Surging toward the playoffs.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds own four of the five best records in baseball, as well as four of the five top spots in the ESPN Power Rankings, and there is a very good reason for that -- they're the most well-rounded teams in baseball.
Breaking down the game into components of hitting, fielding, starting pitching and relief pitching, we can see that entering Sunday's play Cincinnati, Oakland, Texas and Washington were the only teams to place in the top 15 in each category, using the advanced stats at FanGraphs (see chart below).
Team wRC+ rank Fld rank FIP SP rank FIP RP rank
A's 14 5 10 14
Nationals 10 7 1 9
Rangers 4 9 13 7
Reds 9 15 11 1
Each team has come to this across-the-board excellence in different ways, but none of them were in this position a year ago. The Rangers were the closest, as they finished 2011 in the top 15 in three of the four categories, with the lone exception being relief pitching FIP. Of course, they made changes at last year's trade deadline, acquiring Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, but the effects weren't immediate enough to save them from placing 29th in reliever FIP a year ago. Uehara's contributions have been limited this year due to injury, but he has pitched well when available, while Adams has been superb all season. In addition, two newcomers, free-agent signee Joe Nathan and farmhand Robbie Ross, have conspired to give Texas a menacing bullpen.
In Cincinnati, the bullpen -- on paper -- is even more menacing, which like Texas has improved its relief pitcher FIP rank by 22 spots this year. Cincy's 'pen is more top heavy, though, as Aroldis Chapman's 3.5 WAR entering Sunday was tied for 17th among all pitchers with Cliff Lee and Matt Cain. That's not to discount the contributions of the other members of the 'pen, particularly left-hander Sean Marshall, but it's notable how well Chapman has pitched.
Also notable is how the starting rotation has improved. Last season, Reds starters turned in a 4.55 FIP that ranked next to last in baseball. This season, thanks to a big bounce-back year from Bronson Arroyo and both improved play and health from Johnny Cueto, the Reds' starters' FIP clocks in more than a half-run lower at 3.96. In fact, health has had a lot to do with their improvement all year, as their five starters -- Cueto, Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake -- have accounted for all but one start this season, and they needed only one extra start because of a doubleheader. The Reds already placed in the game's top half from both a fielding and hitting perspective, but their improvement on the mound this season has really put them on the map.
The A's have come to prominence in just the opposite way. Pitching has rarely been the issue for Oakland, and while the A's have cycled through a number of pitchers once again this season, they have all performed admirably. But the A's fielding last year left something to be desired. And while they lost their best three defenders from last season in David DeJesus, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff, they have performed much better this year thanks to the defensive contributions of Josh Reddick, Brandon Inge and Cliff Pennington.
And while the team has lost Inge to a shoulder injury, they shouldn't lose too much defensive performance, as the normally sure-handed Stephen Drew has in essence replaced the error-prone Jemile Weeks in the lineup. But the real upset is that Oakland is now above average in wRC+, a trick it had turned just twice in the previous five seasons. Here again, we see Reddick's influence, but he hasn't been alone, as Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith and Coco Crisp (double digits in homers for the first time since 2005) have been consistently banging balls off of and over the wall. The team's offensive explosion since June has transformed Oakland into one of the most dangerous teams in the game as we push into September.
The Nationals, of course, have been a dangerous group all season, as they have almost completely transformed their squad since last year, when only their relievers' FIP ranked in the top 15. Better performance in 2012 was expected from the rotation, which featured heavy doses of Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis and John Lannan last season.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Gio Gonzalez has helped improve the Nats' starting rotation's performance to above average.Certainly importing Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez had the desired effect of improving the rotation, as did the return of Stephen Strasburg. However, just as important has been the defensive improvement from players who carried over from last year, particularly the infield trio of Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
Last season, Zimmerman, Desmond and Espinosa combined to post a minus-7.5 UZR. This season, that number has blossomed to 18.0 (as of Sunday). That's essentially a three-win improvement. Add in Bryce Harper, as well as more playing time for super-sub Stephen Lombardozzi, and Washington's only major defensive negative at the moment is Michael Morse. And while Morse isn't the stud at the dish that he was last year, he's still hitting enough to justify his place in the lineup -- as is everyone on the current roster outside of the catchers and Mark DeRosa. Washington won't be as lethal once Strasburg is shut down, but the Nats might be deep enough to make a long playoff run without him.
The A's, Nationals, Rangers and Reds have all taken different paths to reach the top of the heap this season, but the end result is four squads that are above average across the board. The new playoff format might reward depth more than before, and these four clubs are poised to take advantage.
Analyzing 10 disappointing pitchers.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Are Ricky Romero and Dan Haren toast? What about Jon Lester? Is Tim Lincecum's second-half resurgence for real? And what in the world happened to hot starter Yu Darvish?
Even though pitching analysis has improved by leaps and bounds, there are always going to be big misses. A few weeks back, we examined 10 disappointing hitters with the intention of getting an early look at their 2013 prospects. This week we're going to look at some pitchers who have fallen short of expectations.
Injuries aside, there are usually two primary explanations as to why a pitcher's performance fails to reach expected levels: Either his skills lessen or they are fine, but he was victimized by misfortune. If there is a decline in skills, the objective would be to decide whether he will return to previous levels or continue trending in the wrong direction. If the pitcher was simply snake-bitten by bad luck, the usual conclusion is positive regression, though care must be taken to assure that the reason was indeed fate, and there's not latent skills degradation.
Even though it's best to dissect each case on an individual basis, knowing what occurs in a global sense helps to frame expectations and keep them reasonable. To that end, a series of analyses will be presented, each demonstrating what has happened over the past four seasons with respect to repetition of common pitcher's statistics. Only seasons with 150 innings pitched were included, looking at the 2008-2011 campaigns. There were 190 instances in which a hurler accrued the necessary innings in consecutive seasons. The question is simply this: Did the pitcher improve or decline in that category from one season to the next? To help discern if performance was only a bit better or worse, performance five and 10 percent better or worse was included.
K/9 rate (2008-2011)
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 48 0 52
+/- 5 percent 32 36 32
+/- 10 percent 23 58 19
Of all the metrics analyzed, strikeout rate is the most stable. Over half remain within 10 percent of the previous season, by far the largest amount.
BB/9 rate (2008-2011)
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 54 1 45
+/- 5 percent 46 20 34
+/- 10 percent 37 35 28
Far fewer pitchers maintained a walk rate similar to the previous season. However, most noteworthy is that improvement appears more probable than a decline. The key takeaway: Two-thirds of all qualifying pitchers either improved their control or only declined by less than five percent the following season.
HR/9 rate (2008-2011)
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 47 8 45
+/- 5 percent 44 22 34
+/- 10 percent 38 34 28
HR/fly ball rate (2008-2011)
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 49 6 45
+/- 5 percent 42 24 34
+/- 10 percent 35 37 28
Both home run rate and homers per fly ball are presented to illustrate that they follow the same trend. Remember that there is some element of happenstance associated with HR/FB, and this is carried over to HR/9. Also remember that HR/9 also incorporates the number of fly balls a pitcher allows, which is in part impacted by the number of batters they strike out. The take-home message here is home run rate is not particularly stable from one season to the next, and there's a good chance it gets better.
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 48 7 45
+/- 5 percent 34 32 34
+/- 10 percent 19 53 28
To help put this in perspective, if a pitcher's batting average on balls in play is .300, he needs to sport a mark below .270 to improve by 10 percent, while .330 is necessary to decline by that amount. Intuitively, I expected an even higher number to be the same, until I realized an outlying season is probably going to impact the season previous and following much more so than the other metrics that are far more within a pitcher's control. The point to keep in mind here is while it has been drummed into our heads that BABIP regresses to a league mean, there is still a fair amount of variability, or at least a fair number of guys are lucky or unlucky each season.
Range Percent that improved Percent the same Percent that declined
+/- 0 percent 53 2 45
+/- 5 percent 43 23 34
+/- 10 percent 36 35 28
Realize that this data was not corrected for each season's league mean, so it's not surprising that there's so much improvement, considering ERAs have been trending lower in recent campaigns. On the other hand, the yearly improvement is not close to 10 percent, so it stands to reason there are either a significant number of hurlers with improved skills or subject to favorable regression.
With that as a backdrop, let's break down 10 starting pitchers that are no doubt the cause of some widespread consternation.
Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels
Unfortunately, for a lot of these pitchers, there is going to be an underlying health mystery, either known or covert. Haren is a prime example. The lanky righty has had lower-back woes all season, including a stint on the disabled list. The best evidence for this is a loss in fastball velocity of about 1.5 mph. This is even more disconcerting since his velocity had already been on a steady decline, dropping about 0.5 mph every season since 2008, except for one. While there is no way of telling how much of the drop was related to his back stiffness and how much was a continuing trend, both likely are culprits
By the numbers, Haren's strikeouts are down to about league average, while his walk rate is still superb albeit higher than it has been since 2007. His primary crutch has been an elevated home run rate, due to an inflated HR/FB rate, though he is allowing more fly balls as well. While Haren has been a personal favorite of mine the past several seasons -- he's routinely undervalued -- I have some serious concerns about him, even if an offseason of rest takes care of his back. Actually, that itself is a concern, as back injuries are known to linger. But even if Haren is 100 percent health-wise, the five-year trend of dropping velocity is concerning, especially since there is not a big differential between the speeds of his three primary offerings: fastball, cutter and split. While his home run rate is likely to regress while his control remains stellar, his lack of punchouts will hurt him. This is doubly troublesome since his overall strikeout total will also suffer due to the likelihood of amassing fewer innings than the 225 per season Haren averaged from 2005-2011.
Haren will no longer be a near-ace available for a cut-rate cost. It pains me to say that I see him as no better than a fourth starter on a competitive mixed-league staff.
Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
Hanson was a major health risk entering the 2012 campaign, as he elected to rehab and not surgically repair a tear in his rotator cuff. Initially there was some talk of a tweak to his mechanics, but this turned out to be more about positioning his feet than alleviating some of the stress the right-hander puts on his arm to (he has a bit of a whip in his delivery that is not conducive to long-term health).
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Tommy Hanson's ERA has jumped from 3.60 to 4.45 this season.
Like Haren, Hanson has also endured some back stiffness that has further clouded his performance. His fastball velocity has dipped below 90 mph and has become a very negative pitch. His slider is still a plus pitch, but considering the shoulder concerns, continuing to rely on such a stressful offering does not bode well.
Numbers-wise, Hanson's strikeout rate is still above league average, largely due to the effectiveness of his slider. However, his control is slipping, which is another sign of shoulder issues. A high home run rate is not helping matters. But even with some natural regression in this area, the elevated walk rate is disconcerting since in all likelihood, Hanson is going to need to curtail the use of his slider in order to stay healthy, and that likely would knock his strikeouts down.
A couple years ago, Hanson looked to have the makings of a perennial Cy Young contender, but it's looking like his body cannot handle the torque generated by his slightly awkward mechanics. In an era with so much young, promising pitching, it's best to let Hanson be someone else's injury problem.
Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays
With the admission that "yours truly" led the charge, my fantasy brethren and I made two assumptions with regard to Romero, and that turned out to haunt us. First, those who believed took the leap of faith that Romero would outpitch his peripherals as he did in 2011. Second, we took for granted that he would continue his three-year trend of improving control. What made both of these propositions even more precarious is that Romero's strikeout rate was nothing to get excited about, hovering close to league average. We all hung our hat on a superb ground ball rate and the hopes that Romero was still in the growth phase of his career.
In retrospect, I am OK with the call regarding the southpaw's walk rate, as the above data supports improved control. However, I'm not so lenient with respect to the contention Romero would outpitch his skills, and I will now own up to that mistake, as I completely missed that Romero's BABIP and HR/FB rates with runners in scoring position last season were extremely lucky and unsustainable. Of course, the reality is that Romero has completely lost control of the strike zone this season, which has led to his undoing. His walk rate is through the roof, while his already-pedestrian strikeout rate has declined a tad. While it's probable that Romero improves his walk rate next season, he's not going to be on my radar, as he loses the benefit of the doubt with respect to expected ERA, and his lack of whiffs renders him a risk that I prefer not to take in mixed leagues.
Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks
Coming off a 21-4 campaign, Kennedy was a popular choice as a potential bust in the spring, citing the rather obvious contention that there is no way he can repeat that win total. And while most will chalk up that prediction as a victory, it's actually a case of being right for the wrong reasons. Kennedy's strikeout rate and walk rate are almost exactly the same as they were last season. It can be argued he's the same guy as he was in 2011, with the main difference being an elevated home run rate. To be fair, Kennedy is a fly ball pitcher in a hitter's park, so he's going to surrender some big flies, but this season's rate is elevated.
Let's say Kennedy maintains his present strikeout and walk rates, which are reasonable assumptions. If he splits the difference between the good luck he enjoyed last season and the bad luck this year, we have a solid starter with an expected ERA in the high 3s. Chances are, he's going to be ranked a tier lower, so he could be a sneaky arm to target for some solid potential, especially in National League-only formats, where the high draft picks and big bucks are likely going to go to the sexier names.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Around the All-Star break, I declared in this space that Adam Wainwright and Lester should be targets to grab for a second-half push. While Wainwright has soared to a nifty 2.86 ERA since then, Lester has actually pitched better than his 6.04 mark indicates. Since the infamous July 22 shellacking in Toronto, which resulted in mysterious text messages being sent to Red Sox ownership and the resultant dismantling of the squad, Lester has sported a respectable 3.89 ERA. Furthermore, since June 1, his K/9 rate is a nifty 8.2.
Lester is probably not going to be the fantasy ace once envisioned, but he still has the goods to be a solid performer; he just needs to continue trending that strikeout rate in the right direction. Another positive is a lower walk rate than in previous seasons. However, this is mitigated by a higher home run rate, which is the real cause for Lester's unsightly seasonal ERA. Regression should continue to take care of the homers, as Lester has served up only four dingers in 48 2/3 innings since that fateful July day. A return to form in 2013, and even down the stretch, should be expected.
Bud Norris, Houston Astros
Norris was a popular sleeper in sabermetric circles as a result of his ability to miss bats. On the surface, this looks to be a bad call, but a closer look at the numbers reveals that Norris is actually the same guy he was last season; his peripherals are almost an exact match. His expected ERA last season and this are also nearly identical, in the high 3s/low 4s. His present 4.80 mark is not indicative of how well he has pitched. All is not rosy, however, as Norris continues to surrender an inordinate number of long balls. He needs to correct this, especially since starting next season, he'll be facing a designated hitter every fifth day.
Norris is a guy I'll continue to support because of his whiff potential and the fact that if he can either walk less or reduce the homers, he can shave half a point off his ERA. With the move to the Junior Circuit, he's a solid arm to target in American League-only formats and an intriguing flyer in mixed leagues, especially if you can stream him for home starts and on the road until opposing offenses get used to him. Plus, as the above data suggests, sustaining a high fan rate with an improvement in walk and/or home run rate is not out of the question.
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Hopefully you believed us in the spring when we were much more bearish on Darvish than other sites. His strikeouts have been as advertised, but the Japanese sensation has walked a ton of batters, which has limited how far he can pitch into games. His 188 strikeouts place him firmly in the top 10 in the majors, and he has done this despite having thrown 30-40 fewer innings than those pitchers near him among the K leaders.
Darvish could be the easiest call of all those discussed today, as his walk rate likely will improve and he will become the ace most everyone else suggested he would be this season. It could actually be a good thing that he has been a bit unlucky so far, as his expected ERA is in the low 3s as opposed to the 4.29 mark it currently sits at. This could serve to depress his value just a tad come next spring. Unless Darvish goes on a huge roll in September or excels in the playoff, there could be a bit of a backlash since he failed to live up to expectations, providing you an opening to jump in and get a potential ace at a discount.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Don't look now, but Lincecum has his peripherals trending toward 2011 levels. In fact, since June 1, Lincecum is wielding a 3.43 BB/9 rate, which is right in line with his career numbers. A seasonal ERA of 5.21 is disguising the fact that Lincecum is the same guy we expected coming into 2012, and he should prove this down the stretch and in 2013. If you need more to hang your hat on, consider that his expected ERA is in the high 3s, showing that Lincecum has been extremely snake-bitten, especially with respect to homers. Regression should alleviate this, propelling the two-time Cy Young winner back where he belongs, which is below the elite tier but still an automatic starter with a lofty strikeout total.
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
Masterson's season is a little like Romero's, but not quite to the same extent of failure. He too has given back significant gains in control, not to mention he was also the recipient of some good luck in 2011, which has reversed this time around. The increase in walks has forced Masterson to work from the stretch more, leaving him even more susceptible to lefties.
The safe play is to expect Masterson to improve his control next season, but not quite to 2011 levels. This will put him in the high 3s/low 4s area, rendering him quite useful in American League-only leagues and a viable streaming option in mixed leagues. His near-5.00 ERA is going to scare off the squeamish, so you'll likely be able to get Masterson on the cheap next season.
Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
This season's drama aside, Beckett has recently been a frustrating pitcher to project, since his skills have been quite stable, but his BABIP and HR/FB have been all over the map. This year, his peripherals are all fundamentally league average, but his ERA is well above average due to an unlucky LOB rate. The tricky part is deciding how much of this is bad luck and how much is simply bad pitching. Odds are, it's a bit of both, as a near 2 mph drop in fastball velocity can't be ignored, though he did suffer some mid-season back issues.
Beckett will turn 33 next May and will be entering the downside of his career. Assuming he remains in the National League with the Dodgers in a park that can somewhat mask his home run tendencies, Beckett could be a viable low-end starter in mixed leagues, one that you deploy for all home games and everywhere except places like Coors Field.
Justin Verlander's shared burden.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
DETROIT -- By the second inning on "Sunday Night Baseball," Justin Verlander had started to throw his curveball for strikes, and while the Chicago White Sox had an early 1-0 lead because of Alejandro De Aza's leadoff home run in the first, the Chicago hitters probably had a sense that they might be finished scoring against Verlander for the evening.
Verlander's curveball is one of the few in the majors that can spin at a rate of more than 3,000 revolutions per minute, and if that was the only pitch he threw, then maybe the White Sox would've had a chance. But inning by inning, Verlander's velocity ticked up, peaking in the seventh inning, when he hit 100 mph on the radar gun repeatedly, as he crossed the 100-pitch mark. This is common for the Tigers' ace, as he seemingly unloads the tank near the end of an outing. This season, opponents are 12-for-97 (.124) with a .198 OBP, .332 OPS, one extra-base hit (a double) and 43 strikeouts against Verlander after his 100th pitch.
Along the way, one of the many self-deprecating White Sox jokingly asked if I could flip a ball into the on-deck circle. "I want to remember what it's like to make contact," he said.
There are other great pitchers in the majors, but Verlander and Felix Hernandez are among the very elite, those who can seemingly impose their will on a game and just decide that scoring has ceased. By the fifth inning, the presence of the White Sox hitters just seemed irrelevant, with Verlander quickly getting the ball and firing it, wherever he wanted to, whether it was a knee-bending curveball or a fastball. Pedro Martinez had this ability. So did Johan Santana and Roger Clemens.
Verlander is like Clemens in another way, as well.
With their 4-2 win over Chicago, the Detroit Tigers tied the White Sox atop the AL Central standings, so this was one of the most important regular-season games that Verlander has had in his career -- and like Clemens, he can sometimes struggle with the pressure he puts on himself. In some of Clemens' postseason starts, he tended to fight his own adrenaline early in games, sometimes ramping up his pitch count quickly, sometimes giving up an initial burst of runs.
This is what has happened to Verlander in some of his postseason starts, and maybe what happened in the first inning of this year's All-Star Game. The desire to be great, to be the ace, has sometimes been paralyzing early in games. Verlander seems to be learning how to cope with this; he talked on Saturday about knowing that after the initial wave of adrenaline comes and goes in a big-stage, high-pressure game, you get into the flow of the action.
This is what happened Sunday, and Verlander was phenomenal, living up to the billing of Best Pitcher on the Planet in a big game against Chicago Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. Verlander had thrown 114 pitches through the seventh inning, and his last pitch was 99 mph. He dispatched the White Sox with just 10 pitches in the eighth before striding off the mound with the most strikeouts and innings of any pitcher in the majors this season. He accepted the handshake of his manager and gave a wave of acknowledgement to the fans.
Verlander said in conversation last winter that he really doesn't set numerical goals, but he does have one overall standard for himself: He wants to do everything possible to make the Hall of Fame.
On nights when he throws as well as he did Sunday, his induction seems inevitable.
The Tigers finished off the sweep, John Lowe writes. The loss dropped the White Sox into a tie, Mark Gonzales writes. The White Sox were without Adam Dunn, who continues to get treatment for a strained oblique.
• Teammates tease Chipper Jones relentlessly and good-naturedly about his age, about being so old that he might have played against Babe Ruth, and about being Brett Favre in waffling about his retirement. (Jones is not waffling at all, by the way; he's retiring.)
But the Atlanta Braves still really need Jones, who has played a major role for them this year. He was The Man on Sunday, providing a huge boost at a time when the Braves desperately needed it. From David O'Brien's story:
"It was certainly another one of those games I'll never forget," Jones said after his ninth walk-off homer and second this season, both against the rival Phillies. "Nothing beats that. That's as good as it gets for a baseball player. To be able to walk off the field [with a win] especially in the situation we were in ..."
The Braves trailed 7-1 after three innings and 7-3 after eight, before Martin Prado hit a two-out, bases-loaded single off the glove of third baseman Kevin Frandsen in the ninth.
Jones followed with his 428-foot homer to right-center field, another in the string of dramatic moments he's produced in what's been a magical ride this year for the 40-year-old switch-hitter, who is retiring after the season.
"No. 10 came through, man" said Michael Bourn, whose two-out, seven-pitch walk loaded the bases. "He's the man of the hour."
He provided the Braves with a miracle, writes Jeff Schultz.
From ESPN Stats and Information: This was the second walk-off home run Jones hit after turning 40 years old.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: The only other player to hit two walk-off home runs in a single season after turning 40 was Andres Galarraga in 2001 for the Giants. It was Jones' 49th home run against the Phillies -- tied with the Mets for his most against any team.
• The Oakland Athletics have won 54 of their past 81 games after sweeping the Boston Red Sox; Brett Anderson won again. The Athletics have nine straight wins, and the Red Sox have collapsed, and we've probably reached the point when a change in the Boston manager would not be a surprise. The team heard from representatives of players this weekend who are upset with how their clients are being used. John Henry and Ben Cherington are in Seattle with the team, and Michael Silverman writes that the Red Sox ownership is displeased.
Bobby Valentine doesn't seem to want his job anymore, writes Brian MacPherson. From his story:
It's tough to argue, however, that Valentine has done much to put the Red Sox in a better position to win. Indeed, it seems as though he's antagonized just about everyone at some point or another this season -- and that any authority he might have had has completely evaporated.
Communication with half his coaching staff has been non-existent. Communication with most of the players in his clubhouse has been close to non-existent, too. When Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway were called up, there was no indication Valentine had spoken either to Mike Aviles or Jarrod Saltalamacchia about how their respective roles might change.
(It then took Valentine four days to get Iglesias on the field after his call-up -- after which he said, "There's really no reason to have Iglesias here if he doesn't get some action.")
[Alfredo] Aceves was never told outright he no longer was the closer. Valentine instead began hinting in cryptic fashion he might have the former closer stretched out to start. When asked if the impetus for that plan had been a request from Aceves himself, Valentine offered an answer that was completely indecipherable.
"Boy, there's been a lot of conversations," he said. "I'm not sure that one's been had in my office. It might have taken place and hasn't filtered back to me yet, or it might have been presented and not been presented as something he has requested personally."
The Red Sox have dropped six straight and were outscored in their most recent series 33-5. Valentine's status is a big question, writes Nick Cafardo.
• Jurickson Profar had quite a debut, hitting a home run and a double in his first two at-bats, and now the question is: What do the Texas Rangers do with him? If he continues to hit, they'll need to find a way to get him in the lineup, and so you wonder if he'll be getting a crash course in the outfield in the days ahead.
From ESPN Stats and Info: At 19 years, 195 days old, Profar is the youngest active player in the majors. He topped Bryce Harper, who was born in October 1992. Ironically, Harper made his debut at 19 years, 195 days old on April 28.
From Elias: Profar is the second-youngest in baseball and youngest in AL history to homer in his first career at-bat.
Youngest to HR in first career at-bat (MLB history)
1945: ****** Lockman -- 18 years, 345 days
2012: Jurickson Profar -- 19 years, 195 days
1950: Ted Tappe -- 19 years, 224 days
Profar quick hitters (from ESPN Stats and Info):
• Third player this year to homer in first major league at-bat (the others were Eddy Rodriguez, Starling Marte).
• First Texas Ranger to homer in first major league at-bat; third in franchise history (Brant Alyea, Sept. 12, 1965, and John Kennedy, Sept. 5, 1962, both as Washington Senators).
• Youngest player to hit a home run since Adrian Beltre (19 years, 171 days) on Sept. 25, 1998.
• Youngest player to hit a home run and a double in a game since Andruw Jones (19 years, 126 days) on Aug. 27, 1996, for the Braves.
• It's official: The shutdown of Stephen Strasburg will happen on Sept. 12. The Washington Nationals won a series against the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Shelby Miller is being promoted to the big leagues.
2. Alex Rodriguez will be activated today, but as Anthony McCarron writes, he has been struggling.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies called up a couple of relievers.
Dings and dents
1. Joey Votto's return to the Reds' lineup may not happen until Tuesday.
2. Jeff Niemann has a shoulder problem.
3. Chris Tillman is getting an MRI on his elbow.
4. Jorge De La Rosa is scheduled to pitch.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Info
3: Home runs in the past seven games for Josh Hamilton (0 HR in previous 10 games).
9: Walk-off wins for the Dodgers, tied for most in the NL.
37: Home runs for Ryan Braun, which ties his career high.
156 1/3: Innings pitched by Strasburg this season (23 2/3 innings away from 180).
NL East notes
• Jason Bay came up big.
• The Philidelphia Phillies had their guts ripped out, Matt Gelb writes.
NL Central notes
• The Cardinals finished a tough road trip. Bernie Miklasz thinks the Cardinals need some energy.
• The Cincinnati Reds rallied to win with a lot of help from Jay Bruce.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates lost again; they were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers.
From ESPN Stats and Info: The Pirates are following a similar script to last season. After a loss in a 19-inning affair with the Braves on July 26, 2011, the Pirates, who were in the wild-card spot at the time, went on a downward spiral and lost 42 of their final 61 games. This season, they beat the Cardinals in a 19-inning game on Aug. 19, but since then have gone 3-9 and lost the wild-card lead.
• The Chicago Cubs lost again, and could be on the road to 100 losses.
• The Brewers won again, and they continue to creep back into the playoff conversation.
• The Houston Astros have 93 losses.
NL West notes
• The San Francisco Giants closed out their road trip with a win, and all they have left on their schedule are games with NL West teams.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers had a great moment.
• The Colorado Rockies rallied against the San Diego Padres. Casey Kelly had a tough day.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks may be just about finished.
AL East notes
• Mark Reynolds did what Mark Reynolds can do, writes Eduardo Encina.
• The New York Yankees are still holding the lead in the AL East, but they are struggling.
• The Tampa Bay Rays finished their road trip with a win, and now they head home to take on the Yankees. From Marc Topkin's story:
"Absolutely, no doubt we can catch the Yankees," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've got to catch Baltimore first."
The East has turned into an unexpected three-team race, especially with the Orioles taking two of three in New York over the weekend. The Yankees' lead, 10 games in mid July, is down to two over the Orioles, and the Rays are 3 1/2 back. (In the race for the second wild card spot behind Oakland, the Orioles lead the Rays by 1 1/2, and the teams play six more times.)
• Ricky Romero suffered a humiliating defeat, Mike Rutsey writes.
From ESPN Stats and Info: Romero suffered his 12th straight loss, tied for the second-longest losing streak in Blue Jays history. Tom Underwood lost 13 straight and Jesse Jefferson lost 12 straight, both spanning 1978 to 1979. Romero went one inning and allowed seven earned runs, becoming the first starting pitcher in Blue Jays history with multiple starts of four or fewer outs and seven or more earned runs allowed.
AL Central notes
• The Cleveland Indians closed out an absolutely brutal homestand.
• Tigers catcher Alex Avila chatted Sunday about how strong the Kansa City Royals' bullpen is, and on Sunday, their bullpen and their offense got it done.
• A Minnesota Twins pitcher struggled in his debut, La Velle Neal writes.
AL West notes
• Jesus Montero had a really good day hitting and a really tough day sliding.
• The Los Angeles Angels lost, and they have a sense of urgency, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
How Rangers will use Profar.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There is a lot of information to be gleaned about club plans from September call-ups. Wil Myers, for example, has been one of the most productive hitters in the minors, and, if the Royals choose to call him up, there is a natural spot for Myers in right field.
But there is no indication that Kansas City is going to summon him to the big leagues and start his service-time clock in the last month of this season. If he's not brought up in September, then it's possible -- maybe even likely -- that the first time Myers will be called up will be in late May or early June, after enough time has passed to ensure he won't be eligible for arbitration until after 2016. This is not duplicitous; this is a business decision a lot of teams have made and will continue to make. The Royals lost an outfielder to injury this week but are not going to promote Myers, writes Bob Dutton.
If the Reds promoted Billy Hamilton now for what would essentially be a limited, minor role -- as a pinch runner -- they would have to add him to their 40-man roster earlier than they had planned, putting him in position to be a free agent in 2018 rather than in 2019. He is not among Cincinnati's call-ups. Nolan Arenado is not likely to be among the Rockies' call-ups this month, either.
It's telling, then, that the Texas Rangers are calling up elite shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar right now, at age 19. This is a very strong signal that the Rangers are prepared to make him part of their everyday lineup next spring. His service-time clock starts today, and the Rangers -- run as well as any organization in the past five years -- would not simply call him up because he had a good season in the minors, hitting .281 with 47 extra-base hits.
They promoted him because he can be a weapon for them now, as a utility player, and into next year. It might be that, other than injury rehabilitation appearances, Profar has played his final game in the minors.
How he would fit into their lineup next season is an interesting question, and the Rangers could go about this many different ways, in the eyes of rival evaluators.
Profar could remain at shortstop, and the Rangers could market Elvis Andrus, a Scott Boras client who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. If the Rangers chose to pursue a deal for Arizona's Justin Upton, 24-year-old Andrus could be a centerpiece of a deal with the Diamondbacks, who need a shortstop.
If the Rangers need outfield help -- and it's possible that Josh Hamilton will walk away this offseason and that 2013 will be the final year of Nelson Cruz's tenure with the team -- they could place Profar at shortstop, move Andrus to second and shift Ian Kinsler to the outfield. Or they could keep Andrus at shortstop and play Profar at second base; some scouts think Profar could play basically anywhere on the diamond, and, if the Rangers keep Profar, Andrus and Kinsler, then Kinsler is the most logical player to be shifted because of his age, and the fact that he's already under contract on a multiyear deal.
Profar gives the team a lot of flexibility, moving forward.
• The velocity for reactions has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. A Houston baserunner hit the first-base bag awkwardly in a game the other day, and, within a few innings, the odd-looking play had gone viral.
It makes sense, then, that more executives are looking for understated personalities in their managers these days -- candidates who tend to not overreact, who tend to downplay a loss or a situation. Issues can spin out of control quickly, such as the word that the Twins had placed Joe Mauer on waivers, in the face of the reality that Minnesota had no expectation and no intention of dealing the All-Star; it was just a standard procedural move. Executives want managers who can defuse, rather than inflame. These days, players are not conditioned to like colorful managers because each criticism -- no matter how mild -- is tweeted out with the same 140-character structure given to a blockbuster trade.
Manager of the year candidates Robin Ventura and Don Mattingly are understated, and so are Mike Matheny and Dale Sveum.
Brad Ausmus is this way, as well, and it would not be a surprise if some teams spoke to the longtime catcher about managerial openings in the years ahead. He is working for the Padres on special assignments, and he told me late in his career that managing would be something he would be interested in someday. Beyond his experience in understanding pitching and game situations, drawn naturally from the years at his position, he was generally recognized as a go-to guy among reporters and has a lot of day-to-day experience in dealing the media, as Mattingly did.
If the Red Sox decide to make a managerial change, Ausmus would be an interesting name, given his Boston/New England roots; his mother lived on Beacon Hill, and he went to high school in Connecticut and to college at Dartmouth. If the Angels don't make the playoffs and that leads to change, Mike Scioscia also might be a candidate for the Red Sox; he, too, is understated.
Boston was annihilated on Friday, 20-2; the Sox are 69-91 since last Sept. 1.
Larry Lucchino talked about how the Red Sox are run in this Michael Silverman piece.
Speculation about Padres manager Bud Black should cease and desist, writes Nick Canepa.
• Jeffrey Loria says the Marlins have to figure out what went wrong, as Joe Capozzi writes.
• When predictions for the AL East were made back in March, do you think anybody believed that Miguel Gonzalez -- signed out of the Mexican League -- would be a pivotal figure as the Orioles tried to run down the Yankees? He dominated them Friday night, as Eduardo Encina writes.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Gonzalez beat the Yankees:
A) Gonzalez started 20 of 26 hitters (77 percent) with a first-pitch strike, his highest percentage in a start this season.
B) All nine of Gonzalez's strikeouts came after he started ahead 0-1. He started ahead of 10 hitters 0-2 and retired them all, eight by strikeout.
C) Five of Gonzalez's nine strikeouts came on pitches down in the zone or below. A season-high 41 percent of Gonzalez's pitches were low.
D) He threw 55 percent fastballs, his second-lowest in a start this season. Even so, he matched a season high with five fastball strikeouts.
Mark Reynolds' multihomer game was his second of the season and his second in August. Both homers came on pitches over the inner half of the plate. Reynolds is far more dangerous against pitches on the inner half than against pitches on the outer half -- hitting .268 with 11 home runs and a .561 slugging percentage against inner-half pitches, but .187 with three home runs and a .291 slugging percentage against pitches on the outer half.
The O's could be within a game of the Yankees by the end of the day. Yankees fans booed, as Zach Schonbrun writes. Panic blanketed Yankee Stadium, writes John Harper.
• We've reached the stage of the season when injuries and ailments can leak over into the postseason, and Dylan Hernandez writes that the Dodgers will know Tuesday about what will happen with Kenley Jansen.
• From Mike Veneziano, some of the Home Run tracker awards for the month of August:
"Moonshot of the month" (Given to the player who hit the highest apex home run) -- Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies (151 feet)
Although it only went 352 feet, Rosario's home run on Aug. 22 off Ramon Ramirez had an apex of 151 feet. It was by far the shortest of his career (his second shortest is 378 feet).
"Fastball of the month" (Given to the player whose home run had the fastest speed off bat) -- Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (119 mph)
Dunn hit a 437-foot home run off Brad Lincoln on Aug. 15 that had a speed off bat of 119 mph. Giancarlo Stanton finished second in the month with a 465-foot, 117 mph homer three days later, but the May and June winner could not quite pull off the fastball hat trick.
"Mother Nature's HR of the month" (Given to the player who hit the home run most affected by the climate) -- Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Utley hit a 391-foot home run off Trevor Cahill on Aug. 5 that was aided an extra 37 feet by a 15 mph wind at Citizens Bank Park. Under standard conditions (70 degrees, no wind), it would have been a routine out in all 30 ballparks.
• The Astros hired a new scouting coordinator, Kevin Goldstein. After their most recent defeat, they have lost 51 of their past 59 games, and, as David Barron writes, they have dropped 22 of their past 27.
• Chris Carpenter is trying to make it back.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Jimmy Rollins was back in the lineup.
2. The Orioles will add some guys today.
3. The Rays acquired Ben Francisco.
4. The Tigers traded Jeff Baker to the Braves.
5. Detroit is calling up Al Alburquerque today.
6. Steve Foster's role changed.
7. Drew Stubbs was benched.
8. Shin-Soo Choo was back in the leadoff spot.
9. It's audition month for the Twins.
10. Lyle Overbay was summoned to the big leagues.
11. Arizona intends to bring back J.J. Putz.
Dings and dents
1. Henry Rodriguez had surgery.
2. Alex Rodriguez is making progress.
3. Andy Pettitte threw off a mound.
4. Joey Votto will be back Monday, it appears.
5. Michael Saunders was reinjured.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
1: Run for the Cardinals in their past four games after being shut out Friday in Washington.
7: Career-high two-strike hits allowed by Adam Wainwright on Friday night.
11: Losses for the Rays in their past 12 one-run games after a 2-1 loss Friday at Toronto.
20: Runs scored by the Athletics on Friday, the third time they've scored at least 20 in the past 40 seasons.
Oakland has stopped losing, and, on Friday, the Athletics put up 19 hits and 20 runs.
Mike Trout keeps scoring lots of runs: He has 106 in 109 games, many more than any other player, despite the fact that he wasn't called up until the last days of April.
Ryan Dempster threw well again for the Rangers, shutting down Cleveland.
Kevin Millwood got pounded.
Delmon Young got a huge hit in the first game of the crucial White Sox-Detroit series. Miguel Cabrera is hurting.
The White Sox pitching, a big concern late in the season, was hit for seven runs -- and the Chicago lead is down to two games.
The Indians just keep losing.
The Jays beat the Rays again, with a thrilling finish, as Richard Griffin writes. Elliot Johnson was bloodied, but came up short.
The Diamondbacks are in critical condition, but they're still alive; Jason Kubel beat the Dodgers on Friday.
The Giants lost, but they played well in August, as John Shea writes.
Alex White struggled with his command.
The Padres just keep getting better.
Alfonso Soriano had another big day, in what has been a strong season for him.
Jeff Karstens got hurt, and the Pirates lost.
The Cardinals are sinking; that's four straight losses. And they lost shortstop Rafael Furcal.
The Reds obliterated the Astros.
Gio Gonzalez was really good, again, and he got wrecked by teammates. From ESPN Stats & Info, how he shut down the Cardinals:
A) Gonzalez got a season-high 13 outs with his curveball, including two double plays and five strikeouts. He allowed only one hit with the pitch. He threw his curveball 25 percent of the time, his fifth-highest percentage of the season.
B) His fastball averaged 93.8 mph, his second-highest velocity of the season.
C) All eight of Gonzalez's strikeouts came on hitters he got to 1-1 against and then threw a strike to on that count. He fell behind 14 hitters 1-0 but got to only two 2-0 counts by throwing 12 strikes on 1-0.
Craig Kimbrel had never given up a home run on an 0-2 pitch before Friday's game.
R.A. Dickey was "the man" for the Mets.
Robin Ventura was made to manage.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
DETROIT -- Long before Robin Ventura even knew he wanted to manage, Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams had written down his name as a possible candidate, among other names, in a folder that Williams updates and maintains.
Ventura is understated and even-tempered and cannot be any more different from the old-school Earl Weaver/Billy Martin/Ozzie Guillen model of what a manager should be: fiery, demonstrative, the loudest and most aggressive guy in the room. But Williams had thought that in Ventura's playing days, he had a natural leadership quality, because he was someone who other players trusted and relied on.
Williams also remembered how he had informally quizzed a doctor who specialized in giving personality assessments -- something like the test that's given to prospective NFL draftees -- and Williams had asked who had most impressed him, among all the people the doctor had spoken to through the years. The answer: Robin Ventura.
This is how it came to be that Williams met at his Arizona house with Ventura last fall, with White Sox official Buddy Bell.
"Do you have any managerial aspirations at all?" Williams remembers asking Ventura.
"Naaaah, not really," Ventura answered.
Days later, when Ventura was introduced as the White Sox manager, the initial perception of the move within the industry was that it was all about public relations, about trying to rebuild a once-popular White Sox player into someone who might have the stature to replace Guillen.
Instead, Williams' new manager is his version of the new prototype of what a Major League Baseball manager should be: respected and respectful -- a very important trait in winning over a new generation of players far more sensitive to criticism than their baseball ancestors -- with an ability to motivate through building expectation rather than through screaming or insults.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have this with Don Mattingly, the Chicago Cubs have it with Dale Sveum; Oakland's Bob Melvin fits the new model, as does the Cardinals' Mike Matheny, among others. These are men who do not overreact, an extremely important quality in this time of exploding social media, when a manager's biting comment about a player erupts outside of a clubhouse in mere seconds.
The White Sox players rave about their work environment, finding Ventura's consistent day-to-day personality a perfect fit for the requirements and challenges of their jobs. He and his coaching staff -- a group that mirrors Ventura's mien, in the eyes of the players -- put the players to work and expect them to prepare and play hard. For example, they are the only team in the majors that takes infield before the first game of every series. Ventura and his staff are positive, upbeat, energetic.
"I love it here," Adam Dunn said after Saturday's game. "I'm still waiting for that day when [Ventura] acts different, but he's the same every day."
When Williams first began seriously thinking about Ventura as a managerial candidate last fall, he was unsure of how White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf would react initially. One day, he was in the same room as Reinsdorf and longtime agent Dennis Gilbert, and with Reinsdorf within earshot, Williams mentioned to Gilbert that he had in mind a candidate who was completely out of the box, someone who would be a surprise.
Gilbert had seen Williams recently chatting with Ventura, who had worked in the minor league system for the White Sox in 2011. "Are you talking about Robin?" Gilbert asked. Williams was astounded that Gilbert had guessed correctly. Their conversation drew Reinsdorf, and when Williams told Reinsdorf what he was thinking, the owner's eyebrows darted upward.
"You know, that's a very interesting name," he said.
The next day, Reinsdorf talked with Williams and told him that overnight, as he thought about the idea hour by hour, he loved the idea more and more. Unlike other outside candidates, Ventura would not have to prove himself to Chicago, to the reporters who covered the team. The focus would be on baseball. Reinsdorf also knew how smart Ventura is and how secure he is, without the burning need for attention.
Williams and Bell asked for a meeting with Ventura under the premise that they would discuss players in the White Sox farm system, until Williams asked him whether he wanted to manage -- and Ventura indicated that no, it wasn't something he had thought about.
"Well, you need to change that attitude," Williams recalled saying, "because what you're really here for is to talk about becoming the manager of the Chicago White Sox."
Ventura looked at Williams and Bell, and with the use of a profanity, told them they were nuts.
Today, Ventura is the manager of the first-place White Sox, a young team that has performed far beyond preseason expectations, and will face the Detroit Tigers on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN2).
By the way: Williams has another name in mind of someone who, like Ventura, could manage in the majors without a single day of managing in the minors, someone who is a natural leader: Paul Konerko.
The White Sox hitters were dominated Saturday by Max Scherzer, who registered his ninth consecutive start of eight or more strikeouts, and the Tigers are now within a game of first place. They can move into a first-place tie tonight, when Justin Verlander starts against Chris Sale.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Scherzer threw eight shutout innings, striking out nine. It was the ninth straight game Scherzer has struck out at least eight. That is tied for the fifth-longest streak by an AL pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920).
Most consecutive games with eight-plus K's (AL pitchers since 1920)
1994: Randy Johnson -- 12
1977: Nolan Ryan -- 12
2002: Pedro Martinez -- 11
1989: Nolan Ryan -- 11
2012: Max Scherzer -- 9
1999: Pedro Martinez -- 9
1946: Bob Feller -- 9
Francisco Liriano was ineffective, struggling to command his fastball.
Dunn, who injured an oblique on a check-swing the other day and was not in the lineup Saturday, told me he fully intends to play tonight.
Verlander vs. White Sox
Justin Verlander's career numbers against Chicago, separated by the 2009 season.
Stat Before '09 Since '09
Starts 14 12
W-L 2-9 11-1
ERA 5.90 2.32
K per 9 5.7 7.6
Opp. BA .262 .211
More on tonight's Sale-Verlander matchup (from ESPN Stats & Information): Sale has struggled in his matchups with the Tigers, going 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA this season. Verlander has picked up a no-decision in each of his past four starts. He'd never gone more than two straight starts without a decision before. On Sunday, he looks to avoid going five straight starts without a win for just the third time in his career (and first time since 2008).
The Tigers called up five more players, John Lowe writes.
Tigers rookie Avisail Garcia made a big first impression in the big leagues, battling Liriano through 10 pitches in Garcia's first plate appearance before drawing a walk. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, and he's never played above Double-A, and it's apparent that Jim Leyland is going to give him a chance to play regularly in Detroit.
His resemblance to Miguel Cabrera -- his shoulders, his batting style, and even how he walks -- is remarkable.
• The New York Yankees were desperate for a victory and got some help from a newcomer. The Baltimore Orioles blew a three-run lead.
Meanwhile, a reinforcement could be on the way for the Orioles: Jason Hammel threw five innings in a rehab start.
• The Boston Red Sox have a lot of money to spend and will do so -- and Jacoby Ellsbury might cash in, writes Michael Silverman.
From the story:
That won't be cheap but [Ellsbury's agent, Scott] Boras said the Red Sox can still make it happen.
"Jacoby likes playing in Boston, that's not an issue here," said Boras. "The only thing I can say about Jacoby is that there are few players like him. He is a proven successful player in Boston and in the American League East environment, and he plays a premium position at Gold Glove levels. He is a franchise player."
At the very least, it sounds as if talks about keeping Ellsbury for a long time have already begun with general manager Ben Cherington, if only in a preliminary sense.
"Ben and I always share an open dialogue and we'll continue to talk about Jacoby and other players I represent in the organization and I'm sure this offseason we'll be discussing free agents I represent that could very well be needed in Boston to re-engage in building an annual contender," said Boras.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox keep losing, and their latest defeat included a dugout spat between Dustin Pedroia and Alfredo Aceves.
• The St. Louis Cardinals battled to end their losing streak. They confirmed that Rafael Furcal is out for the year.
• Jeff Locke is going to get the ball and be part of the Pirates' rotation in the last month.
Dings and dents
1. Joey Votto hit a home run in his injury rehabilitation assignment.
2. Alex Rodriguez is a step closer.
3. David Ortiz won't risk further injury to his Achilles tendon, and his season may be over.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ron Washington sees a limited role for Jurickson Profar, for now.
2. The Houston Astros' call-ups are starting to trickle in, writes Zachary Levine.
3. Russ Canzler is going to get a lot of at-bats this month.
4. David Lough got the call to the big leagues.
5. A closer's role may be next for Glen Perkins.
6. A kid playing in Double-A might be the Phillies' best option at third base, writes David Murphy.
7. The New York Mets should trade David Wright and R.A. Dickey, writes Joel Sherman.
8. Kirk Gibson explained the Trevor Cahill pitch count watch, Nick Piecoro writes. This has turned out to be a one-sided trade for Oakland, so far.
9. Jason Giambi wants to play again next season.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
2: Straight starts that Cliff Lee has won. First time it's happened this season.
3: Career walk-off hits for Corey Hart, after doing so against the Pirates.
7: Straight winning decisions streak snapped for Tim Hudson with his loss to the Phillies.
8: Home runs for Hanley Ramirez in his past 16 games (none in previous 17 games).
10: Straight games in which Alex Gordon has a hit; he has a .405 BA (17-for-42) and 11 RBIs during the streak.
16: Home runs for Jimmy Rollins, matching his 2011 total.
AL East notes
• Jeff Niemann came back off the disabled list, but left with an arm injury. The Tampa Bay Rays managed to pull out a badly needed victory, with the game ending, again, on a runner thrown out at home plate. The same thing happened on Friday.
From Elias: The last team to play consecutive games in which the game ended with an outfielder throwing out a runner at the plate was the 1982 Pirates -- May 11 (at Astros) and May 13 (versus Reds). The Pirates lost both games.
There is debate in Toronto whether Omar Vizquel should've been removed for a pinch runner.
AL Central notes
• The Cleveland Indians pulled out a win after putting up four first-inning runs.
• For whatever reason, writes Bob Dutton, the Kansas City Royals cannot beat the Minnesota Twins: They were swept in a doubleheader Saturday.
Joe Mauer led a Minnesota sweep, John Shipley writes.
AL West notes
• The Oakland Athletics just keep winning: They shut down the Red Sox again. But along the way, Brandon Inge reinjured his shoulder, and he needs surgery.
• You can't stop the surging Los Angeles Angels, you can only hope to contain them.
• Scott Feldman had a nightmare first inning.
• Felix Hernandez pitched well but lost, and Mike Trout's speed was pivotal.
NL West notes
• Tim Lincecum delivered in a big way for the San Francisco Giants, writes John Shea.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks had no answers against Josh Beckett.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers won with a couple of solo homers.
• Edinson Volquez got lit up.
NL Central notes
• The Pittsburgh Pirates had their guts ripped out, Michael Sanserino writes.
• The Astros walked off with a win.
• The Reds lost a heartbreaker.
• The Cubs dropped the second game of their series.
• The Milwaukee Brewers just keep winning games. I'm not saying they're going to make the playoffs, but they are beginning to make it interesting -- and it's hard to imagine how different their season would have been if not for their bullpen debacles.
NL East notes
• Luck is finally starting to turn Cliff Lee's way.
• Josh Johnson pitched well, but the Miami Marlins lost, writes Joe Capozzi.
• The Mets turned the tables on Miami, writes Michael Snyder.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Jordan Zimmermann allowed a career-high eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. It's his shortest start since September 2010 (two different starts of 3 IP) when he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann has now gone fewer than six innings in each of his past four starts (and five of his past six) after beginning the season with 21 consecutive starts of at least six innings.
Yankees' concerns begin with Sabathia.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There is a significant difference between being a front-line pitcher and being the ace of a staff, as longtime Oriole Mike Flanagan once explained. There is an extra accountability factor because an ace embraces the responsibility of leading a rotation, absorbs innings to give relief to the relievers and rescues his teammates from losing streaks.
But being an ace goes far beyond wanting the ball; you have to have the ability to match another team's ace zero for zero, especially in a crucial game or in the postseason.
CC Sabathia has been an ace for a decade, and, in keeping with the creed of the ace, he famously ignored the risk of injury just weeks from free agency in 2008 to make starts on three days' rest for the Milwaukee Brewers. His willingness to shoulder responsibility was a driving factor in the New York Yankees' decision to sign him to a seven-year, $161 million deal in the fall of 2008, and to reinvest in him this past fall when they gave Sabathia an extension. He has arguably been the best fit of any free agent in the Yankees' history, giving them excellent return for the fortune they have paid him.
But, for the first time in Sabathia's career, there is a real doubt about whether he can swap zeros with the Verlanders and other great pitchers and shut down a great lineup.
Sabathia was on the disabled list last month because of an elbow problem -- the first time in his career he was on the DL for an arm-related issue -- and, although he has come back to make three starts and generally has pitched effectively, there continue to be rumblings around the sport that the discomfort that has nagged him most of this season still lingers.
Reportedly, Sabathia has no structural damage in the elbow -- no debilitating ligament tear. But Sabathia's recent performance and pitch selection suggest there is some other issue, whether it be a loose body or a spur in the joint. Sabathia's well-being is just one of many injury- and age-related problems the Yankees are coping with as they try to fend off the Baltimore Orioles. New York's lead over Baltimore in the AL East is down to one game, and the Yankees lead the Tampa Bay Rays by 2½ games.
In his past three starts, Sabathia has allowed 21 hits and six earned runs in 21 1/3 innings, and scouts say his raw stuff is simply not as crisp as it was earlier in the year. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity in his first start off the disabled list was 93.7 mph, after his two-week break, but that was down to 92.1 mph in his next start.
More telling to the evaluators was Sabathia's choice to throw fewer fastballs and use far more off-speed pitches, most notably his changeup. According to FanGraphs, when Sabathia pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 29, he threw only 45.5 percent fastballs, one of the lowest percentages of his career, and 17.2 percent of his pitches were changes -- for him, that's a very high percentage of changeups, and it was noticed by rival evaluators.
"He can win with what he's got, and, on most days, he'll find a way to get the job done," one scout said. "But he's not going to dominate anybody right now. You can get some good swings against him."
Sabathia gave up six hits in the first three innings Monday, including a home run. After he absorbed those early runs, however, he did what all great pitchers can do, settling into a nice groove, changing speeds, and, when he departed, the score was 3-all. Sabathia gave the Yankees a chance to win.
Sabathia has logged more than 2,500 innings in the past 12 years and threw more pitches in that time than anybody else. Because Sabathia will always have the mindset of an ace, he'll continue to take the ball down the stretch in spite of how he feels from start to start.
But how Sabathia holds up, and how effective he can be, will be just one of many questions for a team that has had its lead sink from 10 games to one in the past 47 days -- including the loss to Tampa Bay on Monday, on a day when the Yankees' ace pitched.
Tampa Bay is not afraid, Marc Topkin writes. The Rays' James Shields went toe-to-toe with Sabathia on Monday, finishing strongly.
Alex Rodriguez was back in the lineup, but the Yankees still lost, as David Waldstein writes. Robinson Cano didn't dive for a ball and that really hurt the Yankees, writes John Harper. On Monday, Cano was part of what ailed the Yankees, writes Ken Davidoff.
Jeff Niemann's season is over.
• The Orioles keep feeling that ol'-fashioned religion: Joe Saunders, a cast-off of the Arizona Diamondbacks, tossed scoreless innings in his second start with Baltimore.
Baltimore added another left-handed reliever to its roster.
From ESPN Stats & Information: The Orioles' bullpen has been one of the best in baseball in the past month, thanks in part to the off-speed stuff. Three Baltimore relievers have among the lowest opponent batting averages in baseball in at-bats ending with off-speed pitches in the past month: Pedro Strop (0-for-16, .000 BA, T-1st), Darren O'Day (1-for-22, .045 BA, T-4th), Jim Johnson (1-for-14, .071 BA, T-9th).
• Ninety-eight days have passed since Kris Medlen allowed multiple earned runs in any outing, and, on Monday, he was outstanding, as David O'Brien writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Medlen beat the Rockies:
A) Medlen was very effective with the changeup, striking out seven in nine at-bats ending with the pitch. Five of the seven strikeouts were on pitches that dropped out of the zone.
B) Medlen threw a season-high 77 percent of pitches for strikes (85 of 111 pitches), making it the fourth straight start Medlen has had better than a 70 percent strike percentage. With the changeup, Medlen threw only two balls on 25 pitches.
C) The Rockies couldn't get to Medlen with runners on base, going 1-for-8 with three strikeouts (0-for-3 with RISP).
Best opponent BA against changeup (since July 31, Medlen's first start)
Stephen Strasburg: .038 BA, 17 strikeouts
James Shields: .080 BA, 26 strikeouts
Kris Medlen: .091 BA, 18 strikeouts
From Elias Sports Bureau: Most consecutive scoreless innings pitched by an Atlanta Braves starter in a single season (since 1966) -- Greg Maddux (39.1 innings, '00), Medlen (34.1 innings, '12), John Smoltz (29.1 innings, '92), Phil Niekro (29 innings, '74).
From Elias: The Braves have won 18 consecutive starts made by Kris Medlen. That's the longest streak for a team since the Yankees won 20 straight Roger Clemens starts in 2001.
Meanwhile: Dan Uggla, in Year 2 of a five-year deal, has been benched.
• It's possible Shelby Miller and/or Chris Carpenter will get a start for the St. Louis Cardinals.
• Gordon Beckham chatted the other day about how much he looks forward to participating in the postseason for the first time, about how hard it is to watch other teams play while he's at home -- and, on Monday, he pushed the Chicago White Sox back into the AL Central lead.
• Jamey Carroll flexed his muscles.
From Elias: Carroll ended a streak of 1,348 consecutive at-bats without a home run, which was the longest current streak in the majors. Next on the list is Chris Getz of the Kansas City Royals (currently on DL), who has not homered in his past 918 at-bats. His last home run, on Aug. 9, 2009, when Carroll was a member of the Indians, also was hit at U.S. Cellular Field.
• Joey Votto will be back with the Cincinnati Reds today, but it's unclear when he'll rejoin the Cincinnati lineup, writes Tom Groeschen. It's up to him, writes Hal McCoy.
• Ben Cherington is among the very few in the Boston Red Sox organization -- too few, really -- who has uttered these words: It's my fault. The Red Sox lost again Monday, their seventh in a row. Bobby Valentine was not fired Monday, as Scott Lauber writes.
• There's no getting around the fact that shutting down Stephen Strasburg probably reduces Washington's chance for postseason success, but the Washington Nationals are equipped to overcome his absence. Ross Detwiler, their No. 5 starter, has had a very underrated season, and he won again Monday in Washington's 82nd victory.
Detwiler's numbers since the All-Star break: 61 1/3 innings, 2.79 ERA, 49 hits, 13 walks, 31 strikeouts.
Detwiler has answered the call, writes Thomas Boswell.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. One of the prospects acquired in the Zack Greinke trade is being promoted to the big leagues, as mentioned within this Bob Dutton notebook.
2. The Indians' call-ups arrived.
3. The Miami Marlins are going to start using a six-man rotation, writes Clark Spencer.
Dings and dents
1. Brian McCann got a cortisone shot.
2. J.P. Arencibia could be back with the Blue Jays later this week.
3. Jed Lowrie might begin an injury rehabilitation assignment in a few days.
4. Arizona's Chris Young is hurt.
5. It's not clear when Troy Tulowitzki will play.
6. Andrew Cashner will be back in the Padres' rotation Friday.
7. Kenley Jansen will find out today whether he's going to pitch again this year.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
6: Victories for Kris Medlen since joining the Braves' starting rotation.
51: Percent of fastballs James Shields threw against the Yankees on Monday, a season high. In his past nine starts, Shields has used his fastball 43 percent of the time.
164: Swinging strikeouts for Yu Darvish this season after getting six on Monday against the Royals.
NL West notes
• A.J. Ellis got a big hit for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
• Marco Scutaro has been a big pickup for the San Francisco Giants and set off a celebration on Monday.
• The Diamondbacks are probably just about finished after their latest gut-wrenching defeat.
NL Central notes
• A St. Louis appeal paid off.
• Johnny Cueto lost on Monday.
• Mike Fiers had a really rough inning.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates are in full regression, and they lost to the Houston Astros on Monday. Clint Barmes made a mistake, as Bob Cohn writes.
• Jeff Samardzija threw well, but the Chicago Cubs still lost.
• Brett Wallace powered the Astros.
NL East notes
• Tyler Cloyd was "the man" for the Philadelphia Phillies. Phillippe Aumont, one of the players acquired in the Cliff Lee deal with Seattle, got the save, as Matt Gelb writes.
• The New York Mets were really unhappy with the way their game ended Monday.
• Ricky Nolasco had a good day.
AL West notes
• It's been a tough year for Vernon Wells, but he beat the Oakland Athletics on Monday, at the outset of a really important series.
• Tommy Milone just didn't have much.
• Yu Darvish excelled.
• The Seattle Mariners ran the bases well, and this helped them beat the Red Sox.
AL Central notes
• After a great weekend series against the White Sox, the Detroit Tigers fell flat on Monday, Drew Sharp writes. Alex Avila's struggles continued Monday.
Something worth noting in the standings: As the White Sox and Tigers have been grinding away in recent weeks, the two have not been able to keep up with the pace of the Oakland Athletics and other wild-card contenders. As of this morning, Detroit is 3½ games out in the wild-card race. Keep in mind that the finishing schedules for Chicago and Detroit are much easier -- on paper -- than those for the Athletics, etc.
• Jason Kipnis made a really nice play to close out Cleveland's victory, which was saved by Vinnie Pestano.
• At the very least, the Royals were able to avoid having a no-hitter thrown at them.
No Cy Young for Chris Sale.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Chicago White Sox hold a one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in an up-for-grabs AL Central division. The finale of the three-game weekend series in Detroit pits respective aces Chris Sale and Justin Verlander against one another on "Sunday Night Baseball."
Sale has been a major reason the White Sox have held the division lead for this long, leading to speculation that he could dethrone Verlander -- the 2011 AL Cy Young award winner -- by winning pitching's top award this season.
While the 23-year-old lefty has turned in a fantastic season -- especially considering it's his first in the starting rotation -- his award prospects should be tempered.
The Cy Young race isn't a two-man battle to begin with, but even if it was, Sale wouldn't be an equal to Verlander.
The major difference between Sale's and Verlander's cases is innings pitched. Obviously, great pitchers help their team more and increase their own individual value by toeing the rubber more often.
The near-40-inning gap between Sale and Verlander is integral to the discussion, because it creates a gap in value that Sale can't overcome by simply having better numbers in some categories; so far this season, the two starters have posted nearly identical statistics in key categories:
Competing for the Cy Young
Comparing the numbers of Chris Sale and Justin Verlander this season.
Pitcher Starts Innings K/PA BB/PA GB % ERA SIERA
Sale 23 157 25.0% 6.3% 44% 2.81 3.23
Verlander 27 196.1 25.3% 6.4% 40% 2.80 3.26
Identical is being used in its literal sense here, as these pitchers are mere rounding errors away from each other in each of the relevant rate stats above. However, Verlander's lead in innings results in a 1.5 WAR advantage.
Verlander is currently second in the junior circuit with 5.6 WAR, while Sale ranks third with 4.1. Though it's easy to argue that Sale has pitched as effectively as Verlander on a start-by-start basis, Verlander has simply made three more starts and consumed more outs per start, and that makes a significant difference in accruing value.
The AL Cy Young landscape isn't two pitchers deep, however, as Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez leads both Verlander and Sale (and the rest of the American League) in WAR with 5.8
It's possible that Hernandez will lose a little credit among voters simply because he has thrown more than half of his innings at Safeco Field, which doubles as both the Mariners' home park and a museum that re-enacts the dead ball era. But even after accounting for the extreme disadvantage hitters face at Safeco, it's still not enough to move Sale into the conversation for the most valuable starter in the league. That's clearly a discussion for Verlander and Hernandez only, as of now.
Another factor that could hurt Sale in the Cy Young race is that he doesn't have the narrative of "single-handedly lifting his team to playoff contention" working in his favor. Even if we forget about an offense that ranks fifth in the AL in runs, Sale isn't the only above-average starter in his own rotation, as Jake Peavy is having an equally good season.
Through 26 starts and 181 innings, Peavy has 3.8 WAR and similarly efficient and impressive peripherals.
Of course, many voters still look at wins and losses as a proxy for determining pitcher value and performance, and Sale's 15-5 mark trumps Peavy's 9-10 record. It also bests Verlander's 12-7 and Felix's 13-5 records. While Hernandez himself won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010, he was the clear choice that season. Right now, there are two almost equal choices in Hernandez and Verlander, and a third reasonable one in Sale, and therefore win-loss record may loom large in the voting.
That could be seen as an advantage for Sale, but then you would have to include David Price in the discussion. Price leads the AL in wins with 16, has thrown 17 more innings than Sale (174 to 157), has a better ERA, too (2.53 to 2.81), and trails Sale by only 0.1 WAR. He's also pitching in a pennant race, as the Tampa Bay Rays are within striking distance in both AL East and the AL wild-card race.
The fact that Sale and Price are the only pitchers with a shot at 20 wins could make the AL Cy Young race interesting in September. However, Sale isn't even likely to reach 200 innings, while Price should and Hernandez and Verlander will have 240 innings on their peripheries.
Sale's best shot at winning the Cy Young: A White Sox division title, a sexy wins total, and the Tigers and Rays missing the postseason. That doesn't mean Sale should win, though. It just means that he could, which are two very different things that often get mixed up in award discussions.
Still, Sale has pitched very well this year. He just hasn't pitched the innings Verlander and Hernandez have, and that gap in value is too much to ignore for the Cy Young award.
Molina a legit NL MVP candidate.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For most of the summer, columnists -- myself included -- have been writing about the likely fade of the Pittsburgh Pirates. And, for most of the summer, Andrew McCutchen made us all look silly, carrying the Pirates to unexpected victory after unexpected victory. As July came to a close, the Pirates were in line for a wild card, just three games behind the Reds in the NL Central, and McCutchen was the obvious choice for National League MVP.
However, August hasn't been kind to McCutchen or the Pirates. With their star center fielder slumping for the first time all season, Pittsburgh has gone just 11-16 and has fallen to third place in the NL Central, and the Bucs are now on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. And, for the first time in a couple of months, it seems possible that someone other than McCutchen might end up with the NL MVP Award at the end of the season.
That opening has led to rising campaigns for other deserving candidates. Buster Posey's tremendous performance with the Giants deserves recognition; David Wright's rebound has made him one of the game's best players again; and Ryan Braun might actually be having a better season this year than he did a year ago when he won the award. However, there's one legitimate candidate who hasn't garnered much attention yet despite the fact that he might have the best case of all: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
Molina is generally known for his defensive abilities, but, although he might not be the star of the Cardinals' offense the way Posey is in San Francisco, don't overlook the tremendous season he has had at the plate this season.
Rank Player wRC+*
1. Ryan Braun 168
2. Andrew McCutchen 159
3. Buster Posey 152
4. Matt Holliday 146
5. Melky Cabrera 146
6. David Wright 146
7. Yadier Molina 144
To the right is a list of the seven best hitters in the National League this season, rated by wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), an index scale where 100 is average and which adjusts for ballpark factors, creating a more level playing field.
Molina has essentially been the offensive equal of Wright, Melky Cabrera and Matt Holliday this season, and Posey has been only slightly better at the plate. The only hitters in the National League who you can say have been drastically better than Molina are Braun and McCutchen, and, of course, neither Braun nor McCutchen is a catcher.
And, with all respect to Posey as a defender, he's not Molina behind the plate. Evaluating the defensive contributions of a catcher is more difficult than for any other position because of their interactions with the pitcher, but there are things we can isolate about a catcher's defense, specifically the ability to control the running game.
There are 14 NL catchers who have spent at least 500 innings behind the plate this year, Molina included. The 13 other catchers have caught 9,916 innings and have seen opposing base stealers attempt 990 steals, essentially one every 10 innings. They have thrown out 28 percent of those would-be base stealers, or, stated another way, an average defensive NL catcher (not named Molina) has allowed a runner to take an extra base once every 14 innings and has created an out with his throwing arm once every 35 innings.
Molina blows them all away in both categories. To begin with, hardly anyone runs on Molina, as opposing baserunners have attempted just 52 steals against the Cardinals when he's been behind the plate, and that's still probably too often, as 24 of those 52 runners (46 percent) have been gunned down trying to take the base. Putting it on the same scale as the rest of the NL catchers, Molina allows a success steal of second only once every 33 innings, and he creates an out with his throwing arm once every 38 innings. In other words, Molina is gunning down runners almost as often as the league average while allowing successful steals less than half as often.
As for Posey, runners have tested his arm more than twice as often, attempting an additional 53 stolen bases against him despite the fact that he has caught 118 fewer innings. Of those extra 53 stolen-base attempts, Posey has thrown out just an additional four runners. The difference between the two in controlling the running game is 49 additional bases allowed by Posey with a gain of just four outs.
A successful stolen base allowed costs a team approximately 0.25 runs on average, and throwing out an advancing runner saves a team about 0.50 runs. Applying those average run values to the difference between Molina and Posey yields a 10-run difference, which more than cancels out the seven-run lead Posey has with the bat this season.
Molina is the best defensive player at one of the most important positions on the field, and, this year, he's hitting at the same level as slugging cleanup hitters. Although McCutchen was the shining star of the first four months, the Cardinals' August surge was thanks in large part to Molina -- he has hit .417 AVG/.463 SLG/.556 OBP this month -- and he is the primary reason the team is still a strong contender in the National League.
Although the MVP award usually goes to the guy with the best offensive stats, the true MVPs are often the ones who hit well while providing excellent defense at premium positions. This year, no National League player has combined elite offense and defense like Molina. After years of simply being a defensive specialist, Molina is playing like a true MVP talent.
Beckett's pace a problem.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Every baseball fan has felt it. A Josh Beckett-CC Sabathia matchup catches your attention on paper, but when you sit down to witness the marquee event, you quickly realize you're in for an agonizingly slow-paced ballgame bound to endure for close to four hours. In today's technological world, fans aren't used to waiting 30 seconds for anything, especially when it comes to waiting for Beckett to throw a single pitch. In baseball, the pitcher usually controls the tempo of the game, and pitchers receive the majority of the blame when a nine-inning game goes especially long.
Fans aren't the only ones who have to endure. The players themselves are at the mercy of the pitcher on the mound. Fielders have limited attention spans and focus; between batters, pitchers, mound visits and pitching changes, there is enough time between pitches that a fielder's mind can wander.
As a result, you've probably heard a commentator or manager say that quick workers get better defensive support because the fielders are on their toes. But is this true? Let's find out.
Slow and low
The five slowest workers this year (in seconds), min. 100 IP.
Clay Buchholz 25.9
Erik Bedard 25.1
Josh Beckett 24.9
Ryan Vogelsong 24.5
Mat Latos 24.4
FanGraphs calculates each pitcher's pace, measured as the average number of seconds between pitches. And as you can see in the table to the right, Beckett joins former Red Sox teammates Clay Buchholz and Erik Bedard among the slowest-working starting pitchers in the major leagues. Each takes around 25 seconds on average between pitches.
Now what about the fast workers? Mark Buehrle has a reputation for working quickly, and it is well deserved, as he is MLB's fastest-working pitcher in 2012, averaging around 17 seconds between pitches (see table below). Two Mets, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese, also are among the league's quick workers. With an eight-second difference between the fastest and slowest workers, the difference over 100 pitches amounts to around 13 additional minutes for each start.
How much does the pitcher's pace affect the defense behind him? To figure this out, we divided the 130 pitchers who have faced at least 400 batters this season into three groups based on the pace they have maintained this year. We can compare the batting average on balls in play for each pitcher in these three groups to their respective team BABIP as a rough approximation of a team's defensive play behind all pitchers.
The fastest workers (in seconds) in 2012, min. 100 IP.
Mark Buehrle 17.4
Matt Harrison 17.7
R.A. Dickey 17.8
Jonathon Niese 18.0
Derek Lowe 18.1
The fast workers, for example, had a .290 BABIP while their teams had a weighted average of .294, so these pitchers fared four points better than their teams on balls in play.
On the other hand, our slow workers fared five points worse than their respective teams. A similar comparison with Baseball Info Solutions' Plus/Minus System, evaluating the trajectory and location of every ball in play, finds a similar trend but at a smaller magnitude, with the defense behind fast workers 26 plays better than that behind slow workers, equivalent to a one-point difference in BABIP.
We have to be careful with cause-and-effect reasoning based on this marginal difference, given the small sample of pitchers considered. The other thing to consider is that a pitcher typically switches from a windup to the set position with runners on base, and working with runners on base takes longer as pitchers are always checking on the runners. And since we don't have a breakdown for pace with and without men on base, we can't know for sure how much working from the stretch affected these numbers.
However, we can note that the slow workers had a group walk rate about 15 percent higher than that of the quick workers. More walks also mean more baserunners and more pitches thrown from the stretch, which in turn slows down the pitcher's pace.
While it's tough to pinpoint, there does appear to be a benefit to working quickly. So Mr. Beckett: Speed it up, will ya?
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Royals to call up Jeffress
AM ETKansas City Royals Recommend0Comments1EmailRight-hander Jeremy Jeffress, one of the players the Royals acquired from the Angels in the Zack Greinke deal, is expected to be recalled from Double-A Northwest Arkansas before Tuesday's against Texas, reports Bob Dutton/
Jeffress was optioned to Double-A before the Aug. 27 game at Boston. In eight games with the Royals, Jeffress has not allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and six walks.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Jeremy Jeffress, Kansas City Royals
Uggla a part-time player
AM ETDan Uggla | Braves Recommend0Comments0EmailLess than two full seasons into a five-year, $62 million contract, Dan Uggla finds himself as a part-time player.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta JC reports Martin Prado will start at second base for the foreseeable future, with Uggla now a back-up. Jeff Baker and Tyler Pastornicky also could be in the mix.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez insists that Uggla is not in his doghouse, but this is September and he has little margin for error with a 32-year-old who is hitting a career-low .208. After squandering a huge lead last September in the wild card race, the Braves and Gonzalez are not concerned with egos at this point.
A return to the regular lineup has not been ruled out, but Gonzalez says Uggla will have to earn his way back into a starter's role. A lot could happen between now and October, but the Braves could consider shopping Uggla in the offseason if he is viewed only as a spare part. Maybe the Marlins, Uggla's former team, might be interested, given the Fish are expected to undergo another offseason overhaul.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Atlanta Braves, Martin Prado, Dan Uggla
Will Valentine last the season?
AM ETBobby Valentine | Red Sox Recommend0Comments1EmailRed Sox owner John Henry had breakfast on Monday with manager Bobby Valentine, part of what he described as a "fact-finding" mission.
Call it what you want, but the growing sentiment says Valentine remains on very shaky ground, even if Henry insists he has no plans to change managers before the end of the season. Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes that Monday's events "felt like little more than a stay of execution."
The Red Sox have lost seven straight games and have been outscored 58-16 along the way.
With a month to go in the season, Valentine is looking like a skipper growing disinterested with his job. Asked how difficult the losing streak has been, Valentine just muttered, "What difference does it make?"
Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reported Monday that communication between Valentine and most of his players "has been close to non-existent."
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox
Walker eyes weekend return
AM ETNeil Walker | Pirates Recommend0Comments0EmailAn 11-17 August has been followed by three straight September defeats. In short, some of that positive karma regarding the Pittsburgh Pirates is evaporating.
Help could be on the way in the form of second baseman Neil Walker, who sat out his seventh consecutive game Monday with tightness in his lower back. Paul Ziese of the Post-Gazette reports Walker is making progress and could return this weekend against the Chicago Cubs.
September call-up Brock Holt has started the last two games at second base.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates
Is Cano injured?
AM ETRobinson Cano | Yankees Recommend0Comments0EmailNew York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is taking some heat for failing to dive for an eighth-inning ground ball by Chris Gimenez that drove in the eventual winning run in the Rays' 4-3 win Monday afternoon.
Cano has a "history of nonchalance," as John Harper calls it in the New York Daily News, but there may be another reason the second baseman stayed on his feet.
Cano said he felt some tightness in his left hip, leaving him questionable for Tuesday's game against the Rays, reports Mark Feinsand.
Jayson Nix could get a spot start at second base if Cano needs a night off.
Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com has more on Cano's impact on the Yankees, who have seen their lead in the AL East reduced to one game:
- Doug Mittler
Is Cano hurt?
"For Cano's sake, you hope that what he said after the game -- that he felt something funny in his hip that prevented him making the play -- is true. Because the alternative might be even worse. Either Robinson Cano was too injured to get to that ball or he didn't try hard enough. There is no third choice. As deep a chunk as the injury monster has taken out of the Yankees this season, losing Cano at this point might very well be the death blow."
Tags:New York Yankees, Robinson Cano
Rowson could keep his job
AM ETChicago Cubs Recommend0Comments0EmailJames Rowson, named the interim hitting coach of the Chicago Cubs when Rudy Jamarillo was fired in June, may be making a case for keeping his job in 2013.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum gave a positive review of the 35-year-old Rowson to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times. Rowson was the Cubs' minor league hitting coordinator before being promoted. One caveat: the Cubs have scored just 502 runs, second-worst in the major leagues.
There has been ample speculation in Boston that the Cubs will try to lure Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan to Chicago next season.
- Doug Mittler
Morse gives thumbs up
AM ETMichael Morse | Nationals Recommend0Comments0EmailNationals left fielder Michael Morse left Monday's game against the Cubs in the fourth inning because of right thumb soreness. Afterwards, Morse said the thumb was OK and he expects to play Tuesday, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
Roger Bernadina could get a start Tuesday if Morse needs a night off.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Michael Morse, Washington Nationals
Monday finale for Harvey?
AM ETMatt Harvey | Mets Recommend0Comments0EmailStephen Strasburg may not be the only pitcher making his final start of the season during a series next week at Citi Field.
It's been well-chronicled that the Nationals are on course to bring down the curtain on Strasburg's season after a September 12 start against the Mets. New York's Matt Harvey will start the opener of the series on Monday, and it may mark his finish line for 2012 as well, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post.
Harvey has pitched 152 1/3 innings between Triple-A Buffalo and the Mets this season, and the club wants him to finish in the 165-to-170 range. Manager Terry Collins is leaving open the possibility of an addition start for Harvey if his outings Tuesday against the Cards or next week against the Nats are abbreviated ones.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Jansen gets verdict on Tuesday
AM ETKenley Jansen | Dodgers Recommend0Comments0EmailKenley Jansen will find out on Tuesday whether or not he will pitch again this season. The righthander awaits word from doctors as to how long he will need to take blood-thinning medication needed to treat his heart condition.
The earliest Jensen could resume throwing is Friday. However, if doctors feel he must continue to treat his irregular heartbeat with this drug, then his season will be over.
Ronald Belisario and Brandon League have split the save chances in Jansen's absence.
If Jansen is lost for the season, manager Don Mattingly said he would consider reassigning injured starter Chad Billingsley as a short reliever, reports ESPNLosAngeles.com. But Billingsley's return this season also is a question mark, so that appears unlikely.
- Doug Mittler and AJ Mass
Tags:Brandon League, Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Carpenter back in rotation?
AM ETChris Carpenter | Cardinals Recommend0Comments0EmailThe St. Louis Cardinals haven't closed the door on a late-season return by ace righthander Chris Carpenter, who has yet to pitch in 2012 due to nerve issues in his right shoulder.
Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reports Carpenter will face hitters in a simulated game Tuesday.
The club is at least a week away from any decision regarding his availability, but GM John Mozeliak acknowledged Monday that Carpenter would be used as a starter if he returns this season. Given that Carpenter is unlikely to pitch deep into a game in his debut, the Cardinals could have top prospect Shelby Miller ready to step in as a long reliever on Carpenter's day.
One answered question would be who gets bumped from the rotation if Carpenter returns. Rookie Joe Kelly, who has a respectable 3.64 ERA in 16 outings, currently is the fifth starter.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller earns promotion
AM ETSt. Louis Cardinals Recommend0Comments0EmailThe St. Louis Cardinals will promote Shelby Miller from Triple-A Memphis Tuesday and the top pitching prospect could get a chance to start later this month, reports Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.
Miller's progress appeared to have stalled earlier this summer, but the 21-year-old righthander made his case for call-up by pitching well in his last 10 starts, including six strong innings Friday againsy Nashville.
A report Monday said Miller, who must be added to the 40-man roster, would be used only in a mop-up relief role. But GM John Mozeliak saidd Monday Miller could make a start later in the month after debuting in the bullpen.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:St. Louis Cardinals
Votto back Tuesday?
AM ETJoey Votto | Reds Recommend0Comments0EmailJoey Votto has been out of the lineup for a month-and-a-half after surgery on his left knee, and the Cincinnati Reds have done just fine in his absence -- they currently share the major league lead with 82 wins and hold a 8 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.
Votto has been on a rehab assignment in the minors and there was talk Monday that he would be in the Reds' lineup Tuesday for the second game of the three-game series with the Phillies. But Votto went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts for Ttiple-A Louisville, so a return to the lineup Tuesday may not be a slam dunk.
While the Reds expect Votto to be back with the team Tuesday, manager Dusty Baker was unsure exactly when his first baseman will return to the lineup, says the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Even when Votto returns, the Reds may be careful to give him some occasional days off, which means more time at first for Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier.
- Doug Mittler