Reds' offense could be an issue.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After finishing third in the National League Central a year ago, the Cincinnati Reds are the division champions in 2012 and are poised to make a run at the National League pennant.
Unlike the 2010 division-winning Reds, this Cincinnati team has built its record using a different formula. The 2010 team finished 91-71, driven mostly by a prolific offense and run prevention that rated better than league average. The 2012 version has been the exact opposite: elite run prevention combined with a roughly league-average offense.
The run prevention is a product of management spending the offseason improving what was a lackluster pitching staff. Meanwhile, outside of signing Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati didn't do much to improve its offense. To be fair, the Reds did rank second in the NL in runs last season. But as we've seen this season, an offense tied too much to one player can hit lulls, and the Reds have to wonder if that will cost them in the postseason.
To improve its pitching staff, Cincinnati sent Edinson Volquez and a number of prospects (some prominent) to the San Diego Padres last winter in return for then-23-year-old Mat Latos.The Reds also addressed the bullpen by signing former Philadelphia Phillies closer Ryan Madson and trading for the Cubs' Sean Marshall. Despite losing Madson for the season to a torn elbow ligament, the net result of these moves -- combined with the Reds' fielding strength -- has been the third-ranked league- and park-adjusted ERA in baseball.
The Reds extended their two best position players in first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips, but other than adding the aforementioned Ludwick, the offense remained mostly the same. And unfortunately, the offense simply hasn't been there this year, ranking ninth in the NL in runs.
As a team, the Reds are generating a shade fewer than 4.3 runs per game, fewer than the 4.5 runs produced last season and more than half a run fewer than their 2010 output. Given that the team plays in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, the lack of run generation is even more concerning. Using FanGraphs' weighted runs created plus (wRC+) -- an overall offensive metric that adjusts for league and home park -- the Reds' offense has been 5 percent worse than league average this year.
For one thing, the team generally doesn't do a good job of getting on base. The Reds currently rank 10th in OBP in the National League. Out of the six teams currently in the mix for playoff spots in the NL, the Reds rank fifth in OBP. To put these numbers in perspective, Votto has an OBP of .472 in 426 plate appearances this year, but no other Red with more than 200 plate appearances has an OBP better than .350.
While there are definitely holes in Cincinnati's lineup, the Reds have not helped matters based on the order they have gone with for most of the season. Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs manned the first and second spots in the lineup more than 50 percent of the time -- and 64 percent of the time from April 18 to Sept. 3 -- despite the fact that neither has been remotely serviceable in terms of getting on base. Both players sport an OBP of .284 -- tied for fourth-worst in all of baseball among hitters who have qualified for the batting title. No other team in baseball has featured a worse combination of 1- and 2-hole hitters.
This decision hasn't helped the Reds' run scoring. Just take a look at Votto. According to data from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, Votto currently ranks 26th among No. 3 hitters in the league this year in percentage of plate appearances with runners on base at 43.5 percent -- the worst for any National League playoff contender. Given that Votto is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, getting him to the plate with runners on base should be a priority.
In 2012, Votto has a wRC+ of 161 with the bases empty, compared to 204 with men on base and 226 with men in scoring position (best in the league). Part of that is due to Votto's walking more with runners on, but in at-bats in which he puts the ball in play, his isolated power is significantly higher with runners on (.331) than when the bases are empty (.180). Bottom line: For the Reds to make a run in October, they need to get runners on ahead of their most dangerous hitter. So far this season, they haven't done that.
To be fair, lineup construction has a limited impact on run scoring over the course of a full season. However, in the playoffs, giving your best hitters as many opportunities with runners on base is key. That's hard to do if the likes of Cozart and Stubbs are asked to get on base when facing quality pitching every day in October. Since Sept. 5, Phillips has manned the leadoff spot because of a strained oblique that has sidelined Cozart. Phillips could be an upgrade (a lifetime .327 OBP as a leadoff hitter), but so far this year, he's managed only a .244 OBP in the leadoff spot.
The Reds don't have a lot of options for improving their offense at this point in the season. However, one thing they do have control of is who bats where. In order to maximize their chances of scoring in the playoffs, the Reds may want to consider a shake-up at the top of the lineup. They need to try something, or else their entire postseason hopes could depend solely on the success of their pitching staff.
The fuel for Baltimore's success.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Buck Showalter will make his way around the field during batting practice before games, and while he'll talk to a lot of players along the way, his primary mission, he says, is to get a read on how his relievers are feeling, how their arms are feeling. He spends more time on bullpen management, he believes, than on any other element of his job.
Showalter has learned so much in these conversations through the years, pieces of information that he holds on to as managerial keepsakes. Like when Steve Farr and Steve Howe explained to him how difficult it is for a reliever to generate adrenaline by the third time he gets up in the bullpen during the game, and the toll it takes on a reliever to throw a lot of pitches warming up repeatedly.
The Baltimore Orioles are in contention in late September for the first time in 15 years, and a primary reason is how Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair have run their bullpen through a season of extraordinary stress. If Showalter wins American League Manager of the Year, this should be why.
Because of injury and performance, the Orioles' rotation has been in a state of flux the entire season. This is not the Baltimore of Palmer, Cuellar, McNally and Dobson: Only one pitcher has made more than 20 starts this season.
As a result, the Orioles' bullpen has been asked to carry an enormous burden. Only three teams have generated more relief innings than Baltimore -- Colorado, which skewed its bullpen numbers when it went to a four-man rotation; and the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, teams that have had horrific seasons from their respective rotations.
The Orioles' bullpen has amassed 517 innings this year, or about 100 innings more than the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers or Detroit Tigers.
Yet the Orioles' bullpen has been incredibly effective, partly because Showalter and Adair have been remarkably efficient in getting regular rest for their relievers in spite of the heavy overall use. Baltimore, for example, had used its relievers on back-to-back days among the fewest times in the American League this year going into this weekend's series.
The most situations using relievers on consecutive days, according to the research of Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information:
1. Tampa Bay Rays, 115
2. Yankees, 109
3. Royals, 102
4. Chicago White Sox, 101
5. Tigers, 96
6. Cleveland Indians, 87
7. Boston Red Sox, 84
7. Seattle Mariners, 84
9. Los Angeles Angels, 83
10. Orioles, 82
11. Rangers, 81
12. Twins, 78
13. Oakland Athletics, 73
14. Toronto Blue Jays, 72
Adair and Showalter monitor the number of times relievers get up in the bullpen and how many pitches they throw in that time. Showalter tries not to use a reliever the day after he's warmed up twice in the bullpen in the same game.
Showalter also works to minimize the number of times he gets a reliever up in the bullpen, doing so only in specific situations in which he envisions using the reliever -- rather than simply creating some comfort for himself by maximizing his options and getting two relievers up constantly.
Showalter says he learned about running a bullpen from talking with players about what worked best for them, about how they felt they had the best chance to be effective.
"Like Steve Farr and Steve Howe told me -- when the bullpen phone rings, there's an adrenaline flow," he recalled. "If you don't go into the game after warming up the first time, you can probably get that adrenaline back one more time. But you can't a third time."
Showalter liked to watch how Tony La Russa used his bullpen, in minimizing the number of times a pitcher would throw in the bullpen during the course of a game and a season.
Jim Johnson, the Orioles reliever who is approaching 50 saves this season, said over the phone the other day, "Every bullet matters. You only get so many in your career, and only so many in your season.
"He'll talk to guys during batting practice, and he'll get a feel for how ready they are. And he'll do that without asking them a direct question" about whether they can take the ball that day.
Managers in the game today routinely ask two relievers to get up at a time without having a definite sense of how and when they'll be employed, and there have been cases around baseball this year of relievers being asked to warm up during a single game a half-dozen times.
If you ever want to get a true sense of how a manager controls his own anxiety level, watch the way he uses his bullpen.
It's pretty clear that Showalter and Adair have been extremely disciplined in how and when they have used their relievers, and it has translated directly into performance in the Baltimore bullpen.
From ESPN Stats & Info: How the Orioles' bullpen has pitched this season by number of days between appearances.
0 days: 82 appearances, 2.10 ERA, .224 opp. BA
1 day: 117 appearances, 2.56 ERA, .235 opp. BA
2 days: 106 appearances, 2.34 ERA, .210 opp. BA
For the sake of comparison, how those Baltimore bullpen numbers compare to the MLB average:
0 days: 3.54 ERA, .243 opp. BA
1 day: 3.78 ERA, .249 opp. BA
2 days: 3.43 ERA, .237 opp. BA
"You've got to put yourself in their shoes," Showalter said of his relievers, "and think about what puts them in the best position to succeed."
The Orioles' bullpen won in extra innings again on Saturday. From Elias Sports Bureau:
A) The Orioles have won 16 straight extra-inning games, the second-longest single-season streak in MLB history behind the 1949 Indians (17 straight).
B) The Orioles' 16 wins in extra innings are the most for a team in a single season since the Braves won 17 in 1999.
C) The Orioles have 11 road extra-inning wins, tied with the 1999 Braves for the most in a single season since 1901.
From Elias: The Orioles have played four extra-innings games at Fenway Park this season, and they've won them all. They are the seventh team in major league history to record four extra-innings road wins against one team in a single season and the first since the 1975 Red Sox had four such wins at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The other clubs with four extra-innings road wins in one year against a particular opponent were the 1920 Pirates (at St. Louis), 1921 St. Louis Browns (at Detroit), 1955 Cubs (at St. Louis), 1964 Kansas City Athletics (at Minnesota) and 1969 Twins (at Oakland).
• Arte Moreno says flatly that Mike Scioscia will be back as manager next season.
• The Cincinnati Reds are playing with a whole lot of confidence as they prepare for the postseason, and Mat Latos is throwing well. How he beat the Dodgers on Saturday, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
A) Latos threw 53 of his 67 fastballs (79 percent) for strikes, his highest percentage in his career.
B) Latos pounded the zone with his fastball. He threw 47 of his 67 fastballs (70 percent) in the strike zone. Of the 20 that were out of the zone, 15 were within five inches of the edge of the zone.
C) Latos' fastballs averaged 93.5 mph, his highest in his past 10 starts.
D) Six of Latos' seven strikeouts came on his breaking balls (two curveballs, four sliders). It's just the third time this season Latos had at least two strikeouts on each of those pitches.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
1 2/3: IP by Roy Halladay on Saturday (second-shortest outing of career)
26: Homers by Wilin Rosario this season, setting the Rockies rookie record previously held by Todd Helton
500: Career doubles by Albert Pujols (most by a player in his first 12 seasons).
From Elias: Gio Gonzalez (20-
is the sixth pitcher in National League history to win 20 games in his first season in the NL after pitching in the American League. The others:
George Suggs: 1910 Reds
Carl Mays: 1924 Reds
Al Downing: 1971 Dodgers
Danny Jackson: 1988 Reds
Roy Halladay: 2010 Phillies
The trouble with the Cabrera decision.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Within seconds of the news breaking from Andrew Baggarly that Melky Cabrera had voluntarily withdrawn himself from the NL batting title race, with administrative aid from the MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball, I received dozens of tweets asking the questions that naturally followed the announcement:
Will the National League give up the home-field advantage in the World Series?
Will the Giants give up some victories?
Will Barry Bonds give up his single-season home run title so Roger Maris can be restored as the record holder?
Etc., etc. Which is why I think that, ultimately, the decision by the players' association to pave the way for Cabrera to vacate any claim to the award will open a Pandora's box that will never be closed. Ultimately, to foster this will turn out to be a mistake.
I think it would've been better for the powers that be to tell Cabrera: Look, the batting title is a statistical standard in place for years, and if you want to return the trophy at year's end, go ahead and do it.
Imagine if this hypothetical occurred this fall: Star pitcher Fred Jones leads the Illinois Ambers to the World Series title by winning all three of his starts, for which he is named as the World Series MVP -- and then, two months later, he is suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. The Cabrera decision would tee up extraordinary pressure on the player to vacate his awards, and on his team or the commissioner to alter the outcome of the results.
Michael Weiner, head of the MLBPA, spoke over the phone Friday afternoon and flatly disagreed with that. "I don't think it sets a bad precedent," Weiner said. "A player was involved in a very bad situation … and he felt that winning a batting title is an empty gesture.
"I don't think it puts pressure on other players. I think it was the right thing for him to do. I don't see it as a precedent for other players."
I agree that it was a good gesture by Cabrera to give up his chance at the batting title; he is being accountable in a way he was not in the first days after he tested positive.
I just don't think it's a good idea for the people in power to officially sanction the move. Inevitably, others will face greater scrutiny and pressure because of this decision.
Melky Cabrera did the right thing, writes Bob Klapisch.
Within this Nick Piecoro notebook, Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler -- who is active in the union -- addressed the decision. From the story:
"It's that way in the NFL," Ziegler said. "If you get a drug suspension in the NFL, you can't be in the Pro Bowl, can't be eligible for postseason awards.
"To me, that makes sense. Because it feels like any positive accomplishments you achieved while taking the drug, you don't know what could have happened with it."
Andrew McCutchen still has a chance at the NL batting title, as Michael Sanserino writes.
• Sources say commissioner Bud Selig has been quietly putting together club votes in support of the Athletics' desired move to San Jose. Once that happens, Major League Baseball will be in a better position to push the Giants to make their best financial deal to hand over territorial rights to Lew Wolff's franchise.
• Josh Hamilton is out of sorts and will miss more games.
• On Friday, it felt as if those last crazy moments of the 2011 season were happening all over again. The St. Louis Cardinals came within a strike of a 4-2 win over the Cubs -- until Darwin Barney changed everything in that game with one swing. Then, about four hours later, the Brewers were on the verge of being beaten by the Nationals, until Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez got huge hits.
The Brewers wake up this morning just 1½ games behind the Cardinals, and it's worth remembering that, in the last week of the season, the Brewers will be at home to play the Astros and the Padres. San Diego is a tough team, but no matter: The Brewers have one of the best home-field advantages in the majors with their passionate following.
Chris Carpenter was really good in his return, but the Cardinals had ½their guts ripped out. This might've been the Cardinals' worst loss of the season, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• CC Sabathia had labored so much recently that it was unclear whether he was capable of having a dominant outing again this season -- until his start Friday, when he completely shut down the Athletics. Russell Martin won the game for the Yankees in the 10th inning. Sabathia pitched like an ace, writes John Harper, and, bit by bit, the Yankees' rotation is falling into place.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Sabathia pitched against the Athletics:
A) The Athletics were 0-for-7 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with Sabathia's slider.
B) Sabathia threw a season-high 52 pitches inside Friday, with the Athletics going 1-for-10 with three strikeouts.
C) Sabathia threw a season-low two pitches with runners in scoring position, and the Athletics did not have a runner reach scoring position until the eighth inning.
Sabathia struck out seven Athletics hitters with his slider Friday, allowing him to extend his major league lead to 123. Sabathia is tied with Chris Sale for most games this season (five) with at least seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with the slider.
Sabathia has 14 games with at least 10 strikeouts as a Yankee, tied with ****** Ford for the fourth most by a Yankee in the live ball era. Ron Guidry (23), David Cone (21) and Al Downing (17) rank ahead of them.
• Chipper Jones' final game could be the play-in wild-card game, and he calls the concept stupid.
By The Numbers
from ESPN Stats & Info
3: Walk-off wins for the Yankees after Martin's 10th-inning HR against the Athletics, tied for fewest in the AL.
5: Games this season when Sabathia has struck out at least seven with his slider, tied for the MLB lead.
11: Strikeouts for Ervin Santana, tying a career high.
44: Come-from-behind wins for the Brewers this season, tops in the majors.
1,275: Strikeouts for the Rays' pitching staff this season, the most by a pitching staff in AL history.
The Orioles took yet another step toward a playoff berth.
Jim Johnson recorded his 46th save for the Orioles this season, setting a franchise record.
The Rays aren't dead yet; they've won three in a row.
Most strikeouts by team pitching staff, AL history:
2012 Rays -- 1,275 (11 K's Friday versus Jays)
2001 Yankees -- 1,266
2009 Yankees -- 1,260
2001 Red Sox -- 1,259
2009 Red Sox -- 1,230
Jon Lester lost to a team he had never lost to before.
Yunel Escobar got into a game as a pinch hitter.
Tyler Clippard blew the save chance against the Brewers. This is the most significant question about the Nationals as they head into the postseason: How well will their bullpen fare against elite teams?
Along the way, Bryce Harper made an incredible throw.
Tommy Hanson was hit hard.
The Phillies are hanging in there in the race for the second wild-card spot.
The Mets snapped their losing streak, and, along the way, Terry Collins yanked a player off the field for not hustling.
Rain muddled the pitching plans of the Tigers.
The White Sox lost, racking up a whole bunch of strikeouts. And their lead in the AL Central is down to a game in the loss column.
Luis Mendoza shut down the Indians.
The ingredients were different, writes Paul Hoynes, but the results were the same: Cleveland lost.
The Pirates had a terrible game.
The Reds missed a chance to clinch Friday. Cincinnati is still without its manager.
Darwin Barney and David DeJesus put some hurt on the Cardinals.
Jed Lowrie got a big hit.
Ervin Santana was "the man" for the Angels, and he got a lot of help from Mike Trout, as Mike DiGiovanna writes.
Oakland rallied, but lost.
Martin Perez came up short.
The Mariners ended their four-game losing streak.
The Dodgers aren't dead yet, and Matt Kemp got a big hit for them.
Ryan Vogelsong had a really strong outing.
The Diamondbacks went off on the Rockies.
Colorado fizzled in front of a big crowd, writes Patrick Saunders.
Chase Headley clubbed his 29th homer.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ozzie Guillen laughed off the issue of whether he's going to be fired.
I wrote about this last week; at this point, it'd be a surprise if he were to be retained. Significant issues for the Marlins are what they perceive as a disconnect between Guillen and the community -- a relationship they had hoped to be a strength -- and between Guillen and his players.
There will not be major changes in the front office, writes Juan Rodriguez.
2. Nothing is certain about Mike Scioscia's future, writes Jeff Miller. From his piece:
It will be an interesting final week and a half around here. Only then, if the Angels do miss the playoffs, could things get really interesting.
Our guess? Scioscia will be given one more season, with a shaken-up coaching staff and even higher expectations.
Just imagine how sensitive he'll be then.
3. Buster Posey was honored.
4. Mike Rutsey thinks Jake Peavy could be an offseason match for the Jays. It's an interesting thought, but unless the Jays took big strides this offseason, I'd have my doubts about whether Peavy would sign there. He has already made a lot of money and will want to go someplace where he strongly feels he can win.
Rutsey also mentions Francisco Liriano -- and I think that could be a good fit for the Jays.
5. The Astros might pick their manager Monday. Brad Ausmus pulled his name out of the running.
Dings and dents
1. Justin Upton is healing.
2. Carlos Gonzalez is dealing with a nasty hamstring issue.
3. Robert Andino was beaned.
The Orioles' extra-inning formula.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When Chris Davis singled in a pair of runners that sent the Baltimore Orioles' game with the Seattle Mariners into the 10th inning on Tuesday, the Orioles had to believe they would come out on top. After all, they had won their previous 13 games that went extra innings.
Taylor Teagarden hit an RBI single in the top of the 18th inning, and the Orioles were a half-inning away from a tie with the Yankees atop the AL East standings.
In the bottom half, closer Jim Johnson got a pair of quick outs. He fell behind the next batter, Mike Carp, 3-1 and then caught a lot of the plate with his fastball. Carp drilled a hard grounder up the middle. Johnson had little time to react, but he threw his glove down behind his back and made contact. It took Johnson a second to realize where he had deflected the ball, but he never panicked. Instead, he jogged over to the ball, picked it up and threw a strike to first base to end the game.
The next night, the Orioles, again, found themselves in extra innings, and Adam Jones gave them the lead with a two-run homer in the top of the 11th. And, again, the Orioles closed out the win in the bottom half of the inning with a nice defensive play, this time from Mark Reynolds, who started a nifty 3-6-1 double play.
As you've probably heard, the Orioles have the best record (15-2) in the majors in extra-inning games, and much of their success in such games can be attributed to their defense after the ninth.
Baseball Info Solutions tracks a pair of statistics called Good Fielding Plays (GFPs) and Defensive Misplays and Errors (DMEs). The former represents defensive plays in which the fielder makes a play that a typical fielder might not have made, the latter represents defensive plays in which either an error is charged or a fielder otherwise makes a mistake that a typical fielder might have avoided. Examples include failing to hit the cutoff man and failing to cover first base as a pitcher on a ball grounded to the right side of the infield.
These players have made the most good fielding plays in extra innings this season.
Team Player Extra-Inning GFP
OAK Eric Sogard 9
BAL Robert Andino 7
OAK Jemile Weeks 7
BAL Mark Reynolds 6
BAL J.J. Hardy 5
OAK Brandon Inge 5
OAK Brandon Moss 5
OAK Chris Carter 4
OAK Coco Crisp 4
STL Jon Jay 4
For the first nine innings of games this season, Baltimore has been solid defensively. It has 427 GFPs, which is the fifth-fewest in the majors, and it has 712 DMEs, which is also the fifth-fewest in the majors. That makes for a ratio of 0.60 GFPs/DMEs, which is squarely in the middle of the pack.
In contrast, the Orioles have made 36 GFPs to only nine DMEs in extra innings, good for an outstanding 4.00 ratio, which is second-best in baseball behind only Milwaukee. It is more than double that of Oakland, the third-place team. The distance between Baltimore and the teams behind it is even greater when you compare team defense in extra innings to that in the first nine innings.
Individually, Robert Andino, Mark Reynolds and J. J. Hardy have led the charge for the Orioles in extras. Those three players have combined for 18 GFPs, which is more than 28 entire teams. (Though it should be noted that the Orioles have played more extra-inning games than any other AL team.) Oakland (9-4 in extras) is the other team with so many good plays in extra innings. In fact, the Athletics and Orioles account for nine of the 10 players with at least four GFPs in extra innings (see table), and neither team has even one player with four DMEs in extras. Those two teams have combined to go 24-6 in extra-inning games this year.
While Baltimore and Oakland have remained in the thick of the race over the past few weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays have fallen off a bit. Their situation would be dramatically different if they shared the Orioles' success in extra-inning games.
Over the first nine innings of games, the Rays have been one of the better defensive teams. They have 503 GFPs to just 684 DMEs, which is a ratio of 0.74, the best in the majors. However, in extras, the Rays have dropped off defensively. They have three GFPs to 19 DMEs, a ratio of 0.16, which is the eighth-lowest. Compared to its defense in the first nine innings of games, Tampa Bay has seen the fourth-biggest decline in extras, and it has a 5-7 record in those games to show for it.
In particular, Elliot Johnson, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist have stumbled in extra innings. All three players have three DMEs, and none have made a GFP. Pena and Zobrist are typically good defenders. This year, they have simply made poorly timed bad plays. On the other hand, Johnson has seen a drop-off in his defensive play at shortstop, his primary position, from a year ago. Last year, he saved the Rays an estimated eight runs, but this year, he has cost the Rays five runs. That difference could amount to a win or two over the course of a season.
Of course, defense is only one piece of the puzzle, and many teams have played above their heads defensively in extra innings and still have a poor record in those games. For whatever reason, the Orioles and Athletics have been able to capitalize on their improved defense in those critical situations. With so few opportunities, it is difficult to conclude that it is the result of anything more than randomness, but even if that is the case, the Orioles and Athletics have those wins. That might be the edge they need to make the playoffs.
Yu Darvish finding his form.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Rangers came out on top of the Yu Darvish versus Zack Greinke matchup at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, although both pitchers threw extremely well and the deciding runs came at the expense of an Ernesto Frieri slider that hung long enough for me to re-read "Ulysses" and, more importantly, long enough for Adrian Beltre to fall down laughing before standing up and hitting it into next week.
Darvish's approach in this game was dramatically different from what I saw live from him in March or previously with Team Japan, employing fewer pitches overall and making heavy use of a cutter that was just one of seven offerings I counted from him in spring training. His cutter does show its break a little early out of Darvish's hand, but its velocity runs right into that of his four-seamer -- 89-91 mph on the cutter, 91-96 on the fastball -- making it hard for hitters to adjust to it. But his most effective pitch by far was the one he used least often, his 80-84 slider, which he didn't throw at all until the fourth inning and started to use frequently only in the seventh and eighth, helping him punch out the last three batters he faced. Earlier in the game, he relied more on a slow curveball, mostly 65-69 but as slow as 62 at one point, with short mostly vertical break but more a way to change eye levels than miss bats outright.
Darvish now ranks third in the AL in fWAR, which is based on pitchers' peripherals (strikeout, walk and home run rates) rather than their straight ERAs. (He's less than 0.01 ahead of Chris Sale, who now sits in fourth.) Since his five-walk performance on Aug. 17, Darvish has thrown 44 innings across six starts, walking nine and fanning 52, although it's worth noting that he's faced some fairly impatient lineups in that stretch, including last night. It's still a welcome change from his earlier-season performances and I believe it's a harbinger of the kind of results we can expect to see from Darvish over the next few years.
• Greinke was nearly as impressive in stuff and just as impressive in results, even though he ended up with a no-decision (again telling us how useless pitcher wins and losses are for gauging value). Greinke was 92-95 most of his outing, touching 96 once, working effectively to both sides of the plate while staying in or near the strike zone. He threw the standard assortment of four pitches, with both the curveball and slider capable of missing bats and the changeup, while hard at 86-88, showing enough deception to keep left-handed hitters off balance. His style is much less about pure power than about minimizing mistakes, avoiding walks and keeping the ball in the park while missing enough bats to limit damage from balls in play.
• C.J. Wilson was pretty awful for the Angels the previous night, something I made light of on Twitter -- especially how much his tentative pitching style and slow pace reminded me of Daisuke Matsuzaka, one of my least favorite pitchers to scout since I started doing this for a living. Wilson was behind in the count too often and seemed happy to try to work the outer half -- or perhaps to work outside the outer half -- rather than utilizing the inner half the way Greinke does. Mike Scioscia did well to remove Wilson quickly on Wednesday night and get Jerome Williams into the game, although by that point the Rangers had scored all they would need to win. Wilson's velocity was fine, but if he can't or won't throw strikes or work to both sides of the plate, he'll continue to disappoint.
• Going back a few days, I did get to see Brandon Belt over the weekend when the Giants visited Phoenix, and as many readers have told me, Belt's swing mechanics are substantially different from where they were when he was so successful in 2010, including a very strong campaign in the Arizona Fall League. His front hip is moving forward far too early, while his hands remain well behind him, and in fact are drifting higher by his back shoulder than when he used to start his swing earlier, resulting in a near barring of his lead arm. It's not a surprise that he's been easier to beat inside with this setup and swing, nor does it shock me that he's hitting left-handers well, since what they throw will tend to move away from his vulnerability. The bigger question is why anyone would have changed his mechanics in the first place, but I've been unable to get an answer to that (or even to the question of who made the changes) this week. If he gets back to where he was in late 2010, he can still be an above-average or better regular, but I don't think he'll see that level with the way he's hitting right now.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hamilton's return uncertain
AM ETJosh Hamilton | Rangers Recommend0Comments0EmailJosh Hamilton missed the final five games of the Texas Rangers' road trip due to problems caused by sinus issues, and it remains unclear if he will be ready for a key series with the Oakland Athletics, according to an ESPNDallas.com report.
Hamilton has not played since leaving Tuesday's game in Anaheim early because of vision and equilibrium problems. "We just have to wait and see when we get to the ballpark (Monday) to see where he is symptom-wise," manager Ron Washington said.
Craig Gentry has started the last five games in center field and had a two-hit game on Sunday in Seattle.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Will Zito get an NLDS start?
AM ETBarry Zito | Giants Recommend0Comments0EmailBarry Zito, left off all three postseason rosters on the San Francisco Giants' march to the 2010 World Series title, appears to have secured roster spot for the upcoming Division Series, reports Henry Schulman.
The decision to include Zito contines a bounce-back season for the lefthander who has won 13 games, one more than in the previous two years combined. Zito (4.18 ERA) also remains in contention for a possible Game Four start behind some combination of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.
Manager Bruce Bochy must decide between Zito or Ryan Vogelsong, with the other pitcher headed to the bullpen. Vogelsong seemed to be pitching himself out of contention before tossing six strong innings Friday night. The choice could come down to how each starter performs the rest of the way.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants
Guillen's status on South Beach
AM ETMiami Marlins Recommend0Comments0EmailWill there be major changes on South Beach? The epic disappointment that is the 2012 Miami Marlins has led to all sort of speculation as to how owner Jeffrey Loria will change his last-place team.
Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel reported over the weekend that major changes to the front office are not expected -- but Ozzie Guillen's job may not be safe..
A source close to the Marlins tells Rumor Central that Guillen's return is by no means a guarantee.
There may be even more fuel added to the fire. Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post reports Loria is angry at Guillen for comments the skipper made that were critical of Loria, but exactly what Guillen said that ticked Loria off is not clear.
Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald says Loria does not intend to make any major changes to his front office staff, and Larry Beinfest' s job as president of baseball operations would appear to be safe for at least another year.
USA Today reported Thursday that Beinfest would be fired after the season.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins
Could Loney land in Tampa?
AM ETJames Loney | Red Sox Recommend0Comments0EmailJames Loney has posted mediocre numbers for Boston (.247/.281/306) since coming over in the August blockbuster with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Red Sox may consider re-signing the first baseman given the limited availability at the position.
Nick Cafardo says one team that may take a look at Loney is the Rays, who are not expected to bring back the struggling Carlos Pena.
Loney, who makes $6.4 million this season, may be in line for a multi-year deal, but teams looking for a power hitter at the position may shy away. Loney has just 72 homers and has not come close to the big numbers he put up for the Dodgers in 2007 (.331 BA).
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, James Loney
Holliday's back problem
AM ETMatt Holliday | Cardinals Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Cardinals' Matt Holliday continues to play with back discomfort that prompted manager Mike Matheny to remove his star left fielder in the late innings of back-to-back games with the Cubs.
Holliday was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a close game Sunday, leading to speculation that he could be in line for a night off. But a wild card berth is still up for grabs, so Holliday may simply play through pain.
Shane Robinson could be in line for a start if Holliday gets a rest
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
Huntington's job status
AM ETPittsburgh Pirates Recommend0Comments0EmailAnother second-half collapse has the Pittsburgh Pirates staring at a 20th straight year without postseason baseball. This time, owner Bob Nutting may not stand idly by, Dejan Kovacecic wrote last week in the Tribune Review.
GM Neal Huntington, for his part, told the Post-Gazette Sunday he plans to retain his front office team this offseason. If he is fired, Huntington hopes whoever replaces him would keep his team around.
Talking about a possible firing seems a bit odd to us, especially since any new GM would undoubtedly want to hire his own personnel.
Kovacevic believes that manager Clint Hurdle and team president Frank Coonelly will be retained, but both will have questions to answer since Nutting, who is far from a detached owner, could be looking to make changes at season's end. Hurdle, in particular, must convince ownership he is the man to avoid a third straight collapse.
- Doug Mittler
Backup SS a priority for Tribe
AM ETCleveland Indians Recommend0Comments0EmailOwners of the worst record in the American League at 63-90, the Cleveland Indians have a few holes to fill. Paul Hoynes takes it one step at a time in Sunday's Plain Dealer, noting that one need is a reliable backup at shortstop behind Asdrubal Cabrera.
Brent Lillibridge and Jason Donald had limited success in that role this season. Juan Diaz was called up for a five-game cameo in late May, but the Tribe would like to give him more minor league seasoning. The Indians won'y overspend for a backup shortstop, so look for them to pay close attention to the list of non-tendered players this winter.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
Staying the course in Anaheim
AM ETMike Scioscia | Angels Recommend0Comments0EmailForget any of that speculation that Mike Scioscia's job may be in jeopardy.
Angels owner Arte Moreno told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez Saturday night that Scioscia would return for a 14th season regardless of what happens in the team's remaining games, adding that GM Jerry Dipoto would return as well.
"Regardless of what happens the next 11 games, Mike Scioscia will 100 percent return," Moreno said. "I have told him. He wants to come back, I want him to come back. He's been the manager of the Angels for 13 years. He will be the manager of the Angels for a 14th year. Period."
The Angels set the bar for 2012 extremely high with the offseason signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but are 2 1/2 games behind Oakland for the A.L.'s second wild card. If the Halos fail to make up ground, they will miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com on Saturday described the communication between Scioscia and Dipoto as "strained," adding that their relationship "neared a breaking point" on more than one occasion.
Dipoto tells the Los Angeles Times he never felt his job was in jeopardy.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Los Angeles Angels, Mike Scioscia
Gardner may return this week
AM ETBrett Gardner | Yankees Recommend0Comments0EmailYankees outfielder Brett Gardner will take batting practice Monday and hopes to be activated in the next day or two, reports Jeff Bradley of the Star Ledger.
Gardner, who has missed all but nine games with a right elbow injury, would likely be used as a defensive replacement and a pinch-runner. Manager Joe Girardi also is leaving open the possibility of adding Gardner to any postseason roster.
The Yankees are ruling out Gardner as a pinch-hitter for now, but the outfielder wants to leave open that possibility, even if that may be too optimistic.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
Francisco done for the season?
AM ETFrank Francisco | Mets Recommend0Comments0EmailMets closer Frank Francisco has not pitched for more than a week and will miss at least a few more games with a sore elbow.
Neither Francisco nor manager Terry Collins would rule out the possibility that the reliever is done for the season, reports Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com. Francisco is 1-3 with a 5.53 ERA and 23 saves.
Jon Rauch notched the save in Saturday's 4-3 victory over Miami and should get any of the closing opportunities the rest of the way.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Frank Francisco, New York Mets
AM ETB.J. Upton | Rays Recommend0Comments0EmailB.J. Upton is likely to draw heavy interest this winter as he hits the free agent market, despite disappointing offensive production throughout his career, with few exceptions.
Upton plays good defense, runs the bases well and is young enough that some clubs may believe there's still upside at the plate. Among those expected to be in the market for a centerfielder include the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
The New York Mets could be a dark horse for Upton, as could the Miami Marlins, if they decide to spend again this winter.
The Rangers could lose Josh Hamilton, which will put them in the category of needing an outfielder, but even if Hamilton returns, Upton could remain a possibility for Texas. His presence could allow Hamilton to DH more and play an outfield corner, removing some of the workload of playing center field regularly.
The Reds could also be players for Upton, as they seek more offense from the position than what Drew Stubbs has produced the past few years.
- Jason A. Churchill