats & Information on how Smyly won:
A. He threw breaking balls on 54 percent of his pitches, the highest rate in any start of his career.
B. Hitters were 0-for-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with his curveball or slider.
C. Forty-seven percent of his pitches were on the inner third of the zone or off the inside corner, the highest rate in his career.
D. Hitters were 0-for-10 versus inside pitches; the 10 outs he recorded on inside pitches is the second-most in his career.
And here are Smyly's numbers from his past four starts: 30 2/3 innings, just 11 hits and three runs allowed, and 23 K's to just five walks.
• Mookie Betts is getting comfortable.
• Rusney Castillo, the newest Red Sox outfielder, has begun his workouts in Fort Myers.
• Paul Konerko is ready to put the game aside.
• Sam Fuld hit a pivotal homer. From Elias: It was Oakland's seventh win this season in which they trailed entering the ninth inning, the most in the majors, and the most in one season for the A's since 1971, when they posted 10 such wins.
• David Wright wants to finish 2014 on a high note, while teammate Zack Wheeler says he wants to stay with the Mets.
• Adam Wainwright believes he's emerging from a dead-arm phase.
• The Diamondbacks will be working on improving their on-base percentage as they train this winter.
• Some Padres fans are really unhappy with the decision to name a ballpark plaza after Bud Selig.
• Derek Jeter was honored in his home state. The area scout who recommended Jeter to the Yankees remembers how the shortstop took his breath away.
• John Rocker is going to appear on the show "Survivor."
• For Nashville's Greer Stadium, there was an emotional goodbye.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Projecting healthy Ken Griffey Jr.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While Barry Bonds is the one who eventually broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, he wasn't the player of his generation who was supposed to accomplish the feat. Instead, it was Ken Griffey Jr. who was widely expected to be the next home run king, the successor to Aaron.
A valuable contributor even in his first MLB season at age 19, Griffey had an auspicious start in the majors and didn't disappoint in his first decade in the majors, eventually becoming the player the Seattle Mariners were most identified with.
After the 1999 season, Griffey Jr. stood as the all-time leader of home runs through his age (29) with 398, 19 homers ahead of second place at the time, Jimmie Foxx (Alex Rodriguez would later surpass this total). With a very expensive contract imminent for Griffey and a desire to play closer to home, the Reds pulled the trigger on a five-player trade that returned "The Kid" to the town where he spent most of his childhood.
And that's where Griffey's story takes an unfortunate turn. After a solid first year in Cincy, with 40 homers and his 11th-straight All-Star appearance, Griffey's career as a Red became defined by his injuries. Exceeding the 130-game mark just three times with the Reds, Griffey quickly fell off Aaron's pace. And in 11 seasons after the big trade, Griffey totaled just 232 additional homers while posting a mortal .262/.355/.493 line.
It wouldn't have taken much for history to be different. The ZiPS projection system, as of the point of Griffey's trade to Cincinnati, reckons that his assault on the record books was legitimate. Even projecting his 30s as a decade of decline with fewer games played each successive year, ZiPS saw a better future for him than what ultimately unfolded.
Griffey Jr.'s projected stats according to ZiPS, 2000-2011
Year BA/OBP/SLG HR RBI WAR
2000 305/397/676 59 136 8.6
2001 288/373/619 50 119 7.4
2002 293/379/599 44 106 7.1
2003 280/363/555 37 92 5.5
2004 267/348/517 32 93 4.5
2005 281/356/539 32 92 4.4
2006 273/342/529 31 75 3.7
2007 258/319/494 26 69 2.4
2008 254/310/448 20 56 1.3
2009 242/295/412 14 41 0.4
2010 238/284/387 9 30 -0.1
2011 229/267/349 5 17 -0.4
CAREER 287/364/522 757 2,078 116.3
Despite dropping Griffey below 130 games played a year for good by 2005, ZiPS had Griffey edging out Aaron's HR record in his final season (ZiPS didn't see Bonds finishing with 762 at the time). Griffey would have likely limped to the finish line, but that's what usually happens with career records; Aaron hit his final home runs as a DH with a .684 OPS for the Brewers, and Ruth's last homers occurred during his career's sad epilogue with the Boston Braves.
ZiPS also puts Griffey at 3,218 hits instead of his actual 2,781, adding a member to the 3,000-hit club. And ZiPS' projected 2,078 RBIs would rank third in MLB history rather than Griffey's 15th-place rank.
While Griffey still will be remembered as one of the greatest players of his generation and will coast into the Hall of Fame, there was that extra bit of his greatness we never witnessed due to injury -- and history's disdain for storybook endings.
Would the Expos have won '94?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
One of the saddest tales of baseball's 1994 strike involves the Montreal Expos. At 74-40 heading into the strike, baseball's best record by 3.5 games over the New York Yankees, Montreal lost their franchise's greatest hopes of attaining baseball's first Francophone World Series championship.
Montreal's success that year wasn't a fluke, put together by smoke and mirrors. The Expos' pitching staff was the most dangerous in baseball in 1994, leading the NL with a 3.56 ERA thanks to the front four of the rotation (Pedro Martinez, Ken Hill, Jeff Fassero and Butch Henry). The offense wasn't quite as exciting, but it featured two stars in Moises Alou and Larry Walker who were smack-dab in their prime years and with seasonal OPSs brushing up against the 1.000 mark.
To simulate the rest of the 1994 season, I ran the remainder of the year one million times using a Monte Carlo simulation and the ZiPS rest-of-season projections for every player in baseball. ZiPS agrees with the consensus that it was Montreal's year, with the Expos needing a monumental six-week collapse to miss the playoffs, the only team for which this was true.
ZiPS Playoff Projections for 1994
Team Playoff Percentage
New York (A) 96.7%
Chicago (A) 83.5%
Los Angeles 76.8%
San Francisco 19.6%
Kansas City 14.7%
In the playoffs, the Expos were favored in every possible matchup, with at least a 60 percent projected chance of winning a playoff series against all teams except the Yankees (54 percent) and the White Sox (53 percent). Montreal's top-heavy rotation also significantly improved their playoff odds, with no team able to match the Pedro/Hill/Fassero top three who would have started most of the team's playoff games.
ZiPS Playoff Projections for 1994
Team World Series Odds
New York (A) 12.0%
Chicago (A) 10.5%
Los Angeles 9.5%
San Francisco 2.4%
Kansas City 1.9%
Alas, history was not kind to the Expos. Instead of an October shower in champagne, the season ended with an August strike. The next time the franchise made the playoffs, the regional fare was steamed crabs, not poutine, and Les Expos de Montreal only existed in memories.