Who has the roughest road?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With 24 days still remaining on the baseball calendar, there are 15 teams with at least a 10 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Coolstandings.com. These 15 teams are also ranked Nos. 1-15 in the ESPN Power Rankings (PR) this week, from the Washington Nationals at the top of the heap to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 15.
With 15 teams competing for 10 playoff spots, their remaining schedules will become major factors. As such, we have taken the liberty of creating a strength of schedule for the season's final three-plus weeks, and it shows the Nationals, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers as having the toughest roads ahead of them.
To get a good strength of schedule (SOS), we want to consider more than a team's current winning percentage. Winning percentage needs to be considered, but the mix of players who were on a team in previous months might not be the same as it is now, so we don't want to rely solely on that. So we compiled a list of every player who was on an active roster as of Saturday and used ZiPS' rest-of-season projections -- which quite simply forecast how a player will produce for the remainder of the season -- to create as clear a picture possible of each team's wOBA and FIP.
Then, the team's winning percentage, projected wOBA and projected FIP were weighted equally to determine opponent difficulty, which then were applied to each team's remaining schedule to determine whose schedule is filled with warriors and whose is filled with creampuffs. I did not consider defense or home versus road or number of days off, because with such a small sample of games there would be too much noise in including those variables in the data for them to add any value.
Washington Nationals: PR: 1 | SOS: 1
The Nats are not only the toughest team to face, they also face the toughest road. In addition to series with contenders the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, they have 10 games with two teams making such a hard push to be spoilers that they remain on the fringe of the playoff picture in the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies. The series with Atlanta this weekend could be particularly key. The Braves remain just 5.5 games back, and if they were to sweep, they could still have a chance to steal the National League East from the now Stephen Strasburg-less Nats.
Oakland A's: PR: 7 | SOS: 2
The only below-.500 team the A's will face for the remainder of the season is the Seattle Mariners, who have played at a .574 clip (31-23) in the second half.
Los Angeles Dodgers: PR: 14 | SOS: 3
With another loss to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday night, the Dodgers are rapidly fading from the playoff picture. On the day they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto for the stretch run, Coolstandings.com pegged them as 42 percent likely to reach the postseason. Last Monday, their odds had decreased to 34 percent, and as of this Monday they are down to 22 percent. And with 10 straight games against the Cardinals, Nationals and Reds starting Thursday, their road is not about to get any easier.
Atlanta Braves: PR: 4 | SOS: 4
The Braves' toughest opponents are their most immediate ones, as they will close the season with series against the Marlins, Mets and Pirates -- who don't score particularly well in these forecasts.
Los Angeles Angels: PR: 10, SOS: 5
The Angels have a tough slate, and it might be even tougher than it seems on the surface, as six of their final nine games are against the surging Mariners, with the other three against Texas. And the Mariners will be their "easiest" opponent.
Cincinnati Reds: PR: 3 | SOS: 6
The Reds don't have it easy, as the Chicago Cubs represent the only pushover on their schedule, but at the same time they have -- at 8.5 games -- the biggest cushion in the game and should have little trouble hanging on to the NL Central crown.
Pittsburgh Pirates: PR: 15 | SOS: 7
Last season, the Pirates faded in late July. This season, the team began a slower fade in mid-August that has been disguised by the presence of the second wild card. Since the start of August, the Bucs have been outscored by 29 runs. At just 11.2 percent playoff odds, they are the team at the bottom of the totem pole, and if they don't take at least two of three games in their upcoming series in Cincinnati, they might as well start booking tee times a couple weeks early.
San Francisco Giants: PR: 6, | SOS: 8
The Giants are in great position. While they don't face any absolute pushovers the rest of the way, the only top-10 toughest team they will face is the Dodgers, who they won't see until the final series of the season, when they already might have the NL West locked up.
Texas Rangers: PR: 2 | SOS: 9
Texas will finish with 19 straight games within its division, including 13 of its final 16 games against either the A's or Angels. However, the Rangers have a chance to pad their 3.5-game lead early this week. While the A's and Angels will be beating each other up, Texas has three games at home against Cleveland, possessor of the worst road record in the American League.
Chicago White Sox: PR: 11 | SOS: 10
The Sox are gearing up for a strong finishing kick, but they stumbled a bit this week against the Royals and Twins. A four-game set starting Monday against the Tigers -- the final four matchups of these teams of the season -- will be crucial, because while two of Chicago's final four series are against the Angels and Rays, Detroit gets a steady diet of Twins and Royals to conclude the season.
St. Louis Cardinals: PR: 13, | SOS: 11
If the Cardinals are unable to hold onto one of wild-card spots, they won't have their schedule to blame, as they face the easiest road of the NL contenders. They finish the season with six games against Washington and Cincy, but not only might those teams be resting players if they have clinched, but those games are preceded by nine cupcakes against the Houston Astros and Cubs.
Tampa Bay Rays: PR: 9 | SOS: 12
The Rays venture outside of the AL East only once the rest of the way, and have eight left with collapsing Red Sox and Blue Jays squads.
Baltimore Orioles: PR: 5 | SOS: 13
The Orioles actually are not considered a very tough opponent in this exercise, as many of their innings are dependent on players with short track records such as Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson and Wei-Yin Chen, and ZiPS tends to punish such pitchers. That fits the "nobody believes in us" narrative that has developed in Baltimore, but whether you think the O's are for real or not, their schedule -- which features no more Yankees contests -- should help them out.
New York Yankees: PR: 8 | SOS: 14
In addition to a combined 13 games against division rivals Boston and Toronto, the Yankees also get three games against the Twins. If they permanently lose control of the AL East, it won't be because of a tough schedule.
Detroit Tigers: PR: 12 | SOS: 15
In compiling these forecasts, the Tigers actually came out as the second-toughest opponent, and with the easiest schedule among the contenders Detroit might not yet have played its trump card.
Where Posey fits in NL MVP race.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the San Francisco Giants leaned over the dugout railing right after Buster Posey blasted his 20th homer of the season on "Sunday Night Baseball," and posed a rhetorical question.
"How does someone take funky swings like that -- and then hit a ball over [the] center field [fence]?" Posey's teammate asked, in the midst of the Giants' 4-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which extended San Francisco's lead in the NL West to a sturdy 5½ games.
Posey is known as an excellent two-strike hitter, someone who is not afraid to get deep into the count and face a bunch of nasty stuff. Joe Blanton, who made Sunday's start for the Dodgers in place of Clayton Kershaw, felt he had thrown a ton of great pitches. Time after time, however, Posey fended them off, like a tennis player volleying at the net. But when Blanton finally threw an imperfect pitch -- the 10th pitch of the at-bat -- Posey's swing went from defensive to offensive, and he crushed the ball. From Alex Pavolic's story:
"That's one of the best at-bats I've ever had off of me," Blanton said. "I threw him at least five put-away pitches, I thought. And he just kept fouling them off. I make one mistake and it's a homer."
Posey has an OPS of 1.100 since the All-Star break, the best in the majors by a margin of almost 50 points, and this surge has pushed him right into the middle of what has become a very interesting race for NL MVP.
Posey is to the Giants what Mike Piazza was to the Mets' lineup in the late '90s: He is the anchor, surrounded by complementary hitters. Piazza had Edgardo Alfonzo and John Olerud, and Posey has Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval. As we saw after Posey was hurt in 2011, the San Francisco lineup is so very different without his presence.
And as a catcher, Posey has a whole lot of other responsibility, as well -- and he's better defensively than Piazza was. He can throw out runners when given the chance, as he did Saturday, when he cut down three Dodgers.
Posey doesn't have the gaudy home run numbers that the other candidates do -- his homer Sunday was his first since Aug. 11 -- but his home park has something to do with that. Nevertheless, since the All-Star break, only Giancarlo Stanton and Jay Bruce have higher slugging percentages.
FanGraphs has Posey ranked seventh in the NL in WAR, but that's a statistic that doesn't apply as well to catchers as it does to other positions because of the difficulty in quantifying the value of defense.
But no matter how many extra-credit points Posey should get for being a catcher, this is clear: With 24 days left in the regular season, he's built a nice MVP-like résumé.
The other candidates:
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: A few weeks ago, it seemed he had begun to separate himself from the pack, but now the pack has gained ground on him. But McCutchen has had a spectacular season, with an OPS of .966 and 25 homers; he could win the NL batting title.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: He has put up the best numbers in the National League this season, with a league-high 38 homers and .989 OPS, but the Brewers have been out of contention for a lot of the season. While they have surged in recent weeks, they still trail the second wild-card team by six games. The great unknown about Braun's candidacy is whether, in the aftermath of his positive test last fall, some writers may decide they won't vote for him because of that link to PEDs.
In my opinion, the positive test shouldn't be a factor, because Braun was cleared of wrongdoing through his appeal. But as we know, there is a massive block of BBWAA voters who won't consider any Hall of Fame candidate for the mere suspicion of the use of PEDs -- a stance that has essentially frozen Jeff Bagwell many votes short of induction. Not every writer gets to vote on the MVP Award -- rather, just two writers from every NL city vote, for a total of 32 votes -- and so it may be that among that group, Braun will be considered in the same way that the other candidates are.
But it may be that Braun will get hurt in the voting because of what happened last winter, or because the Brewers have struggled for a lot of this summer. The closer the Brewers get to the top of the standings, the more it could help Braun. Just ask Matt Kemp, who was hurt by the Dodgers' placement in the standings last year.
I wrote early in the season about how Braun's candidacy will be a challenge to the writers' stance in the Hall of Fame vote.
Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals: Hitting .302 with 26 homers and an OPS of .900.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis: He's regarded as the majors' best defensive catcher, and he's hitting .321 with 18 homers and an OPS of .877, which ranks 12th in the National League.
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds, and Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins: Both have put up strong power numbers, but Stanton will be hurt by the fact that the Marlins have never been part of the race, and Bruce is hurt by his low batting average (.267).
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: As one NL evaluator said over the weekend, "He's figured it out. One of the smoothest swings in the game right now." Fifty-three extra-base hits.
There are other players in the top 10, but at this point, it appears that Posey, McCutchen and Braun are running in the top three spots, with the final order to be determined by the tastes of the individual voters and by what happens in the next 24 days.
• The Dodgers scratched Kershaw from his start Sunday, and while he was never disrespectful, he wasn't happy about it. Kemp is looking to come back Tuesday.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks spoke to multiple teams about Justin Upton during the season, and rival executives expect they will trade the right fielder this winter. But some club officials also believe Arizona will move center fielder Chris Young, as well. Arizona could go into next season with an outfield of Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel and Adam Eaton if it deals both Upton and Young, and the team's clear focus will be adding a shortstop, such as the Rangers' Elvis Andrus.
• One of the more interesting decisions this offseason will be what the Giants do with reliever Brian Wilson, who is recovering from surgery. He's eligible for arbitration this winter after making $8.5 million this year and could be in line to make something in the $8-10 million range. The guess here is that the Giants, who have been masters of piecing together bullpens in recent years -- including this season, after Wilson got hurt -- will choose to turn the page. It would make sense for them to ask other teams if they're interested in a trade, but other teams will have the same concerns as the Giants will, and paying a reliever that much money coming off significant surgery is something almost never done.
• The Oakland Athletics just keep on winning, and on Sunday it was behind the work of Tommy Milone, who, at 25, is the oldest member of the Athletics' rotation.
From ESPN Stats and Information, how Milone beat the Mariners:
A. Seventeen swings and misses, second-most this year. All 10 strikeouts were swinging, five on fastballs and five on off-speed pitches. That's the same pitch split as his other 10-strikeout game in July, but three of those were looking.
B. Of 16 balls in play, only three were on the ground, Milone's lowest career rate (19 percent, compared to his 39 percent average).
C. Although swing rate was the same, the Mariners missed 46 percent of their swings against pitches in the upper third (versus 28 percent below that). They went 0-for-7 with 5 K's on those offerings.
• By the way: Brandon McCarthy has been moved from ICU, and on Sunday night he responded to a tweet I sent out about his condition, writing, in so many words, that he was using the bathroom a lot. His sense of humor is undented.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Info
10: There have been 10 three-homer games this season, surpassing the total of nine in 2011.
15: First-pitch homers hit by B.J. Upton, tied for second most since the start of 2011.
25: Called strikes for James Shields, his most this season, in the Rays' 6-0 win over Texas.
2006: The last time a rookie (Hanley Ramirez) hit a leadoff home run in back-to-back games prior to Mike Trout on Saturday/Sunday.
Dings and dents
1. Nick Markakis is going to have surgery on Tuesday. Chris Davis is likely to get more playing time in right field.
2. Jered Weaver threw pain-free over the weekend, writes Lance Pugmire, and could pitch Wednesday.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka may have thrown his last pitch for the Boston Red Sox.
AL East notes
• From ESPN Stats and Info, how Shields won:
A. His strike percentage of 70.2 was his second best in the past 37 games. He went to a three-ball count on only one hitter (Andrus, who struck out looking).
B. Nine of Shields' 25 called strikes came on pitches that were out of the zone, according to MLB's Pitch F/X cameras; six were on the right edge of the plate (inside to right-handers). Appropriately, right-handed hitters went 0-for-13 on pitches on the inner half of the plate.
C. Both hits allowed were on his changeup, and both were on pitches out of the strike zone. Texas went 0-for-21 when the last pitch of a plate appearance was in the zone; that's the biggest collar in that category by any pitcher this season.
• The Baltimore Orioles were blasted by the New York Yankees and split the weekend series.
The Yankees are a bunch of experienced, tough veterans who have been through many, many pennant chases before, and they stepped up over the weekend to hold their ground in Baltimore. They will have to plow ahead without first baseman Mark Teixeira. John Harper wonders: Can they slug their way to a division title?
• The Red Sox were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays, as Peter Abraham writes.
AL Central notes
• The Detroit Tigers had a miserable week, but Jim Leyland doesn't think they need a pep talk as they prepare to face the Chicago White Sox in a crucial series. The defense favors the White Sox in this series, writes John Lowe.
There will be extra energy at the park in Chicago, says Jake Peavy.
• The Reds lost a series to the Houston Astros.
AL West notes
• The Angels' pitchers stepped up over the weekend.
NL East notes
• The Washington Nationals were stomped.
• The Philadelphia Phillies swept a doubleheader, and Cole Hamels is relishing the Philadelphia turnaround.
• Chipper Jones' career in Flushing closed fittingly, writes Brian Lewis. Atlanta completed a sweep, David O'Brien writes.
NL Central notes
• The Pirates went through a lost weekend.
• The Chicago Cubs swept the Pirates.
How Giants made up for Melky.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The day before Major League Baseball suspended Melky Cabrera for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were tied for first place in the National League West. Each team had a record of 64-53. The next day, Cabrera was gone and the Giants lost to the Washington Nationals, falling a game behind the Dodgers in the standings.
Things looked bleak for the Giants. For most of the season, Cabrera was the engine driving the Giants' improved offense. The 50-game suspension ended his season, leaving Cabrera with a .346/.390/.516 batting line, a .386 wOBA and a 156 wRC+. To be sure, Cabrera didn't carry the Giants' offense on his own.
Buster Posey batted .289/.362/.458 in the first half and then got hot after the All-Star break, hitting .381/.458/.595 in July. Angel Pagan got off to a slow start and then kicked it into gear in May by hitting .375/.422/.462. When Pagan cooled off in June, Pablo Sandoval returned from surgery on his left hand and hit .296/.354/.408. And then reinforcements arrived before the July 31 trade deadline, when the Giants acquired Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies and Hunter Pence from the Philadelphia Phillies.
But Cabrera had been consistently good all season. He hit off the charts in May and never slumped. His worst month was June, when he batted .304/.343/.441 with a 110 wRC+. Without Cabrera, the Giants had a big hole in their lineup and an even bigger hole in left field.
Five days after Cabrera's suspension, the Giants rolled into Los Angeles and swept the Dodgers in a three-game series. But by the end of that week, the Dodgers had pulled off the Big Trade, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto from the Boston Red Sox. Point. Counterpoint.
Now, more than three weeks after Cabrera's suspension, the Giants have a 4½-game lead over the Dodgers. Without question, the Dodgers have not performed as expected after their trade with Boston. But the Giants haven't faltered in Cabrera's absence -- they've actually been quite fine without him.
My colleagues at FanGraphs wrote earlier this week about Pagan and Scutaro. Dave Cameron called Pagan the most underrated player in the majors. Jeff Sullivan lauded Scutaro's plate discipline and his unrivaled ability to make contact. Both have stepped into the breach left by Cabrera. Batting leadoff, Pagan has hit .313/.369/.505 over the past 30 days. Scutaro, hitting right behind Pagan, has been nearly as good at .324/.336/.426.
Sandoval hits behind Scutaro, taking Cabrera's No. 3 spot in the lineup. His production has not been consistent, and he's shown very little power since returning from a hamstring strain just days before Cabrera's suspension. Posey's cooled off a bit from the torrid pace he set in July, hitting .298/.396/.440 in the past four weeks. Pence bats fifth, and while he's hit a respectable .260/.342/.417 during the past month, he's had only two games as a Giant with more than one hit.
And then there are the kids.
Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford broke into the majors with the Giants last season, and their rides have been anything but smooth. Both had trouble adjusting to major league pitching, and both spent time going back and forth to Triple-A Fresno. This season, the two lefties stayed in San Francisco but have struggled again, especially early. And those struggles led to platoons with right-handed batters who could spell Crawford at shortstop and Belt at first base.
Belt has been a cause celebre for the stat-loving crowd, given his consistently high on-base percentage (.364). But Belt hasn't hit for power, a frustration for manager Bruce Bochy, leading to a fair bit of time on the bench for the tall Texan. Bochy also plays Posey at first base when Posey needs a rest from squatting behind the plate for nine innings. Indeed, Posey's days at first base are referred to as his "days off." But with Cabrera gone, Bochy has given Belt more consistent playing time, and it's paying off. Belt is batting .363/.427/.513 during the past month. He's igniting rallies and knocking in runs.
For Crawford, a platoon with Joaquin Arias at shortstop is paying dividends, as both have excelled down the stretch. In the past 30 days, Crawford is batting .317/.373/.433. Arias has been even better, feasting on left-handed pitching to the tune of .391/.408/.791 in 49 plate appearances.
Crawford has not only been better and more consistent at the plate in the second half, his defense has also been stellar. Heading into the season, the Giants were prepared to go with a light-hitting shortstop known much more for his glove than his bat. But Crawford's defense was shaky in the early going. And it wasn't just errors, but misplayed grounders and throws in the dirt on tough plays that were scored as infield hits.
Crawford's turned that all around in the second half. He's been the steady and calming presence in the infield the Giants needed. He's made the easy plays look easy and the difficult plays look routine. You've probably seen the spectacular diving play he made in Houston on a pop-up after Sandoval tried to catch the ball, missed, but deflected the ball in the air toward Crawford.
Then there's this nifty double play Crawford pulled off Monday in the Giants' game against the Diamondbacks.
And there are many more like that.
Crawford's improved defense was key for the Giants in July, when Sandoval hit the disabled list with a hamstring strain. Arias filled in at third, then he was replaced by Scutaro. When Sandoval returned, Scutaro shifted to second. Now he and Crawford turn double plays like they've been doing it together for years, not weeks. That defensive combination is critical in the later innings, as the Giants relievers most likely to pitch in the eighth and ninth innings -- Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo -- are ground ball pitchers.
Would the Giants be a better team if Cabrera were still playing? Almost certainly. But in terms of offensive production, the Giants have hardly skipped a beat since he's been gone. Everyone has contributed and each game brings a new offensive hero. If the Giants continue to get consistent production throughout the lineup, they'll likely be NL West champions and October-bound.
Latest chapter in Dodgers-Giants rivalry.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
SAN FRANCISCO -- A blue-and-white beach ball made a brief appearance at AT&T Park on Saturday. The intruder bounced once before being immediately greeted with a wave of boos and then quickly confiscated. One fan held the ball while another applied a sharp object, and that was that.
They don't do beach balls or the wave in San Francisco. Both are viewed here as part of the party platform of the enemy.
Republicans and Democrats. The Hatfields and the McCoys. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants.
Mike Krukow has pitched for the Giants, first on the mound and now in the broadcast booth. But he grew up in Southern California as a Dodgers fan, and he talked about how his goal as a young player was to have his name used in a Vin Scully broadcast. As he prepared to throw his first inning at Dodger Stadium, then as a member of the Cubs, he heard Scully's voice play on the word "Krukow" through the transistor radios held in the stands. "It was surreal," Krukow said.
He and fellow broadcaster Duane Kuiper love to sit with Scully and listen to his memories. "It's like story time for two 12-year-olds," Krukow said.
Scully shared with them a moment from the days when he was preparing to broadcast a Dodgers-Giants game in the Polo Grounds. The clubhouses for the home and visiting teams were beyond center field in that park, and Scully stepped into the visitors clubhouse and started walking down the stairs into the room -- those same stairs that Ralph Branca lay across after giving up Bobby Thomson's home run to end the 1951 season -- when he noticed only two players remained in the room, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.
The two Dodgers knew from experience that the Giants fans would greet them with boos as they stepped out the clubhouse door, and they debated who would draw the nastiest response. Reese stepped out first, and the boos were extraordinary. Then Robinson stepped toward the door and extended his bat so that the bat was the only thing the fans saw, and the mere appearance of his bat was booed. Robinson looked at Scully and laughed, with his high-pitched laugh, and then he stepped into the vortex of the rivalry, again.
This weekend, the rivalry really means something.
The Dodgers are trying to find their footing in the aftermath of their big trade with the Boston Red Sox, and maybe Adrian Gonzalez's big triple Saturday -- the key hit in the Dodgers' 3-2 win -- will be a crossroads for them. Clayton Kershaw gets the ball against Barry Zito on "Sunday Night Baseball" with a chance to take the series. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly remembers sweeping a series in St. Louis last season, remembers how the St. Louis Cardinals were left for dead, but not long after that the Cardinals were all spraying champagne over one another.
But the Dodgers will have to play without Matt Kemp on Sunday and in the immediate future; the All-Star center fielder is having problems with his right shoulder, and the Dodgers really don't know what they'll get out of him the rest of the way. Mattingly met with Kemp the other day and told him that he appreciated him trying to tough his way through and stay in the lineup. "But it's really not helping us," Mattingly said.
So the Dodgers will have to rely on Gonzalez at a time when teammates say his swing is coming around, and on Andre Ethier, who began choking up on the bat a couple of weeks ago because of a blister in his palm and has come to feel comfortable with that, liking the bat control.
This has felt like a big series, with the Dodgers barely hanging on in the NL West race and trying to gain ground in the wild-card race. But it's Dodgers-Giants, for starters, and that's always going to feel big, beach balls or not.
The Dodgers served notice Saturday that they're still alive, Henry Schulman writes. Pablo Sandoval was really aggressive, swinging at the first pitch in each of his four at-bats.
Kemp hopes to be back Tuesday. From Dylan Hernandez's story:
Based on the results of an MRI exam he underwent Saturday, Kemp was optimistic he would cease being an observer Tuesday for the opening game of a three-game series in Arizona.
The exam revealed bruising and inflammation, which trainer Sue Falsone said was expected. The theory of the team's medical staff is that Kemp jammed his shoulder when he used his left arm to cover his face as he ran into center field wall in Colorado on Aug. 28.
Kemp also has some minor labrum damage.
"In any baseball shoulder, it's always a little bit messed up," Falsone said. "He has a little bit of fraying. We feel like the issue is really coming from the inflammation in the back part of the shoulder."
To treat the inflammation, Kemp was administered a shot of cortisone.
• Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said recently that the entire organization would be under evaluation after what has been a disastrous season. Sources say that there is a growing expectation within the organization that longtime executive Larry Beinfest -- widely respected within the sport for his work -- will lose power, and that Dan Jennings will gain influence and become the dominant advisory voice for Loria. A remaining question is whether Beinfest will be fired outright or simply lose the biggest chair at the table when decisions are made. Sources expect there will be at least three other major changes as well.
• The Milwaukee Brewers are surging in a big way; they're now just five games behind in the wild-card race, Tom Haudricourt writes. John Axford has converted nine straight save chances.
• The Baltimore Orioles won a ballgame but lost right fielder Nick Markakis for the rest of the regular season, a huge blow. The New York Yankees missed a chance to distance themselves from the Orioles. The two teams will be playing for first place Sunday, and the Yankees almost certainly will be without Mark Teixeira, who reinjured his calf and then ripped into the umpires.
Crew chief Mike Winters said the instant replay of the disputed final call was inconclusive; the picture in the New York Daily News was pretty conclusive.
Blaming umps is loser talk, writes Joel Sherman.
Markakis knew his thumb was broken.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Markakis' 2012 season (first half/second half)
>>T-7th best mark in AL since All-Star break
It's worth repeating: While the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays have six games remaining against each other -- including the three games to finish the season -- New York will close its schedule with 10 games against the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. If the Yankees can rope-a-dope it during the next two weeks and at least remain bunched with the Rays and Orioles, they would appear to have a distinct scheduling advantage down the stretch.
Andy Pettitte may be back in the rotation this week.
It's also worth repeating what was mentioned here early last week: Rival evaluators are convinced CC Sabathia is pitching through continuing elbow discomfort and wonder whether he's got a lingering issue, like a loose body or a bone spur. His pitch selection has changed markedly in recent weeks, with Sabathia going away from his slider/cutter and instead throwing more changeups.
And, as Justin Havens from ESPN Stats & Info notes, Sabathia's fastball velocity has been down since he was activated off the disabled list:
Sabathia's fastball velocity in past four starts (average mph/max mph)
Sept. 8: 91.8/93.5<<
Sept. 3: 92.9/96.0
Aug. 29: 92.0/94.4
Aug. 24: 93.7/95.4
>>Tied for lowest max fastball velocity in a start this season
More from Havens: Sabathia's fastball velocity overall this season has paled in comparison to his previous three seasons. His average fastball velocity of 92.2 this season is 1.5 mph slower than it was last season, and his max fastball velocity is down 2.4 mph (98.4 to 96.0).
The Rays lost on Saturday, although Chris Archer threw well.
But as always, the Rays are having fun, as Joe Smith writes: They playfully mocked a teammate during the club photo shoot.
• For all the Red Sox chaos, for all the toxicity of the clubhouse situation, there are good things developing on the horizon. As Tim Britton writes, Boston's farm system had a really good year, with the ascension of Will Middlebrooks and the progress of Xander Bogaerts and Matt Barnes, and the trade that allowed Boston to add Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.
But there are still 25 days of baseball and then a week of he-said/he-said remaining in what has been an inexplicably horrific season, and Boston was crushed again Saturday.
Theo Epstein deserves only a slice in the Boston blame pie, writes John Tomase, and it's a smaller piece than what belongs to ownership.
Bobby Valentine thinks the criticism of him has been driven by agendas.
• When Davey Johnson formally and finally delivered the decision to Stephen Strasburg that he's going to be shut down for the rest of the year, a source told me there was no fight, no argument. He heard the words and moved on.
He told reporters he is not happy about the decision, but this has been in the works for months, so it obviously comes as no surprise.
More from Adam Kilgore's story:
After holding his comments all season, the Nationals' ace reacted angrily to the Nationals' decision to shut him down Saturday, saying he feels fine physically and he wants to keep pitching.
"I don't know if I'm ever going to accept it, to be honest," Strasburg said. "It's something that I'm not happy about at all. That's not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don't grow up dreaming about playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It's going to be a tough one to swallow.
"All I can do is be the best teammate possible for these guys. I think everybody overlooks all the great contributions that we've had this year. I know they're going to keep going that way, and I'm going to do everything in my power to support them."
This is another challenge for the team, writes Thomas Boswell. The second guesses have started, writes Seth Berkman.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Charlie Manuel will give some playing time to a young power hitter if he's promoted this week, writes Bob Brookover.
2. The next core player the Jays need to get under contract is Colby Rasmus.
3. The Seattle Mariners added some guys to their roster.
Dings and dents
1. John Lackey threw batting practice.
2. Andrelton Simmons will rejoin the Atlanta Braves on Monday, writes David O'Brien.
NL East notes
• The Braves rolled to a win, behind Kris Medlen. Sunday, Chipper Jones will play his final game in New York.
• The Nationals mounted a comeback to win.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Bryce Harper's home run Saturday gave him 18 this season. That moved him into a tie with Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott for second-most homers in a single season as a teenager in MLB. Tony Conigliaro is first with 24.
• The New York Mets were pounded.
NL Central notes
• Jeff Samardzija finished his season on a high.
• It's going to be a stroll to the finish line for the Cincinnati Reds, who may clinch in the next 10 days. They have lost shortstop Zack Cozart to an oblique strain.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates keep losing games and continue to lose opportunities. They look back on the seven-error game as a teaching tool.
• The Cardinals lost again. Carlos Beltran was benched in the midst of a slump.
• The Houston Astros lost again; they don't have the same problems that the Reds have.
NL West notes
• The Arizona Diamondbacks ended their losing streak against the San Diego Padres.
• The Padres gave up a bunch of homers.
AL East notes
• The Jays crushed Daisuke Matsuzaka.
AL Central notes
• Justin Verlander had a really bad first inning, and the Detroit Tigers had some folks ejected. Miguel Cabrera believed he needed to be under control.
• Chris Sale held down the Kansas City Royals, and the Chicago White Sox gained ground, writes Dave van Dyck.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Sale won:
A) With seven righties in the lineup for the Royals, Sale leaned on his changeup more than usual. He threw 25 percent changeups, tied for his highest percentage this season.
B) Royals hitters swung at eight of Sale's 13 changeups (62 percent) that were out of the zone, the highest percentage against Sale this season.
C) Sale went to four three-ball counts, but he came back to strike out three of those hitters.
• The Cleveland Indians were blanked.
• Cole De Vries honored Tom Kelly in his own way.
• Bruce Chen gave up some long balls.
AL West notes
• Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar were really good for the Texas Rangers on Saturday. Profar is not afraid of the game, says Ron Washington.
• George Kottaras hit his fourth homer in five games, and the Oakland Athletics won again. Brett Anderson dominated, Joe Stiglich writes.
• The Mariners lost after a burst of early-inning runs.
• Oh, and that Trout guy was really good again, hitting a home run to start the game for the Los Angeles Angels and ending the game by robbing Prince Fielder of a home run. From Landon Hall's story:
The bookended plays left his teammates shaking their heads in awe. What do you say when a 21-year-old rookie continues to amaze the senses, again and again?
"I've ended the game diving in the gap, making plays, sliding in the gap. But to hit a home run at the beginning of the game, and then end it robbing a home run, that's pretty impressive," Torii Hunter said. "That's fun. Man, I have chills going down my back. This guy is fun to watch."
At his current pace, Trout will finish his first regular season with these numbers: 139 games, 186 hits, 60 walks, 133 runs, 66 extra-base hits, 31 homers, 52 stolen bases.
Trout wasn't called up until the last days of April, of course. If he had had a full season -- let's say 158 games -- this is what he would've accomplished at his current pace: 212 hits, 68 walks, 151 runs, 75 extra-base hits, 35 homers, 60 stolen bases.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Trout led off the first inning with a home run off Justin Verlander in the Angels' 6-1 win over the Tigers. The only other rookies who ever led off a game with a homer off the reigning Cy Young Award winner were Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 (twice against Pat Hentgen) and Terrence Long in 2000 (against Pedro Martinez).
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
4: Home run robberies by Mike Trout this season, which leads the league.
19: The Braves have won the past 19 games started by Kris Medlen, the longest streak for a team since the Yankees won 20 straight Roger Clemens starts in 2001.
88: Career home runs for Giancarlo Stanton, fifth-most in National League history for a player through his age 22 season.
Analyzing active players' HOF candidacies.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Alex Rodriguez anticipated a fastball from Wei-Yin Chen on Friday night and mashed it, deep into the bullpens beyond the fence in left-center field. It was the 645th homer of his career, and, before Rodriguez crossed home, Derek Jeter stepped on the plate ahead of him, the 1,885th run of Jeter's career.
Both Rodriguez and Jeter have produced numbers that are overwhelmingly worthy of the Hall of Fame -- for Rodriguez, the question of whether he'll actually get in is a separate issue -- and so have Chipper Jones, who began his last series in New York on Friday and was honored there, and Mariano Rivera, who is recovering from knee surgery. Omar Vizquel built the best parts of his résumé years ago and is in the final days and weeks of his career, as is Jim Thome, who is almost certainly a sure thing to be voted in on his first year on the ballot. Andy Pettitte has done enough to have his career mulled over, but, like Rodriguez, he'll have to overcome the PED stigma that a large number of voters are attaching to certain candidates.
There are other active players who may already have done enough to earn strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.
1. Albert Pujols
In case anybody needs reminding: He's tied for eighth all time in adjusted OPS and has 474 career homers. He had only one season before 2012 when he finished out of the top 5 in the MVP voting and has won the award three times. He's five doubles from 500 for his career, 33 runs from 1,400, and he has won two Gold Gloves. The only question -- as with Jeter and Rivera -- will be whether he will be a unanimous selection.
2. Miguel Cabrera
This is Cabrera's 10th season in the big leagues, which means he has enough service time to qualify for the Hall of Fame -- and if he never played another game, his production would be good enough, too. Easily.
He has a career OPS of .954, and his adjusted OPS ranks 30th all time, which is in the Frank Robinson-Honus Wagner neighborhood.
This is his ninth consecutive season of more than 100 RBIs, and by the time the votes are tabulated this fall, he'll have finished in the top 5 for MVP for the sixth time. He might not have 500 homers or 3,000 hits -- heck, he doesn't have 2,000 hits -- but he is like a Pedro Martinez of position players, performing at such an elite level that he wouldn't require a 15- or 18-year career to merit Hall consideration.
By the way: Cabrera doesn't turn 30 until April.
3. Roy Halladay
Baseball Reference ranks him at No. 44 all time among pitchers, right in between Don Drysdale and ****** Ford. He has finished in the top three in his league's Cy Young voting five times and has won the award twice. Soon enough, he'll have some of the cumulative numbers that will serve as sweeteners to his candidacy -- he is three victories from 200 for his career, and, if he stays healthy, he'll have 3,000 innings and probably 2,500 strikeouts. He is something of a dinosaur in his era, having led his league in complete games seven times and in innings four times. Some voters might need to see more victories and would prefer that he led his league in ERA or strikeouts at least once. But Halladay would get a vote from me if his name popped up on the ballot today.
4. Scott Rolen
His candidacy will be fascinating. Rolen has won eight Gold Gloves and might be the greatest defensive player ever at his position, and he's had some periods in his career when he's been among his league's best players. But because of injuries, he's had some drift in his career, and his cumulative numbers are really good but not overwhelming -- 2,066 hits, 314 homers, a .365 on-base percentage. Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 95th-best player of all time, behind Kenny Lofton but ahead of Mike Piazza.
The reason Piazza is such a strong candidate is because his production relative to the others who played his position was so unusual. The same could be said for Rolen's defensive production, and his offense has been pretty good, too.
By the way: Rolen has been hurting, and he was out of the starting lineup Friday.
5. David Ortiz
A player can be a superstar in stature, but that is no guarantee for induction. Ortiz is among baseball's most recognizable players, and he is greatly accomplished, with 401 homers and a leading role on two championship teams; in the span of three years, he drove in 422 runs.
But Ortiz doesn't have 2,000 hits, which is a problem because, as a designated hitter, his candidacy is built entirely upon his offensive numbers. To date, Hall of Fame numbers haven't been kind to DH candidates; Edgar Martinez, arguably the greatest DH ever, hasn't come close to induction, never polling more than 36.5 percent in his three years on the ballot.
But Ortiz's place in the game could help him and, eventually, could help Martinez, as well, as voters reassess DH candidates.
Baseball Reference offers a comparison to Pedro Guerrero.
6. Johan Santana
In the five-year window from 2004 to 2008, he was arguably the best pitcher in the majors, leading his peers in ERA+ three times and winning two ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards.
But Santana has 139 career victories and barely has 2,000 innings in the majors. Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 88th-best pitcher of all time, a couple of spots ahead of Ron Guidry, who seems like an excellent comparable to Santana. And, for all of his brilliance in the late '70s, Guidry is not in the Hall of Fame.
7. Todd Helton
His will be a wrenching candidacy. On one hand, Helton has a career .419 on-base percentage and a sturdy 2,420 hits and 354 home runs. But whenever Helton's name appears on a ballot, so much of the focus will be on his home/road splits and the question of how much he was aided by playing in Colorado -- and his OPS for home games has been almost 200 points higher than on the road. This context has really hurt the candidacy of Larry Walker, who put up great numbers in his career but hasn't reached 23 percent support in his two years on the ballot.
8. Carlos Beltran
He has 330 homers and has played an elite defensive position at an elite level, and Baseball Reference tags him as the 99th-best position player ever, right behind Manny Ramirez. I don't know whether I would vote for him if his career ended today.
9. Andruw Jones
He has 433 career homers and played on some excellent Atlanta teams, but his defense will be the backbone of his candidacy. Opposing players will talk about Jones' ability to patrol center field in the first decade of his career in the way that some might talk about Bigfoot because his range -- his incredible knack for tracking deep fly balls despite positioning himself very shallow -- was almost unbelievable. He has won 10 Gold Gloves.
But his seemingly premature decline, at about 30 years old, and his long period of regression probably is going to hurt how he is perceived by voters. I'd vote for him; I doubt that 75 percent of voters would, though, as of today.
10. Adrian Beltre
This is his 15th year in the big leagues, and he's only 33 years old, and he's quickly climbing the rankings leaderboard: 340 career homers, 2,199 hits, and he has won three Gold Gloves. Baseball Reference puts him in the neighborhood of Don Mattingly, so I don't think he'd get in today. But eventually, he'll be a slam-dunk candidate.
11. Chase Utley
He came in the same year as Cabrera, so he's barely qualified in service time for Hall of Fame consideration, and injuries have diminished him in the past couple of seasons. At his best, though, Utley was among the best second basemen we've ever seen, serving as an anchor to the best Phillies teams ever. Utley scored 470 runs in a four-year span.
But he has only 1,250 hits and still needs a couple of homers to hit 200. The guess here is that he'll fall short in voting among the writers but that there will be a time when the veterans committee strongly considers him.
Getting closer, but they need more
12. Paul Konerko (417 HRs)
13. CC Sabathia (189-100, 3.51)
14. Tim Hudson (195-102, 3.42)
Probably not, but entering the conversation
15. Torii Hunter (Nine Gold Glove Awards, almost 300 career homers; he'll be hurt by his relatively modest career average of .276.)
16. Jimmy Rollins (He just got his 2,000th hit, to go along with 1,160 runs, 398 stolen bases and three Gold Glove Awards.)
• The Yankees responded to the Orioles with some power, as David Waldstein writes. The Orioles couldn't complete a comeback, as Dan Connolly writes.
The good news for the Rays is that they won in a walk-off, from Ben Zobrist. The really bad news is that David Price has a sore shoulder.
• A rival evaluator on Mike Trout's impact: "I think he's the greatest player I've ever seen, and he's 21 years old. He's the fastest player in baseball, and he's so good at going back on the ball that his range extends over the fence. When there's a ball in the air, you're almost expecting him to go up and take it away.
"Maybe the closest thing we've seen to him is Willie Mays. Well, compare [Mays'] best year with what Trout is doing -- and remember, Trout missed the first month."
• The Pirates committed seven errors on Friday night.
• We wrote here last month about how John Farrell was a natural fit to return to the Red Sox as they begin looking for alternatives to Bobby Valentine. Farrell is doing the exact right thing in not talking about the situation, but if the Blue Jays let him go -- and why wouldn't they, if they're not sure they want to extend him beyond next season and if he's not willing to commit beyond 2013. Farrell spoke highly of some of those in the Red Sox organization he has worked with in the past. Farrell hit all the right talking points, writes Ken Fidlin. Richard Griffin writes that Farrell is in a no-lose situation.
Valentine plans to be back.
• Stephen Strasburg's next-to-last outing went very badly. From Adam Kilgore's story:
Strasburg became so concerned about letting teammates down he had trouble sleeping in recent nights, Johnson said. Strasburg still rejected the idea that anything but a poorly located fastball undid him. [Davey] Johnson sensed otherwise.
"To be honest with you, I think he was thinking too much about the decision" to end his season early, Johnson said. "And he kind of wore it… But that's the way it is. I think he wasn't focused as much on the game as he was on the impending shutdown. Just the way I read it."
The shortest start of Strasburg's season pushed his total to 159 1/3 innings. Johnson had announced Strasburg would make his final start Sept. 12 in New York against the Mets. Asked whether the short outing could change the Nationals' plans for their ace, Johnson gave a cryptic answer.
"It might," Johnson said, then he left his news conference.
• Brandon McCarthy is getting better.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Charlie Manuel is open to the possibility of coaching staff changes, writes Matt Gelb.
2. Brock Holt might remain in the Pittsburgh lineup even after Neil Walker comes back.
3. Lonnie Chisenhall is likely on his way back to the majors.
4. Jeff Samardzija is being shut down after today.
5. Avisail Garcia is going to get some more opportunities in the days ahead.
6. Justin Upton is at peace with the possibility he might be traded. There are some rival executives who fully expect Upton will be traded this winter.
Dings and dents
1. Chris Carpenter continues to make progress.
2. Starling Marte was activated off the disabled list.
The Braves racked up their third straight shutout.
Nate Schierholtz was a hero.
The Marlins apparently have the secret formula for beating up on Strasburg.
Felix Doubrant had a bad day.
The Tigers had their guts ripped out, after Max Scherzer pitched great.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Scherzer and Ervin Santana threw well against each other:
Scherzer: A) Scherzer's fastball averaged 96.2 mph, his highest velocity in the past four seasons. His previous high this season was 95.1.
B) Six of Scherzer's nine strikeouts came with his fastball.
C) Scherzer got a career-high 11 outs with his slider. The Angels put nine of Scherzer's sliders in play and didn't hit one out of the infield (seven ground balls, a popup and a line drive).
Santana: A) A season-high nine of Santana's 10 strikeouts came with his slider. Santana did not allow a hit with the pitch.
B) The Tigers swung 21 times against Santana's slider, missing on 15.
Most consecutive games with 8-plus strikeouts in the AL in live-ball era
1994: Randy Johnson -- 12
1977: Nolan Ryan -- 12
2002: Pedro Martinez -- 11
1989: Nolan Ryan -- 11
2012: Max Scherzer -- 10 (active streak)
1999: Pedro Martinez -- 9
1946: Bob Feller -- 9
The White Sox were taken down by a Royal.
A Twins rookie pitcher remains winless, writes Joe Christensen.
The Indians rallied.
The Royals have a lot of games left against contenders.
Aroldis Chapman is human.
Ryan Braun took down the Cardinals.
The Astros came up with a big-time rally.
The Giants have the opportunity to put a dagger deep into the Dodgers' hopes today and Sunday, after beating them in the series opener Friday with a timely hit from Marco Scutaro; the Giants have a 5½-game lead.
Brandon Belt was back in left field, as Henry Schulman writes.
Arizona's rally fell short.
The Rockies' four-man rotation continues to gain traction, writes Troy Renck.
Chase Headley has just been wrecking the baseball, and he mashed two homers Friday.
Derek Holland threw great, but the Rangers still lost.
An Oakland rookie went toe-to-toe with Felix, and the Athletics won.
Mike Scioscia pinch hit for Mark Trumbo, and the decision helped the Angels win, as Landon Hall writes.
By The Numbers
from ESPN Stats & Info
1: Career walk-off home runs for Ben Zobrist, who hit his first Friday to beat the Rangers.
3: Consecutive shutouts for the Braves, the first time they've done that since 2002.
6: Hits allowed by Stephen Strasburg on Friday, all against his fastball.
7: Errors for the Pirates on Friday, most by any team since the Braves in 2004; the Pirates hadn't committed seven errors in a game since 1985.
Votto's return puts pressure on Baker.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Joey Votto has been activated, and he is expected to be back in the lineup tonight.
He is not completely healthy and does not expect to be for the rest of this season, but Votto is still regarded as one of the league's best pure hitters -- maybe the best -- and is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He's going to play.
Which means that manager Dusty Baker is going to be making some really excruciating choices about who else plays and about where they'll hit in his lineup.
In early July, before Votto had knee surgery, the Reds' pre-trade deadline focus was on adding somebody who could hit in the middle of their lineup, like San Diego's Carlos Quentin. Their thought at that time was that this might allow Brandon Phillips to hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup, where the Reds had gotten very little production.
But when Votto went down, Cincinnati went into emergency mode, with Todd Frazier becoming his primary fill-in and Ryan Ludwick -- who started swinging the bat well in late June -- becoming entrenched in the middle of the order.
Frazier has had 180 at-bats in Votto's absence, batting .279 with eight homers, 30 RBIs and 13 walks; he has an .880 OPS in the games in which he's started at first base this season and is hitting .315 against left-handed pitching, while building a strong résumé for NL Rookie of the Year. He's had just 16 at-bats this season while starting as an outfielder.
Ludwick is now a rock in the Reds' lineup, having posted the fourth-highest OPS in the majors since the All-Star break. Scott Rolen -- whose average had been below .200 in the first half of the season -- had a .425 on-base percentage in August, with more walks (10) than strikeouts (nine).
Rolen has nine errors this season, but he is still one of the better third basemen in the league, and he is a highly respected and experienced player. Baker has said that Rolen told him, in so many words, do what you need to do -- in other words, play the guys you think should play.
Really, this should be viewed as a great situation. While teams like the New York Yankees are scrambling for alternatives because of late-season injuries, Baker has an array of really good options at his disposal. With Votto back, Cincinnati's lineup has more balance against right-handed pitchers, and when opponents start lefties, Baker has the option of stacking some right-handed hitters. If Baker's starting pitchers generate lots of ground balls -- and Johnny Cueto has produced the highest ratio of grounders out of all the Cincinnati starters -- he could go with Rolen at third base.
Phillips is hitting .296 with a .333 on-base percentage, and his move back to the top of the lineup should be a plus, considering that Cincinnati's leadoff hitters rank dead last in the majors in OPS this season.
With the emergence of Ludwick and Frazier, the Reds are a deep team with a good rotation and a wealth of strong bullpen options. Because of that depth and Cincinnati's huge lead in the NL Central, Baker will be able to properly rest his every-day guys down the stretch. If Rolen's surgically repaired left shoulder nags at him, well, Baker could give him days off, as needed. This should all be good.
But Baker is going to have to sit somebody, whether it be the very popular Frazier, the blistering-hot Ludwick, or his most experienced player in Rolen -- really tough choices that will carry over into the postseason.
Baker's contract is set to expire after this season, making his choices more vulnerable to second-guessing. Even at the end of what has been a spectacular season for the Reds, their manager's choices will be under greater focus than ever.
With Votto back, Baker's lineup choices -- already greatly scrutinized in Cincinnati -- will draw even more attention, writes Paul Daugherty.
The Reds won again on Tuesday, reducing their magic number for clinching the NL Central to 18. Jay Bruce is an MVP candidate, writes Hal McCoy.
• The Yankees' 10-game lead has disappeared. Like one of those NASCAR races filled with caution flags, the AL East has been officially reduced to a four-week sprint between the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles -- who blew out the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday to move into a tie for first place.
From David Waldstein's story:
"We're going to start from zero now," said Robinson Cano, who produced the only Yankee runs with a two-run homer in the first inning. "We are going to keep playing hard and forget about what happened the past few weeks, and focus on the game."
On July 18, the Yankees had built a seemingly insurmountable 10-game lead, but Tuesday's defeat was their 10th in their last 14 games, and it guaranteed a third consecutive series loss against a divisional opponent.
Until now there had been no visible signs of frustration during the slide, no indication that panic had seeped into the clubhouse or on the field. But during this game Manager Joe Girardi got into a fiery exchange with the plate umpire Tony Randazzo after he was ejected, and the hitting coach Kevin Long acknowledged that the burden was mounting on his struggling hitters.
"There's some pressure, obviously," he said. "We had a 10-game lead and it's down to zero. There's some added pressure, and guys are probably trying to do too much. We've got to come out of it and start playing some better baseball, not just offensively, but altogether."
Here's the Girardi ejection, which does seem like an overreaction on the part of the manager.
In theory, the Yankees' advantage is their offense. For the Orioles, it's their moxie, their confidence, which has become a tangible factor in the eyes of opponents. For the Rays, it's their pitching.
The doubts are beginning to creep in for the Yankees, writes John Harper. Mark Teixeira hopes to be back this weekend.
Buck Showalter says he isn't analyzing the Orioles' success. Alex Cobb has been on a roll for the Rays. This is now a pennant race, writes Martin Fennelly.
• The good news is that the Los Angeles Angels won again on Tuesday, behind Zack Greinke. The bad news is that Jered Weaver has a sore shoulder.
• In the midst of the St. Louis victory, Matt Holliday was removed because of lower back issues, as Derrick Goold writes.
• A blown call was crucial in the Phillies' loss to Cincinnati.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Information
5: According to Elias, the number of players in MLB history to post consecutive 30-HR seasons before their 23rd birthday: Giancarlo Stanton (joined Tuesday), Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Eddie Mathews and Jimmie Foxx.
6: Home runs hit by the Nationals on Tuesday, a season high. The Nats' offense is averaging 7.4 runs per game in their last seven games, a stretch in which they've gone 6-1.
89: Number of days since the Orioles were last in first place (June 7, tied with Rays for first in AL East), a stretch that ended with their win, and the Yankees' loss, on Tuesday.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed a draft pick, as mentioned within this piece.
2. The Boston Red Sox should take a run at John Farrell, writes Rob Bradford. The Red Sox need to end this circus now and fire Bobby Valentine immediately, writes Bill Reynolds.
3. Avisail Garcia is going to get more playing time against lefties, says Jim Leyland.
4. Wil Myers was named Minor League Player of the Year.
5. A Miami Marlins pitcher had a change of plans.
6. There have been some emotional first-time call-ups within the Mariners' organization, writes Larry Larue.
Dings and dents
1. Chris Carpenter continues to make progress.
2. The Los Angeles Dodgers believe they'll have Kenley Jansen back in their bullpen by the end of the month.
AL East notes
• The Red Sox ended their losing streak.
• The Rogers Centre roof didn't work, which kind of says it all.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Zach Britton beat Toronto:
A. Once again, Britton's slider was unhittable. Blue Jays hitters were 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with his slider. Opponents are 0-for-20 with 13 strikeouts against Britton's slider in his last four starts.
B. Britton used his slider as a put-away pitch. Six of his seven outs with his slider came with two strikes; three of those outs came on sliders in the zone and three out of the zone.
C. Britton worked his fastballs (two/four-seam) down in the zone. He threw 60 percent of his fastballs down in the zone, the second-highest percentage in his career. Nine of the 13 balls in play against his fastballs were on the ground.
AL Central notes
• Rick Porcello got little run support again.
• The Chicago White Sox were rocked.
• The Cleveland Indians dented a contender again.
• Jeremy Guthrie had yet another strong outing for the Kansas City Royals.
• Once again, the Minnesota Twins put up a bunch of runs for Scott Diamond, writes La Velle Neal.
AL West notes
• Matt Harrison couldn't put away the Royals.
• The Oakland Athletics have stumbled the last couple of days, and after today, they play 17 of their next 20 on the road.
NL East notes
• The Washington Nationals launched a bunch of homers, as James Wagner writes.
• The Atlanta Braves were crushed.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Jimmy Rollins became the fourth player with at least 2,000 hits, 350 stolen bases and 150 home runs for one team. The other three players are Craig Biggio for the Astros, Barry Larkin for the Reds and Paul Molitor for the Brewers. Rollins, Biggio and Larkin all played their entire career for one team, while Molitor played 15 years for the Brewers before ending his career with the Blue Jays and Twins.
NL Central notes
• Andrew McCutchen had four hits, and the Pirates rolled over the Houston Astros. For the contenders, the games against Houston must feel like must-win situations -- because each defeat is an opportunity lost.
• The Pirates need more of this type of thing from McCutchen, writes Dejan Kovacevic.
• A bench surge powered the Milwaukee Brewers, writes Tom Haudricourt.
• The Astros lost again, and they have to be concerned about lagging fan support, writes Zachary Levine.
NL West notes
• San Francisco's clubhouse was really quiet after Tuesday's game, writes Henry Schulman.
• Aaron Hill leveled the Giants.
• The San Diego Padres rallied for a nice win, writes Bill Center.
• The Colorado Rockies played some stellar defense, writes Troy Renck.