6 years/85.5 mil
Jersey WILL be copped.
The Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels entered the season with lofty expectations, and neither squad has delivered on them quite yet. The Angels rank 19th in this week's ESPN Power Rankings, while the Tigers place one spot better at 18th. But while they are still both in the lower half of the rankings -- and below .500 -- both Detroit and Los Angeles are playing better in May than they did in April, and it's due mainly to their pitching.
It's true that the Angels bottomed out in the rankings at the end of April, falling to 24th, at which point they finally called up Mike Trout. It's also true that since his call-up he's been the Angels' most valuable position player -- and that they never should have sent him to the minors in the first place. But the decision to play Trout hasn't come without a cost for the Angels, because in doing so they chose to marginalize Peter Bourjos.
In the 22 games between when Trout was called up and Vernon Wells injured his thumb, Bourjos started just six times while Wells started 18 times, despite the fact that he is one of the worst players in the game. Entering Sunday's action, only eight position players in baseball have been more of a drag on their teams, according to win probability added. Bourjos hasn't played nearly as well, but even in his limited action, he's been more valuable than Wells.
But while Trout's play came with a cost, it has more than been made up for by the Angels' stellar pitching.
After getting off to a middling start, the Angels' pitching staff has really turned it up a notch this month. Entering Sunday's play, the Angels' 3.5 pitching WAR was third-best for May. Ace Jered Weaver has been marvelous all season, as has Dan Haren, though his occasional flare-ups make it seem otherwise. After compiling a 7.04 FIP in April, Ervin Santana has come back down to earth, with a 4.12 FIP in May. He is still walking too many batters, but it's a start. The major improvement, though, has come from the team's bullpen. The Angels' bullpen started 2012 the same way it finished 2011, as its 4.36 FIP ranked just 24th in the game. As of Sunday, those marks had improved to 3.26 and 11th in May, respectively. Adding Ernesto Frieri has been a boon, and Jordan Walden, Hisanori Takahashi and Jason Isringhausen have all pitched better. The samples are small, so the improvement is hard to bank on, but the results have nevertheless been promising.
While the Angels' pitching has improved, the Tigers' staff has kept on humming. Last month, I wrote that the Tigers' staff had been the team's best unit, and that hasn't changed in May.
Bullpen stalwarts Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde have all posted better FIPs in May than they did in April, and while Octavio Dotel hasn't equaled his 1.38 April FIP, his 2.28 mark this month is still solid. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have indeed seen their fortunes change for the better this month, while Doug Fister's return hastened Adam Wilk's exit (Fister has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four May starts). Meanwhile, Justin Verlander keeps doing his thing -- entering Sunday, he was more than a half-win better than any pitcher in baseball.
Of course, good pitching isn't the only reason the teams have improved. Despite Wells' dragging down his overall contributions to the team, Trout has been stellar, and Albert Pujols is finally thinking about starting to catch fire. Mark Trumbo has already been lighting it up, though much of his hot start is BABIP-fueled. In Detroit, Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta have rediscovered how to get on base, though they still need to whisper the secret in Ryan Raburn's ear. And while losing Austin Jackson hurts, Prince Fielder has responded from his 0-for-21 mini-slump in the early part of May by hitting .442/.475/.692 in his last 59 plate appearances.
The trouble is that the valleys in a team's schedule don't always align with the team's peaks. While both the Angels and Tigers are getting close to running on all cylinders, they could be derailed by their upcoming opponents. The Angels' next six games are with the Yankees and Rangers, who rank ninth and second in the power rankings, respectively. Looking ahead to June, the one opponent they will face twice in interleague play is the first-place, and top-ranked, Los Angeles Dodgers. The Tigers may have an even tougher road, as their next four series will come against the rapidly improving Boston Red Sox, and then three top-10-ranked squads in the Yankees, Cleveland Indians (sixth) and Cincinnati Reds (seventh). And after a brief respite, three of their four series to close out June will come against the St. Louis Cardinals (eighth), Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays (fourth).
After middling-to-slow starts, the Tigers and Angels have picked up their play, thanks largely to improved pitching. But their path back to the tops of their respective divisions will come with significant road blocks, as just as things are turning around, a bevy of tough teams will come calling. When trade-deadline season heats up at the beginning of July, these two squads may not be in first place, but rest assured that they will be teams to be reckoned with in the playoff race.
Paul Swydan covers baseball for ESPN Insider. He has been writing about baseball for various publications since 2005 and can most frequently be found writing for FanGraphs. You can find his ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.
ATLANTA -- We didn't need a radar gun to know there was something amiss with Roy Halladay, who left his start against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday after two innings because of shoulder soreness. The hitters were telling us that, with more aggressive swings against him, with significantly better results.
This month, Halladay has allowed 44 hits and 24 runs in 35.1 innings, including five homers in his last three starts. This is a pitcher who allowed only 10 homers for the entire 2010 season. Hitters are swinging, and they are not missing.
But the radar gun has been providing clues, too. Halladay's velocity has been down this year, as Fangraphs.com notes.
As Phillies' officials and coaches go to work today, they have no idea what they'll get out of Halladay for the rest of this season, just as they don't know what they could draw from Ryan Howard (who is improving) or Chase Utley.
The Phillies are in last place in the NL East, but that standing is deceptive; Philadelphia has been playing much better of late, with 10 wins in their past 15 games, and they have climbed over .500, to 25-24.
The Phillies are five games out of first place, in a division that has been steamrollered by injuries: The Nationals have lost Jayson Werth, Drew Storen and others, while the Braves have lost the middle of their lineup over the past 10 days.
The Phillies have reached a crossroads, and have decisions to make.
They could stand pat with their current roster, and look for a Halladay replacement from within. Vance Worley has seemingly made progress as he works his way back from arm trouble, and if he steps back into the Philadelphia rotation, the Phillies could plow ahead with a five-man staff of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton (who has been dangled in trade talks for a lot of the past two years, but suddenly seems indispensable), Kyle Kendrick and Worley -- with the hope that Halladay comes back, after benefiting from a shutdown.
The Phillies could be the team that jumps on Roy Oswalt, the most prominent free-agent pitcher still available. All winter, teams thought that Oswalt had priced himself beyond his actual worth; last year, the right-hander threw 139.2 innings, while dealing with back trouble. He had a 3.69 ERA, and his 1.34 WHIP -- respectable for sure -- was the worst of his career. Some club evaluators have viewed the 34-year-old Oswalt as someone from whom you could expect about 100 innings, with a significant risk for more back trouble.
The Phillies already have a record payroll, at $173 million -- which is about double what it was in 2007. Oswalt could cost something in the range of $5 million to $7 million, and he is probably weeks away from being ready to rejoin a rotation.
By the time Oswalt is ready to pitch in the big leagues, the trade market could loosen up, and the likes of Ryan Dempster will be up for grabs. In getting someone like a Dempster or a Shaun Marcum, the Phillies would have to part with prospects from a farm system already thinned by trades for Halladay and Lee in recent years.
There is another option for the Phillies, of course -- an option that is almost certainly out of the question. They could decide that because of Halladay's injury, along with the uncertainty about what Utley and Howard might give them, the Phillies could be aggressive sellers. They could market possible free agents Hamels and Shane Victorino, to add to their farm system.
For the readers: If you were running the Phillies, would you:
A. Stand pat, and try to grind it out and buy time for something to change?
B. Call Oswalt today and get him signed?
C. Move aggressively in the trade market for someone such as Dempster?
D. Begin to turn over the roster and trade off the likes of Hamels?
The guess here is that the Phillies will check again on Oswalt's price, while standing pat. We'll see.
Charlie Manuel acknowledged his concern after Halladay's exit Sunday, writes Bob Brookover. From Bob's story:
"I know he's had a cranky shoulder," Dubee said. "He hasn't looked right and he didn't look right today. I knew he wasn't going to come out of the game. I basically said that was enough."
Halladay said he first felt soreness "about halfway through" his previous start against the Washington Nationals.
"We checked everything out, and strength and stuff was fine," Halladay said. "But we were just careful this week, cut back on throwing, did all the normal stuff [to deal with soreness]. You have this stuff from time to time and you know most of the time if you take care of it, it kind of goes anyway."
Dubee indicated that Halladay's soreness dates from beyond his last start.
"Yeah, it's been an issue," he said. "It's been there. It's been lingering. Some days it's better than others. Chicago was better than others. Even the start of the last game it was better and then got cranky. Today, warming up he felt fine, but as he got into the game and sat down and even before the first inning, it was just hard to get it going again."
Halladay's pitch selection indicates a dramatic change in his approach this year, with a greatly reduced percentage of fastballs (see chart).
The Phillies saw some progress in Utley over the weekend.
For now, Oswalt is not an option for the Rangers, writes Jeff Wilson.
• Freddie Freeman was wearing glasses when he came out to join his teammates to stretch before Sunday's game. But stretching is about all he can do these days, as he tries to deal with his eye problem; in layman's terms, he cannot generate the tears needed to moisturize his eyes. Freeman has been trying a wide range of possible solutions, from protective eyewear to new batting stances, in an effort to see the ball better, and is getting no traction on a fix.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez tried throwing batting practice to him Saturday, and after watching his first baseman struggle to angle his body in an effort to see the ball -- turning his head awkwardly, so that he could use both eyes, rather than just his right eye -- Gonzalez shut down batting practice.
The problem first came up when the Braves played in Colorado earlier this month, and Freeman has five hits in his last 40 at-bats; his eyesight has been worsening, he said Sunday, to the point that he has needed his prescription changed repeatedly.
There is some good news for the Braves: Brian McCann came to the park Sunday believing he might play, after missing most of the week with the flu, and he was available to pinch-hit last night. McCann could be back in the lineup today or Tuesday; Gonzalez has talked to him about starting a game and perhaps getting in five innings, and more importantly for the struggling Braves, three at-bats.
• Gio Gonzalez was ridiculously good on "Sunday Night Baseball," striking out 10 and allowing one hit and two runs over seven innings -- and his ERA actually went up, to 2.04. He's allowed 33 hits in 61.1 innings, with 79 strikeouts. Once again, a Washington catcher is hurt.
From The Elias Sports Bureau: Over the past 75 years (1937 to 2011) the only other Giants player to record as many as 73 hits over the team's first 48 games of a season was Willie Mays in 1958. Mays had a .424 batting average with 84 hits, 13 homers and 39 RBIs through the Giants' first 48 games in the club's first season in San Francisco.
• The White Sox -- roaring forward in the standings, as they swept the Indians over the weekend -- are rolling, led by Paul Konerko. From ESPN Stats and Information: Konerko hit his 400th career home run as a member of the White Sox, joining Frank Thomas as the only players to accomplish the feat.
2. The Astros summoned a lefty who has been dominating in the minors.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
9: Home runs hit between Rockies and Reds at Great American Ballpark, the most in a single game at that ballpark.
11: Mat Latos became the 11th pitcher to win a start despite giving up five home runs (all solo) in the Reds' 7-5 win.
400: Home runs by Paul Konerko as a member of the White Sox; second all time behind Frank Thomas (448).
1938: The White Sox scored 12 runs, their fourth straight game with at least nine runs. It's the first time they have scored nine or more runs in four straight games since 1938.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Kuroda beat the Athletics:
A. Kuroda worked up in the zone and above, throwing 32 pitches up and getting eight outs. Seven of the eight outs came with Kuroda's fastball.
B. Kuroda's secondary pitch was his slider and he used it to success against the Athletics. Kuroda threw 31 sliders (30 percent of total pitches) and the Athletics went 0-for-4 with four flyouts in at-bats ending with the slider.
C. The Athletics had runners on base in three innings, but went 0-for-7 with two strikeouts. They didn't get their first runner in scoring position until the seventh inning and went 0-for-2 with RISP.
2. The Cubs lost, again; that's 12 in a row, Gordon Wittenmyer writes.
3. For the Diamondbacks, it felt like old times.
4. The Angels are almost all the way back to .500 after sweeping the Mariners.
6. The Jays got crushed.
10. The Brewers lost another series.
11. The Pirates put up a big number.
13. The Red Sox continue to struggle to get over .500.
ATLANTA -- Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was standing on the floor of the visitors dugout here telling Earl Weaver stories Saturday afternoon, complete with an Earl imitation -- including the requisite profanity -- and even if you wanted to get a word in, well, it was too late.
"I'd been telling Earl that my shoulder was hurting and he needed to play Bobby Grich," Davey said. "But we're playing a left-hander, and Earl says, 'Well, you normally hit [expletive] .900 against this guy, and now you'll just hit .300.' So, he keeps playing me.
"I come into the clubhouse and I look at the lineup card and I see I'm in there, and I say, 'Looking at the lineup is like getting a box of Cracker Jacks. You never know what you're going to get.' Apparently, Earl heard about this, because he called a team meeting and the whole time he's looking right at me.
"He's looking right at me, and he's saying, 'It's your job to [expletive] show up and play when I tell you to [expletive] play.' The meeting ends, and the other guys are looking at me saying, 'Jeez, why didn't he just call you into his office?'"
Johnson laughed. This is a good time to be telling stories, because the Nationals are rolling, leading the NL East by 2½ games, with a staff ERA lower than 3.00, and they're getting a nice boost from Bryce Harper, who hit another homer here Saturday. Johnson has a team of young players, most of whom have never won before, but he likes young players because he finds them to be open-minded and enthusiastic.
"There's nobody dragging themselves into this clubhouse," said Gio Gonzalez, who starts on Sunday Night Baseball against the Braves' Brandon Beachy, in a matchup of early Cy Young candidates. "Everybody's excited. Everybody's fired up. You don't see guys yawning as they're going out to take batting practice. They're into it."
On the other hand, there is a completely different environment in the Braves' clubhouse these days: They are in survival mode.
Atlanta was 26-16 after beating the Tampa Bay Rays a week ago, but its lineup has been wrecked by injuries. Chipper Jones was hit on the calf by a ground ball on May 19, and some of his teammates are a little squeamish as they tell the story of how the blood pooled inside and had to be drained.
The Braves might've kept Jones on their active roster, but catcher Brian McCann was ailing so badly from the flu that when backup catcher David Ross got hurt in Friday's game, Atlanta needed a roster spot to call up catcher J.C. Boscan, and it placed Jones on the disabled list.
Jones is 40 years old and in his last months in the big leagues, but his presence in the lineup has correlated directly with the Braves' success: They are 21-8 in games in which he has played, and 5-14 when he hasn't played.
The Braves are accustomed to playing without Jones, of course, because he's missed his fair share of games in the final seasons of his career. But McCann, who is expected to play tonight, has started slowly, with a .256 average and the lowest slugging percentage since his rookie season (.421), and there is real uncertainty about the status of first baseman Freddie Freeman.
He suffered from dry eyes in Colorado and seemed to suffer from scratches, and now he and the Braves are trying to figure out why this problem persists. Freeman walked through the clubhouse on his way to the batting cage early Saturday afternoon with some protective glasses, but he would not play; he and the Braves don't know when he's going to be right.
A Braves lineup without Jones, Freeman and McCann is like trying to pull off "Gone With the Wind" without Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes. The timing for the Braves couldn't be worse. After Atlanta finishes this series tonight, it hosts the St. Louis Cardinals for three games, has successive road sets against the Nationals and Miami Marlins, and then runs the interleague AL East gauntlet, playing the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for 12 straight, including six against the Yanks.
Atlanta's pitching -- the backbone of the team -- will never be as important as it will be in the next few weeks.
And Beachy, by the way, was bothered by the illness -- the crud, players call it -- that has been passed around the Atlanta clubhouse. Nobody's in the mood for stories right now.
• By the way: The Nationals have been actively pursuing relief pitching, dangling demoted starting pitcher John Lannan as possible trade bait.
You have to respect Wolff's reluctance to threaten others. On the other hand, MLB history is clear, as one lawyer said recently: If you want action, you have to wave the legal saber.
• Albert Pujols is killing it, again.
From ESPN Stats and Info: Pujols hit his sixth home run in two weeks in the Angels' win Saturday. In his past 12 games, he's hitting .333; he was hitting .197 before this 12-game stretch. He's chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone, and a higher percentage of his swings are resulting in a ball in play.
• Derek Jeter had two hits Saturday, giving him 3,154 for his career. He is now tied with George Brett for 14th place on the all-time hits list.
• On a day when the sniping between the Boston and Tampa Bay managers peaked, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the last word. Along the way, Adrian Gonzalez was pulled for a pinch runner, and he wasn't happy about it.
The feuding includes a disagreement over pregame music.
• Dylan Bundy gave up runs.
This deal is good news for the two other notable catchers who could be free agents when the year is over, some agents believe: Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers and Russell Martin of the Yankees. The Montero deal reinforces the market change that occurred when the Cardinals signed Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75 million deal.
4. A Rangers signee continues to be investigated.
4. The middle of the Cleveland lineup is in tatters.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how he won:
A. Santana did not go to a three-ball count for the first time this season. He'd averaged five three-ball counts in his first nine starts.
B. He threw 77 percent of pitches for strikes, his highest percentage since Aug. 20, 2009.
C. Santana matched a season high with five strikeouts with his fastball. Padres hitters missed on 10 swings against his fastball, second-most against Santana since the start of 2009.
D. Santana threw his slider 26 percent of the time, his highest percentage since July 18, 2009. He got seven outs with the pitch Saturday.
E. Santana threw 96 pitches in his shutout vs. the Padres. That's the fewest pitches thrown by a Mets pitcher in a shutout of at least nine innings since at least 2000 (incomplete data before that).
10. The Cardinals were shut down.
0: Three-ball counts for Johan Santana in his shutout.
6: Home runs for Albert Pujols in his past 11 games; he had one home run in his first 36.
22: Strikeouts for Ernesto Frieri in 10 innings with the Angels; he has yet to allow a hit since being traded to Los Angeles.
53.7: Career-low strike percentage for Stephen Strasburg on Saturday.
There is a longtime evaluator who has gotten a chance to see Mike Trout in person a handful of times since the Angels recalled the outfielder to the big leagues this season.
The evaluator is not prone to hyperbole or overstatement, and he isn't someone who rushes to judgment.
His feelings about Trout's ability are strong. "If he's not the best player in the game by the end of this season," said the evaluator, "he will be by the end of next season."
On the day that Trout was summoned to the big leagues, the Angels were 6-14. Since then, they are 16-11, and Trout has thrived, at age 20. "He excels at everything he does," said the evaluator.
Trout has 11 extra-base hits in his first 25 games and a .500 slugging percentage. He's averaged 4.28 pitches per plate appearance; the only member of the Angels with more, the evaluator noted, is Albert Pujols, who has a decade more in the big leagues. He has six stolen bases. "He may be the fastest player in the game," said the evaluator. "There isn't anything on a baseball field that he doesn't do well. He's special."
Jerry Dipoto, the Angels' first-year general manager, has been greatly impressed by what he's seen from Trout's at-bats -- but also in his response to when he doesn't get a hit. "I think he's been remarkably good," Dipoto said. "For a 20-year-old, he just doesn't let a bad at-bat carry over. He doesn't let it pile up. ... I can't recall anyone at that age who has that ability.
"He's one of the reasons" the Angels have turned it around, Dipoto said. "He's created some stability at the top of the lineup."
Trout's mindset is that a perfect at-bat, Dipoto said, is an at-bat when he's scored a run. He's got 17 so far.
In 73 days, Trout will celebrate his 21st birthday.
Trout went 0-for-5 on Friday, but the Angels rallied to win; Pujols blasted another homer, as Mike DiGiovanna writes.
Trout could hit anywhere in the top five spots in the Angels' lineup, says Mike Scioscia.
• In Melky Cabrera's only full season in the National League -- 2010, when he was with the Atlanta Braves -- he had 27 multihit games.
On Friday night, Cabrera had his 23rd multihit game of this season, pushing his batting average to .363. "He's doing Tony Gwynn-type [stuff]," said Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager, on Friday afternoon.
The style in which he produces is unorthodox: Cabrera has averaged the fewest pitches per plate appearance in the NL, at 3.22. "That's why he's like Tony," said Bochy, who played with Gwynn and then managed him for years with the Padres. "He doesn't strike out a lot, and he'll put the ball in play."
Cabrera already has 22 extra-base hits -- 13 doubles, six triples and three homers -- and he leads the majors in hits with 69. He's got a .951 OPS, but of course, he cannot be regarded as a one-year wonder at this point. Cabrera had 67 extra-base hits among 201 hits for the Royals last year. "I think his year with Atlanta may have humbled him a little bit," Bochy said. "He got himself in great shape, and now he's got his routine and he's consistent with it."
"I knew he was a good player, but you don't realize how good until you see him on a daily basis. He's balanced on both sides of the plate. He doesn't care where he plays. He doesn't care where he hits in the order."
The Giants have their issues to work through. Tim Lincecum has had a knack for bad innings this season, and it happened again in Miami on Friday night; Lincecum had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, and in the span of about 25 pitches, he and the Giants trailed 6-3.
But San Francisco has been hitting better, and in a couple of weeks, Pablo Sandoval will return from the disabled list to strengthen a lineup that looks much deeper with Cabrera near the top this year.
• Shin-Soo Choo has always possessed excellent qualities for a leadoff hitter, Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta noted on Friday. He's a natural on-base percentage guy; he has a good idea of the strike zone and will work the count and take walks, and he runs well.
"But in the three years I've been here, we haven't had a lineup deep enough to put him there," Acta said.
With Asdrubal Cabrera maturing into a middle-of-the-order type of hitter and with Jason Kipnis improving, Acta shifted Choo into the leadoff spot, and he has thrived, hitting .350, with a .447 on-base percentage and 14 hits and six walks in 40 at-bats.
Jake Peavy mentioned in a conversation earlier this month that the Indians don't necessarily have big stars in their lineup, "but they are deep. They've got a lot of guys who will work through at-bats." Yep. Cleveland ranks fifth in the majors in on-base percentage and is are first in the AL Central.
• The Diamondbacks had been skeptical in the spring about whether they could work out a deal with Miguel Montero, because their talks had broken down after Yadier Molina signed his five-year, $75 million deal. Maybe it was Montero's sluggish start that brought him back to the table, or maybe it was Arizona's commitment to keeping him. Later today, Arizona will announce a five-year, $60 million to keep Montero -- an enormous investment for a team that opened this season with a $75 million payroll.
Montero will account for about 15 percent of the team's budget going forward. The deal does not include any no-trade protection, which is not a surprise, because Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers had bumped up against the restrictions that a no-trade clause caused with Peavy and had said that was something he would not again negotiate lightly.
• San Jose is playing a waiting game with Major League Baseball, writes Susan Slusser. Within this story, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed does some legal saber-rattling.
In 1994, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that baseball's antitrust exemption does not extend to the sport's overall business, allowing the state attorney general to investigate whether owners conspired to prevent the Giants from moving to St. Petersburg. Two potential owners threatened antitrust lawsuits, and the following year owners voted to approve the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"What the Giants are doing is very anti-competitive," Reed said. "They're trying to drive a competitor out of the market."
In addition, San Jose has a downtown site and city officials who back an A's stadium. "We have an opportunity here, and they are interfering with our opportunity," Reed said. "Whether or not that leads to litigation, I don't know. It's certainly an option, but we are trying to accommodate the commissioner."
Reed said the city will not explore any legal measures as long as A's owner Lew Wolff continues to oppose them.
"We can be as patient as Lew likes," he said. "It's the team owners' money, their investment."
Unless there is a resolution, some baseball executives believe it's only a matter of time before the city of San Jose files a lawsuit.
• We've got Nationals and Braves on Sunday Night Baseball this week, with a great pitching matchup -- Gio Gonzalez versus Brandon Beachy. Washington won the first game of this series, behind Chien-Ming Wang. Wang might replace Ross Detwiler in the Washington rotation, writes Adam Kilgore.
• Rays manager Joe Maddon was not happy with the Red Sox after Tampa Bay blasted Boston, as Marc Topkin writes. From the story:
"It's kind of incompetent behavior," he said. "It's the kind of behavior that gets people hurt on your own side by choosing to do something so ridiculous."
Among other adjectives and adverbs, Maddon said, it was "absurd, idiotic; I'll use all those different words."
(DH Luke) Scott, walking with a limp and his right knee red and swollen, was measured in his response. "It's obvious where it came from," he said, referring to the decision to throw at him. "At the end of the day, you reap what you sow. Tomorrow is another day."
3. The Astros did some roster shuffling.
5. Salvy Perez caught three innings, in his rehab.
8. The Brewers lost another shortstop to the DL.
2. The Tigers blasted the Twins, as Anthony Fenech writes.
7. The Astros continue to be one of the better stories in the majors: They beat the Dodgers on Friday.
From ESPN Stats & Info, about Stanton's incredible start: In April, Stanton hit just one home run and had just five extra-base hits; 116 players hit more home runs than him over that span. He has 10 home runs in May, tied for the most in the majors.
9. From ESPN Stats & Info, how Lincecum struggled against the Marlins:
A) Thirteen of the 17 balls the Marlins put in play against Lincecum were hit in the air, the fourth-highest percentage against him since 2009. Two of the 13 went for home runs.
B) Lincecum induced only five swings-and-misses, matching his third-lowest total since 2009.
C) The Marlins laid off his off-speed pitches, swinging at 31 percent of them. That matches the third-lowest percentage against Lincecum since 2009.
D) Seventy percent of Lincecum's pitches were in the middle third of the strike zone or above, his highest percentage since July 15, 2010.
Bochy snapped at a reporter's question about whether he left Lincecum in the game too long, as Henry Schulman writes.
10. The Indians got hammered.
13. The Cubs are on a pace to set a record, and not a good one, as Paul Sullivan writes.
16. The Rockies have a winning streak.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats & Info
7: Runs for the Nationals on Friday, all of which were scored with two out.
8: RBIs for Nelson Cruz on Friday night, making him the fourth player in the past 35 seasons with two career eight-RBI games.
13: Pitches in Kinsler's leadoff walk against Brandon Morrow, the longest plate appearance leading off a game this season. The Rangers went on to score six runs in the first inning.
Since the start of the 2011 season, the Atlanta Braves' bullpen has been led by two power arms -- the left arm of Jonny Venters and the right arm of Craig Kimbrel. Not coincidentally, the Braves' bullpen has been the most dominant in baseball in that span, striking out the most batters and allowing the fewest runs per inning.
Both pitchers have fastballs that run in the mid-to-upper 90s, but they do the most damage with their devastating sliders. These two off-speed pitches are among the most dominant pitches in all of baseball.
A swing-and-miss is the most telling sign that a hitter is overmatched. If the batter can't even make contact, the pitcher has already won the battle. When hitters decide to swing at a Kimbrel offering, for example, they miss the ball a league-leading 36 percent of the time -- nearly twice as often as the league average (20 percent). Venters is not far behind, at 34 percent, including an amazing 66 percent miss percentage on his slider. Kimbrel's slider has a miss percentage of 55 percent.
However, major league hitters are pretty good, so the pitcher can't rely solely on swings-and-misses to succeed. Batters can make at least occasional contact on even the toughest pitches if they're close enough to swing at, and every once in a while a hitter will make solid contact and drive the ball. A dominant pitcher will want to keep the damage to a minimum, of course. If he can induce frequent groundballs and pop-ups, opposing hitters aren't going to be able to cause much trouble.
By adding together miss percentage (swings-and-misses / total swings), groundball rate and infield fly rate, we can create a "dominance rating" that points us to baseball's most dominant pitches, as classified by Baseball Info Solutions' video scouts.
Out of all pitches thrown at least 300 times since the start of the 2011 season, Kimbrel's and Venters' sliders come out on top. In addition to the high miss percentage rates, both pitchers force hitters to pound the ball into the ground, which turn into outs 75 percent to 80 percent of the time. Even when a groundball sneaks through for a hit, the damage is usually limited to one base.
Ryan Madson's changeup is nearly as dominant. Before arm surgery sidelined him for all of 2012, Madson's change got more swings-and-misses more than any other changeup in baseball. Whereas hitters pound the ball into the ground against Kimbrel's and Venters' sliders, Madson's changeup induced more weak pop-ups.
Increasing the threshold to a minimum of 1,000 pitches thrown since the start of 2011, we can look at the starters with the most dominant pitches. Cole Hamels' changeup leads the way, followed by curveballs from A.J. Burnett and Gio Gonzalez. Even if the Phillies can't score enough runs to make it to the playoffs this season, Hamels' mastery of the change has put him in prime position to cash in on his first time in free agency this winter.
Burnett and Gonzalez have world-class curveballs and are untouchable when they stay near the strike zone often enough to get hitters to swing (and miss) at their curves.
As one might expect, reigning National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw's slider also ranks among the five most dominant pitches from starters.
Having a disappearing changeup, a devastating slider or a wicked curve is certainly an effective way to finish off a hitter, every pitcher (aside from R.A. Dickey) needs a good fastball. While Kenley Jansen gets the most misses on his fastball (36 percent), his heater isn't the most dominant by this measurement. Venters' sinking fastball, which gets swings-and-misses and groundballs at extreme rates, tops Aroldis Chapman's 100-plus mph heater as the most dominant of its kind.
Ben Jedlovec is a research analyst with Baseball Info Solutions and co-author of The Fielding Bible -- Volume III. You can follow him on Twitter (@BenJedlovec).
We're nearly two months into the season and Roy Oswalt continues to drive a hard bargain. But could he be close to making up his mind?
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hears an Oswalt deal will happen this week.
Texas, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers are among the teams that have been linked to Oswalt, and the Angels could join the mix if the back injury to Jered Weaver is significant. A wild card could be the health of the Phils' Roy Halladay, who was forced to leave Sunday's outing with a sore shoulder.
Oswalt never found an offer to his liking over the winter, but the market appeared to be picking up last week, especially after the Rangers' Neftali Feliz landed on the disabled list. Oswalt, however, has balked at an initial contract offer from the Rangers because the deal was worth far less than he is willing to accept, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram. reported Monday.
Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported Monday that the Dodgers have made an offer to Oswalt and that the Rangers remain in the mix.
Ken Rosenthal reported Sunday that Oswalt wants a pro-rated $7.5 million in base salary.
- Doug Mittler
The Chicago White Sox are among the hottest teams in baseball with a six-game winning streak that has moved them to within a half-game of first place in the American League Central. Pegged as a trade deadline seller back in March and April, the White Sox could now be a buyer as July 31 approaches.
GM Kenny Williams added another factor to the equation Monday - the club's disappointing attendance. The White Sox rank 11th among 14 AL teams, averaging 20,633.
Williams says via the Sun-Times said that attendance affects his ability to deal. "Every day that you don't fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts," Williams warns. Translation: it will be difficult to make a big-ticket deal such as the Jake Peavy blockbuster of 2009.
Chicago's average attendance has declined five straight years since drawing over 36,000 fans per game in 2006.
If it's any consolation to Williams, the first-place Indians also are having trouble attracting fans (16,708 AVG). Just ask Chris Perez.
- Doug Mittler
Some of the euphoria of the Angels' walk-off win over the Yankees Monday night was tempered by the early departure of ace Jered Weaver, who left his start after just 12 pitches with what was described as a lower back injury.
The Angels will wait until Weaver undergoes an X-ray and MRI on Tuesday before deciding whether he'll need to go on the disabled list.
If Weaver does go on the shelf, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez suggest the Angels could call up Garrett Richards, even though he has a 6.30 ERA this month at Triple-A Salt Lake. Rumor Central's Jason A. Churchill suggested Monday that Richards could be trade bait by July, but that was before Weaver's health concerns arose.
If the injury to Weaver is a serious one, the Angels also could kick the tires on free agent Roy Oswalt.
Manager Mike Scioscia said the Angels are likely to call up a reliever Tuesday given the bullpen accounted for all nine innings Monday night.
- Doug Mittler
Manager Davey Johnson is pushing for Morse, who has missed the first two months of the season with a torn shoulder muscle, to come back as soon as Thursday, reports Adam Kilgore. As recently as last week, the Nats were taking about a return June 8 in Boston, where Morse could serve as a designated hitter.
While Morseentered the year as the likely cleanup hitter, he will likely bat fifth when he returns. Bryce Harper has taken over the second spot and Adam LaRoche has been consistent in the fourth spot. In order to keep a right-left-right mix to the lineup, Johnson would likely drop Morse down a spot.
Steve Lombardozzi (.323 BA) has filled in admirably for Morse, but the Nats will be a better team when Johnson has the luxury of using him off the bench.
- Doug Mittler
This season we have seen the likes of prospects Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Will Middlebrooks and Corey Brown called up to the big leagues. Others, such as young veterans Jordan Lyles, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller and Eduardo Sanchez, have also been promoted to the majors since the start of the season. Who's next?
Travis d'Arnaud, C -- Toronto Blue Jays
It's unlikely that d'Arnaud gets the call until the service time barriers come and go, which means another month or so in Triple-A Las Vegas for the top catching prospect in baseball. There are other ways the Jays can get their top young talent into the majors now and still avoid such concerns, such as sending down the kid if the club falls out of the race in August.
Starting catcher J.P. Arencibia is hitting for power -- nine homers, seven doubles and a .476 slugging percentage -- but is batting just .245 through Monday's games with a well below average .273 on-base percentage. He strikes out a ton -- 41 in 40 games this season -- and has just four bases on balls. He's not going to be optioned out for d'Arnaud, but backup Jeff Mathis is batting .194 and there will come a point where the front office will have to give in to the red-hot hitting d'Arnaud, who has a .429/.478/1.024 triple-slash in his past 10 games for the 51s.
It's worth noting that d'Arnaud is hitting on the road just as much as at home, including five of is 11 long balls on the year, suggesting he has legitimate numbers rather than those blown up by his home ballpark.
Carlos Triunfel, SS -- Seattle Mariners
Triunfel, 22, may be an instant offensive upgrade to Brendan Ryan, but the former has defensive questions and the latter is among the very vest at the position in all of baseball. The Dominican native is learning to work counts, a good sign for his future, and has some power with 20 extra-base hits this season, suggesting the Mariners could give him a look at some point if Ryan doesn't turn things around soon.
Triunfel may profile better defensively at second base or the hot corner, however, as he makes too many mistakes with the glove at his natural position of shortstop. He has the range and a big-time arm, but bobbles balls and at times looks to make the extraordinary play and commits an error in the process.
He'd likely replace Munenori Kawasaki on the roster if he were to receive a call-up in the next several weeks.
Seattle's top shortstop prospect, Nick Franklin, may be nearing a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, a move worth keeping an eye on for those in keeper fantasy leagues.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS -- Toronto Blue Jays
There's no place for Hechavarria to play in Toronto, at least right now, as middle infielder Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson are in his way and performing well, too. Johnson, however, may not be long for the blue and white and that's where Hechavarria could get his opportunity.
He's a plus defender at shortstop and has fared well in Triple-A Las Vegas at the plate, though it is a hitter's paradise. He's had some contact issues in general, but he's been terrific in May, cutting his strikeout totals down from 25 to 18 while drawing 10 walks and hitting three of his four homers. In his past 10 games he's batting .366 with four walks and just five whiffs and appears ready for a new challenge.
The Jays play the next two weeks versus clubs with records at or above .500 and have just six games versus sub-.500 teams in June, and those six are against Philly and Milwaukee. There's a good chance the Jays know where they stand in four or five weeks, which could facilitate a deal involving Johnson, a free agent at season's end.
Chris Archer, RHP -- Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays aren't having problems, per se, with any area of their pitching, from their starting rotation to the bullpen. There are, however, spots on the staff that could be upgraded by Archer. The right-hander is a starter by trade, but there are scouts who see him as a long-term option in the eighth or ninth inning. He's spent this season in Triple-A Durham, struggling with his control through 10 starts, but has plus raw stuff, including a slider as his out pitch and velocity into the mid-90s.
The Rays could summon the 23-year-old to help in the bullpen, or give him some starts until Jeff Niemann returns from the disabled list. The club has a history of waiting out their pitching prospects, but the athletic Archer could be handled differently if they see him as their future closer.
Josh Lueke, Dan De La Rosa and Brandon Gomes have struggled in the big leagues and while Burke Badenhop has been decent in 23 appearances, Archer would give skipper Joe Maddon another power arm to go to several times per week.
Anthony Slama, RHP -- Minnesota Twins
Slama has had two short stints in the majors -- once in each of the past two seasons -- and could be close to earning his way back for a third chance. The right-hander possesses average stuff, but misses bats in Triple-A and has fanned eight of the 34 batters he's faced at the big-league level. He's dealing in Triple-A Rochester, boasting a 0.42 ERA in 18 games. He's struck out 36 in 21 1/3 innings and yielded just 25 total baserunners.
Slama is a pure reliever with no experience starting, so the Twins biggest weakness right now -- their rotation -- will not receive any direct assistance by adding him to their roster. Brian Duensing, however, could move back into the rotation after spending the first two months of 2012 in a relief role, leaving a hole in the bullpen that could be filled by Slama.
Matt Kemp prides himself on being an everyday player. When the Dodgers center fielder sat out a May 14 game with his sore hamstring, it snapped a streak of having played in 399 consecutive games.
Kemp would like nothing better than to start another streak Tuesday when he is scheduled to be activated from the 15-day disabled list to face the Milwaukee Brewers. Don Mattingly wants Kemp in the lineup just as badly, but the manager is intent on making sure Kemp gets an occasional day off, even if his franchise player is less than thrilled with the idea, reports Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times.
Kemp finished a rehab assignment Monday for Triple-A Albuquerque.
- Doug Mittler
The Oakland Athletics dropped plenty of hints over the past week that Manny Ramirez would not be in the lineup Wednesday, the first day he's eligible to do so after serving his 50-game suspension, and the club made it official Monday night.
Ramirez will remain with Triple-A Sacramento, where he is batting .250 with no extra-base hits. Susan Slusser of the Chronicle takes a guess that Ramirez will be in the lineup Friday in Kansas City, but cautions that the situation remains quite fluid.
The A's also are expected to welcome back Yoenis Cespedes from the disabled list Friday.
The club will have to make roster moves to make room for Ramirez and/or Cespedes. Struggling first baseman Daric Barton could be sent to Triple-A, considering he has options left.
- Doug Mittler
Waiting on Manny
"It's as simple as this: Oakland's front office wants to see Manny drive the ball and hit with power before it considers calling him up."
The Rays are expected to call up the former World Series MVP from Triple-A Durham in time for Tuesday's game against the White Sox.
The 37-year-old could share time at designated hitter with Luke Scott, play corner outfield or be a pinch-hitting option. Tampa Bay will make a corresponding move, with catcher Stephen Vogt a possible roster casualty.
- Doug Mittler
Halladay's questionable status already has fueled speculation that the Phillies could be more inclined to pursue free agent Roy Oswalt, but Oswalt would not be ready for a few weeks at the earliest and the club may need a more immediate fix.
The Phillies do not play Thursday and will not need a fifth starter again until June 6, but MLB.com's Todd Zolecki says it is unlikely Halladay will be back in the rotation by then.
The hope is that Vance Worley will be activated off the DL by the time the Phils need another fifth starter. If Worley is not ready by then, the Phils could turn to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where Dave Bush, Tyler Cloyd and Scott Elarton all are pitching well.
- Doug Mittler
A 12-game losing streak may have erased any doubt the Chicago Cubs would be sellers as the July trade deadline approaches. While Theo Epstein would love to unload Alfonso Soriano, his most valuable bargaining chip could be Ryan Dempster, who sports a sterling 2.14 ERA.
Maybe it is posturing, but Epstein remains non-committal about Dempster's future, telling Toni Ginnetti of the Sun-Times there has been an "open dialogue" with the pitcher about his future on the North Side.
The 35-year-old Dempster is in the final year of a four-year, $52 million deal and is in line to ask for a multi-year deal. Epstein could be inclined to keep Dempster if he feels the Cub will be a competitor sooner rather than later.
- Doug Mittler
Starter Ruben Tejada remains on the disabled list with a thigh injury and is not expected back until the weekend. Ronny Cedeno is day-to-day with a calf injury, but likely will not be available to start Tuesday. David Wright took over at shortstop during Monday's game against the Phillies, but manager Terry Collins has no plans to keep his franchise player there.
Quintanilla, who has major league experience with the Rockies and Rangers, will require the Mets to free up a 40-man roster spot. That roster spot could come from Manny Acosta, who gave up three runs Monday and is a candidate to be designated for assignment. The Mets also announced that right-hander Chris Schwinden also will be promoted Tuesday.
- Doug Mittler
Kyle Farnsworth may get Wally Pipp'd, but he's back throwing and could return to the Tampa Bay Rays in late June. Roger Mooney tweets that the right-hander tossed 25 fastballs from a mound and will throw 30 more Wednesday while adding his cutter to the mix.
Fernando Rodney has been lights out in Farnsworth's absence, notching 16 saves in 17 chances and posting a 1.08 ERA and 24-4 K/BB ratio in 25 innings.
Once Farnsworth returns, skipper Joe Maddon will have some tough decisions. Will he stick with Rodney, or go back to Farnsworth? Perhaps he'll ride out Rodney's hot streak and use both arms in setup-and-closer by-committee scenario.
In its current form, Burke Badenhop would likely be the roster casualty o make room for Farnsworth, but we're still 3-4 weeks away from the veteran being ready and a lot can chance in that span.
- Jason A. Churchill
In the summer of 2006, as construction began on Citi Field, the New York Mets ' payroll was a little more than $100 million. The beams and the walls went up quickly, and so did the club's payroll, as the Wilpons anticipated the windfall from the opening of their new ballpark and the strengthening of their network, SNY. New York's payroll climbed to $115 million in 2007 and then to $138 million in '08.
But then came a perfect storm of disasters for the franchise, from late-season collapses to calamitous injuries to, most notably, the arrest and conviction of Bernie Madoff at the same time that Citi Field opened. And despite Fred Wilpon's assertion that the Madoff situation would not affect the team's business, the club's payroll peaked and then plummeted in a record descent of about $50 million in one year -- from $143 million in '11 to $95 million this year.
The team's attendance, which ranked first in the NL in the last year of Shea Stadium, fell to ninth in the NL in 2011 and currently ranks 13th among 16 teams.
The Wilpons have hit rock bottom; their liability in the Madoff case was settled with the payment schedule defined. The Mets' current payroll is now about half of what the New York Yankees are spending across town and a little more than half of the Phillies' $172 million payroll.
So where do the Mets go from here?
They are moving forward, climbing again, and playing better than expected. After their victory against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, the Mets are 1½ games out of first in the NL East.
But as of today, there are no plans for the Mets to dive back into the marketplace and spend aggressively and restore their payroll to pre-Madoff levels. They are switching big-picture strategies, in fact: Rather than making moves designed to lure fans to their ballpark -- like the signing of Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay -- the Mets intend to follow a path created by their fans' investment. As the team gets better, and Citi Field attendance climbs, the Mets' payroll will grow.
It's a slow-burn strategy, and rival officials believe it has a chance to work under Sandy Alderson, because there is hope on the horizon. Zack Wheeler, the pitching prospect acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran, is dominating hitters in the minors with a fastball in the range of 94-97 mph, and Matt Harvey is progressing in Triple-A. Jenrry Mejia, whose development was derailed in the past, appears to be back on track.
"Wheeler reminds me of a right-handed Matt Moore -- he's that good," said one evaluator recently. "He's got really easy gas -- tremendous stuff. You could see a situation where the Mets have Wheeler, Harvey and Mejia in the big leagues by the middle of June , and they could have something building."
The Mets need help in the middle of the diamond, at catcher, in the middle infield, and they may make intermediate moves as they wait for the maturation of their core of young pitching. But they don't intend to throw around big money, sources say, and while there has been speculation that signing David Wright may require a 10-year investment, the Mets might be much more conservative in these negotiations than expected.
Wright is 29 years old and is competing for a batting title, but the Mets may well be looking to spend their dollars on power hitters, as they push forward, slowly. We'll see.
The Mets intend to make Wright an offer at some point, says Sandy Alderson.
Roy Oswalt concluded what may have been the longest negotiation in the history of modern sports by agreeing to a deal with the Texas Rangers after seven months of feints and flirting. Only Oswalt knows exactly what could have happened, and whether he was actually open to signing with the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Baltimore Orioles, but his signing will inevitably lead to a whole lot of 20/20 hindsight that will make rival executives look very smart, or much less than that.
Club officials say Oswalt's asking price has been high in light of his recent history of back trouble. In the offseason, he was looking for an eight-figure deal despite concerns that he might not be able to generate 100 innings. In the winter, the St. Louis Cardinals reportedly offered about $3 million; the Red Sox offered about $5 million.
Now Oswalt has signed for a prorated salary of $4 million for the rest of the season, and depending when he's activated and how many starts he makes, he could make around $5 million for this season.
If Oswalt pitches great, then the second-guessing from fans will begin. Should the Phillies have offered him $6 million or $7 million? Should the Orioles have opened the vault to bolster a fragile rotation? Should the Cardinals have stepped up?
But if Oswalt struggles, some rival executives will look very smart for holding the line.
"There's no way I would've offered him more than what [Andy] Pettitte got," said one executive Tuesday, referring to Pettitte's $2.5 million salary. "There are too many questions about [Oswalt]."
Another official said Oswalt looked "decent" in his recent throwing sessions. "Pretty good. But there were no hitters [involved]."
The Rangers' owners stepped up, writes Randy Galloway.
And as usual, the Angels got great starting pitching.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Dan Haren shut down the Yankees:
A) Haren threw 40 splitters, his most in a start in the last four seasons. Yankees hitters were 0-for-10 with four strikeouts and four groundouts, as well as a grounder that led to an error, in at-bats ending with Haren's splitter.
B) The splitter was especially key against Yankees left-handed hitters, who went 2-for-19 with six strikeouts against Haren. Haren threw his splitter half of the time (32 of 64 pitches) to lefties, who accounted for nine of the 10 at-bats that ended with the pitch.
C) He went to a season-low one three-ball count.
From ESPN Stats & Info, more nuggets on Halladay:
• Since joining the Phillies in 2010, Halladay has been the most valuable pitcher in baseball, according to Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement (see chart).
• Halladay has thrown at least 220 innings in six straight seasons. He's the only pitcher to throw at least 220 innings each year since 2006.
From Elias Sports Bureau: The Marlins' 20 wins in May are the franchise record for the most in any month. The previous franchise record was 19 wins in August 1997.
Juan Carlos Oviedo will be back with the Marlins soon.
• Phil Humber shut down the Tampa Bay Rays. Chris Sale says he feels fine after his 15-strikeout outing. Pitching coach Don Cooper rejected criticism of Sale's pitch count the other night, as Mark Gonzalez writes.
1. Mike Morse made a rehab start and felt good.
2. The Yankees claimed a pitcher on waivers, as David Waldstein writes.
6. Ichiro may be moved out of the No. 3 spot in the Seattle lineup, writes Geoff Baker.
From ESPN Stats & Info
1: Career home runs Albert Pujols has against Andy Pettitte after taking him deep Tuesday.
81: straight plate appearances without a walk for Ichiro; second-longest streak of his career in a single season, which was snapped Tuesday.
55: David Ortiz's place on the all-time home run list after hitting his 389th career homer.
1991: The year Angels phenom Mike Trout was born. Also the year Andy Pettitte, who started against the Angels on Tuesday, made his pro debut in Rookie League/Low-A.
2. A Mets pitcher mashed a home run, the first of his career.
4. The Orioles lost, but Adam Jones continued his hitting streak, going 3-for-3 and running it to 20 games.
From Elias: This is the longest such streak by an Orioles player since Brian Roberts hit in 20 straight during the 2005 season. Jones' 16 home runs are also the third-most through 50 games in franchise history (behind Frank Robinson's 17 in '67 and Brady Anderson's 20 in '96).
5. The Jays reached a crossroads in their series against the Orioles, and they won.
9. Justin Verlander has had an incredible career, but he has never fared well in bases-loaded situations -- partly because he has always refused to give in. He allowed a three-run double in a big spot on Tuesday in Boston. Going into his start Tueday, Verlander with the bases loaded in his career has allowed 30 hits in 87 at-bats with a .887 OPS, 21 strikeouts and one walk.
Six days to go until the draft, which takes place June 4-6, and we still don't know who's going first overall. Here's my best estimate for the first round as of Tuesday afternoon, as always based on intelligence gleaned from baseball sources about each team's preferences.
At the moment, I don't have a team taking California prep right-hander Lucas Giolito, who missed most of the spring with a minor elbow sprain, but I wouldn't interpret that to mean he won't go in the first round. (I had the Mariners taking him at No. 3 overall in my first mock draft, but I'm now hearing Seattle is no longer interested.) In the next few days, front offices will meet with their respective team doctors to discuss the medical reports of the top prospects, and we'll have a much better sense of where Giolito will go once that process is complete. Until then, I can't predict which team will take him, but he could easily end up in the top 15 picks once his elbow checks out.
Also absent: Lance McCullers Jr., a clear first-round talent who would certainly go in the back half of the first round if it becomes clear that he's signable there. The ripple effect from Giolito moving into the top half of the first round, or any other unexpected player jumping that high, is significant, and we should have a better sense of these possibilities by Friday, which is when my next mock draft comes out.
The Astros intend to take whomever they believe is the best player, not the best player for the price, which makes sense given the historical value of the first overall pick. A few days ago I had Appel with a slight edge over Byron Buxton at this pick; today I think it's more or less even.
I've heard the Twins will take Appel if he's here, and if not, they are split between Buxton and Kyle Zimmer, who still isn't all the way back from a hamstring injury. In other words, if you could bet on Appel and Buxton going in the first two picks in either order, you'd be in good shape as of today.
This is a weak year for college hitters, but Zunino is the best of the bunch. He doesn't have any standout tools, but no real weaknesses either. Seattle would take Buxton if he was here and is also strongly in on Correa. For whatever it's worth, the rumor that the Mariners are on Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney won't die, although I really doubt they take him this high.
The O's want the best player available, period. They've been adamant about that all spring, and given the lack of depth in their system, it makes sense. I could also see Kyle Zimmer or Kevin Gausman here, and I've heard Albert Almora mentioned recently as well.
It will most likely be Fried, Almora or Zimmer here. Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer is an extreme dark horse, but I don't see the board falling in a way to make him their pick.
They're hoping Zimmer or Correa gets to them, and I think there's a better than even chance that will happen. They could also end up with Fried, who would be a hell of a consolation prize.
Although there is a strong industry consensus that Marrero is the Bucs' pick, I think they're still seriously exploring other options. I've also heard them on Chris Stratton, and I imagine they'd be open to any top-end player (such as Almora) who falls out of the top seven picks. Giolito is also a possibility here.
Not just because he's a local kid, but because he's a local kid who has both ceiling and probability thanks to his plus defense in center. Also hearing them on Fried, Marrero, Andrew Heaney, Courtney Hawkins.
Assuming Almora and Correa are gone (which is likely), they're on Hawkins, David Dahl and Gavin Cecchini. Hawkins has one of the quickest bats in the draft and plenty of power.
Their mix is actually more high school (Russell, McCullers, Dahl, Gallo) than college, but Shaffer -- who has a very high probability of becoming a solid big leaguer -- would be too good to pass up here. Also heard Texas A&M righty Michael Wacha as a possibility.
Dahl is a well-rounded athlete with a chance for five tools that are average or better. I'm also hearing Gavin Cecchini, Hawkins, Corey Seager and some college arms here, including Wacha.
Smoral has a stress fracture in his foot that ended his spring in late March, and has had other injuries that are scaring some teams off him entirely. Hearing Chicago on college pitchers otherwise.
Heaney isn't overpowering, but he's the best college southpaw in this draft. These next three arms (including Heaney) could go in any order and it wouldn't surprise anyone.
They're open to college or prep players, but a college arm is seen as most likely. Stratton has a chance for three above-average pitches, but the fact that he is already almost 22 years old means he has less time to reach his ceiling than other draftees.
Wacha's ceiling is limited, but his advanced changeup makes him a likely big leaguer. I've also heard Dahl and Marrero here, and the Nats have been linked by scouts on the East Coast to Duke's Marcus Stroman, but it would be a big departure for GM Mike Rizzo: Of 16 pitchers he's taken in the first or second rounds as a scouting director for Arizona or while assistant GM or GM for Washington, none has been under 6-foot-2, and Stroman is 5-9.
I'm also hearing Stanford's Stephen Piscotty here; his first-round range seems to be from Nos. 17 to 25. Otherwise, it's the usual cast of high school upside bats, including Dahl if he makes it this far. I don't think they'll take Mississippi prep outfielder D.J. Davis here, but they are on him.
At 6-5 with a plus fastball, Hensley fits the mold of your classic top-of-the-rotation starter. I've also heard Dahl and Hensley here; haven't specifically heard North Carolina prep righty Ty Buttrey, but he'd fit their mold.
I think they take Stratton if he gets here. Have heard them on every premium high school bat -- including Dahl, Davis, Cecchini and Addison Russell -- as well as Piscotty and Hensley. Trahan, who had a poor spring, could be a bargain here since he has a real chance to hit, and with power. (This is the compensation pick the Cardinals got from the Angels for Albert Pujols.)
They could go in a variety of directions, but apparently more on prep names than college. Eflin, who added some velocity this spring and has shot up draft boards, fits that bill. Dahl probably stops here, and Buttrey is also in their mix. There's also an outside shot at Tanner Rahier.
Rahier is one of the more polished high school bats in this class and has a chance to stick at short. Also on Cal Poly outfielder Mitch Haniger, Missouri State righty Pierce Johnson and Buttrey.
Davis is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, but his swing needs work. I could see them take an arm here like Buttrey or Georgia prep right-hander Duane Underwood. (This is a compensation pick the Blue Jays got for failing to sign first-rounder Tyler Beede a year ago.)
At 6-3 and 172, Virant is very projectable, and looks like the kind of guy who could really add some velocity in pro ball. Rahier is also a possibility here, as well as the names I listed at No. 19.
The Sox will most likely take a college guy first, assuming one they like is on the board, and then go for upside with subsequent picks. Also hearing Rahier with them, here or at 31, if he gets that far.
Stanford emphasizes an extremely mechanical approach to hitting that often robs hitters of power, but it hasn't hindered Piscotty. The Rays are focused on the best player available here, and are wide open as a result -- I've heard them on prep and college guys, bats and arms.
Missouri State's Pierce Johnson is also a possibility here. It would be interesting to see how much local pressure they'd face if ASU's Deven Marrero fell this far (which I doubt he will).
He may not stay behind the plate, but he'll hit, and he has the arm strength to shut down the running game. This pick is seen by the industry as pretty much a lock at this point. (This is a compensation pick from the Tigers for Prince Fielder.)
Sims features a low-90s fastball and a sharp, if inconsistent, curveball. They could take Virant if he gets here -- but I've also heard they'd prefer to take one college player with these two picks, and Coulter seems like the strongest bet among the prep guys they're considering. I haven't heard them linked to Florida lefty Brian Johnson, but if they wanted a college guy, he'd be the best one available given this scenario.
I've also heard them with Sims and several other prep arms, including SoCal righty Shane Watson.
Gallo might be the best power hitter in the draft, but other than him, I'm hearing New York is primarily focused on arms, including Underwood, Puerto Rican prepster Jose Berrios and Washington state high schooler Mitch Gueller (a two-way guy, preferred by more teams as a pitcher). Other bats in play here are Haniger and Davis.
There is a good chance Stroman goes a while before this, but since nearly all teams view him as a reliever, he's a better fit for a team with multiple picks. (This selection is compensation from the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon.)
Hall of Famers very rarely end up going out at the top of their games. For every Ted Williams who finishes a Hall-bound career on a positive season, there are several greats who look like shadows of their former selves. For example, the last time we saw Willie Mays and Cal Ripken playing baseball involved very little greatness, with Mays fighting the Mendoza Line and Ripken struggling as a punchless third baseman. Alex Rodriguez is looking like he won't be an exception to the rule.
There are few players in today's game more polarizing than Rodriguez. Whether your first mental image of A-Rod is a Hall of Fame talent who passed the threshold for induction years ago or an admitted steroids user who has had an occasionally awkward relationship with fans and media, there's little denying that at a couple months from his 37th birthday, he's nowhere near the player he used to be. The 2012 A-Rod is hardly a bad player, but hitting .279/.365/.430 with middling defense at third base is a far cry from being a Gold Glove shortstop hitting 57 homers.
Graphing A-Rod's decline is pretty easy. With a slugging percentage, OPS and home run rate that are in their fifth consecutive year of decline, the "Fall of Alex Rodriguez" makes one of those pretty neat graphs that you see only in textbooks. One of the immediate consequences of his declining power is that A-Rod is now less likely to finish his career as baseball's all-time home run leader. Surely to the chagrin of some fans, the odds of Barry Bonds and his 762 homers standing for a while longer look a lot better with A-Rod's decline.
Rodriguez's batted-ball numbers show even more signs of his transformation as a hitter. A-Rod's ground ball rate has increased for five straight years, and his GB/FB ratio has almost doubled as a result, from 0.98 in 2007 to 1.79 today. He also has expanded his strike zone during the last decade, swinging at 31 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this year compared to 17-20 percent in his prime. He's also hitting more of those bad pitches, too, improving from 45 percent with the Rangers to 64 percent in 2010-11 to 75 percent this year.
Becoming the all-time home run leader is quite difficult. Of the top 10 players in home runs through age 30, only one -- Hank Aaron in 10th place -- finished as the all-time home run leader. People tend to underestimate just how difficult it is for a player to perform in his 30s like he did in his 20s, but that's why most players seemingly on a record pace fail to catch the leader. Bonds passed Aaron, but he was only another serious leg problem from falling short. And if Bonds had simply been five years older, playing a few more seasons of his career in the 1980s offensive environment would have been enough to derail him.
To show just how far A-Rod has fallen off the pace, I used the ZiPS projection system to project A-Rod's odds of hitting 763 home runs after every season of his stint with the New York Yankees (see chart). Obviously, long-term projections are going to be quite volatile, but ZiPS has knowledge of how every player in history has aged, so it's more of an educated guess than a wild one.
While ZiPS was never quite sold on Rodriguez being a lock to become the next home run king, even through 2008 he was looking like he was on a solid approach pattern. Missed games and a decline in his home run power, aided by decline in offensive environment, have turned a coin-flip into almost a dice roll, with his current chances barely a third of what they were three years ago. At A-Rod's age, his durability and power are likely to get only worse, not recover to previous levels.
With A-Rod's decline, Albert Pujols not really being Albert Pujols since 2010, and Andruw Jones dropping way off the pace, the home run record is looking safer than it has at any time since Bonds set it nearly five years ago.
Of the youngest generation, Giancarlo Stanton has the best shot at eventually making a run, likely to finish his age-22 season nearing 100 career home runs, but he's still 15 40-homer seasons from making Bonds sweat, and a lot can happen in that time.
If you're eagerly awaiting someone to hit No. 763, you might want to grab a pillow, as it may be a long wait.
Dan Szymborski covers baseball for ESPN Insider. He has written about the sport since 2001 for the Baseball Think Factory, where he is an editor. He is also the developer of the ZiPS Projection system. You can find his ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.
Fiers Handcuffs Dodgers in LA.
Injuries have run rampant throughout Major League Baseball this season, and one of the teams most decimated by injuries has been the Milwaukee Brewers. The club has six players on the disabled list, including pitchers Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada, which forced the organization to dip into the minor league system for a spot starter on Tuesday evening against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That spot starter was right-hander Michael Fiers.
The 27-year-old Fiers earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the Brewers’ farm system in 2011, compiling a 1.86 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He struck out more than a batter per inning over 126 innings of work and displayed an ability to throw four pitches — fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup — for strikes in any count. He eventually pushed his way into top prospect lists, with our own Marc Hulet ranking him as the 15th-best prospect in the Brewers’ system coming into the season.
On Tuesday night, Dodgers hitters simply could not decipher the former 22nd-round pick in his big league debut as a starting pitcher, only managing five hits through seven innings. Fiers threw strikes and challenged hitters on both the inside and outside portion of the plate, jamming hitters and keeping the baseball off the barrel of the bat. He did not walk a single batter and only faced a three-ball count in three at-bats all night, twice against James Loney and once against pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, and none of those at-bats resulted in a baserunner for the Dodgers.
Fiers can attribute the vast majority of his success to his fastball. He heavily featured the pitch on Tuesday evening, throwing it 70.8% of the time. Amongst qualified starting pitchers this season, Fiers would rank near the top for fastball usage. Only five starting pitchers feature their fastball more frequently than Michael Fiers did on Tuesday against the Dodgers in his debut as a starter.
The interesting aspect about Fiers throwing his fastball so often lies in the fact that it does not overwhelm opposing hitters with plus velocity. He averaged 88 MPH with his fastball on Tuesday, which would be the slowest average fastball velocity off the eight pitchers listed above. In fact, of those pitchers, Joe Saunders is the only other pitcher who has an average fastball velocity under 90 MPH.
Further evidence that his fastball does not overwhelm hitters can be seen by the fact that Fiers only generated two swings-and-misses on the pitch all night. Its effectiveness relies on location and missing the barrel of the bat. He generates an extreme vertical break on his fastball, causing the pitch to “rise,