Gray made his 114th career start for the A's as rumors of the Yankees' pursuit of him continued to heat up:
Yanks would deal him in right trade https://t.co/CKRv7Ih8jw
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) July 26, 2017
In six strong innings against the Blue Jays, Gray did give up four runs, but he wasn't hit hard, as his own error led to four unearned runs. He fanned nine and certainly looked like the kid who burst onto the scene in the 2013 postseason, with that quick arm action and ability to generate downward plane on his pitches, even though he's only 5-foot-10. His sinker was sharp, with five of his K's coming on the pitch, two from Jose Bautista. Gray also registered K's with his curveball, slider, changeup and fastball. In other words: He looks healthy, he's pitching well (as his 3.43 ERA indicates), he limits home runs ... and he's going to be traded.
A's fans have certainly become accustomed to these deals, but that won't make it easy to accept when Billy Beane eventually pulls the trigger -- whether it's with the Yankees or Nationals or Dodgers or somebody else. But trading Gray feels inevitable; given his injury issues in 2016, Beane probably has to cash in while Gray's value is high. Keeping him is risky, even if he is under team control through 2019. The A's are still rebuilding, and the closer Gray gets to free agency, the less value he has.
Who ends up with Gray? Keep in mind that Beane and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo have made 11 deals, including one two weeks ago. Although the Nationals announced that Stephen Strasburg will make his next start, maybe there's enough concern there to make a deal.
As for Lynn, he has won 69 games with the Cardinals and has made a nice comeback from Tommy John surgery this year. He left in the seventh inning Tuesday with a 2-0 lead over the Rockies, though the bullpen blew it before the Cardinals won in the bottom of the ninth.
There are very few better guys around MLB than Lance Lynn. He's been a huge part of the StlCards success. His mental toughness is unmatched.
— Anna McDonald (@Anna__McDonald) July 26, 2017
Lynn still relies on his sinking fastball, a pitch he throws 78 percent of the time. Because his secondary pitch is a slider, he has a pretty large platoon split -- .589 OPS versus righties and .788 versus lefties -- and while his ERA is at 3.21, he has allowed 21 home runs and has relied on a low BABIP, so it's hard to ascertain his trade value. The platoon split could scare some teams away, especially because a lot of top playoff contenders, such as the Dodgers, Nationals and Cubs, have lefty-heavy lineups.
It doesn't feel like it's the Cardinal way to trade away an asset such as Lynn. FanGraphs pegs the team's playoffs odds at about 22 percent (8 percent to win the division), and maybe that's enough to roll the dice and keep Lynn. Plus, it's not like he's going to bring back a game-changing prospect. I say he stays put and maybe even re-signs with the Cardinals in the offseason.
Welcome to New York. Todd Frazier grew up in New Jersey as a fan of the Yankees. There's the famous photo of him standing next to Derek Jeter after his Toms River team won the Little League World Series. His first at-bat at Yankee Stadium in pinstripes is certainly one he'll remember:
1. Bases loaded.
3. Bases unloaded. pic.twitter.com/Ch17xvmJFx
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) July 26, 2017
The Yankees beat the Reds 4-2 after Jordan Montgomery took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, but Dellin Betances' control problems surfaced again, as he walked two batters and gave up a run while throwing 25 pitches to get just two outs in the eighth. He had allowed just one walk over his seven previous appearances, but the fact that manager Joe Girardi brought in Adam Warren to get the final out of the inning indicates that Girardi's confidence in Betances remains shaky.
Obviously, getting Gray to replace the injured Michael Pineda in the rotation would be a nice boost. Consider that if the Yankees can surge past the Red Sox to win the American League East (or advance past the wild-card game), a rotation with Gray and Luis Severino, plus all that bullpen depth with the additions of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson -- check out the stats for Warren and Chad Green, who have been better than Betances and Aroldis Chapman -- would mean that the Yankees could bullpen their way through the postseason, similar to what Terry Francona did last October.
Kris Bryant gets ejected, but your grandmother still loves him. Bryant was ejected for the first time in his career, but it's hard to blame him for arguing with home plate ump Lance Barksdale after he was rung up on this pitch:
Another first for Kris Bryant: getting ejected. https://t.co/imvYRGbeyL
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 26, 2017
Here's what ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon said about the pitch location: "The pitch on which Kris Bryant was called out leading to the ejection has been called a strike in a 2-2 count to a right-handed batter 0.0 percent of the time this season. It's basically a one-of-a-kind strike call in that situation."
So there you go. In the end, it didn't matter, as the Cubs rolled to a 7-2 victory in a strange game. John Lackey survived even though he hit four batters, the first Cubs pitcher to do that since 1957. Javier Baez struck out five times. But most importantly, the Cubs are 9-2 since the All-Star break. They have two more games against the White Sox on the road before heading to Milwaukee for a big series over the weekend.
Lackey's season numbers are still pretty bad, including a 4.97 ERA and 25 home runs allowed in 108.2 innings. Still, Joe Maddon said after the game that Lackey will remain in the rotation; finding another starter via trade "has not been part of my discussion with Theo and Jed at all." Having acquired Jose Quintana, the Cubs seems content with a potential playoff rotation -- if they get there, of course! -- of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Quintana and Lackey or Kyle Hendricks in the fourth spot. At this point, their trade rumors seem centered on acquiring a backup catcher for Willson Contreras, maybe A.J. Ellis or Alex Avila.
A grand victory for the Indians. It was a wild game in Cleveland, as the Indians took a 7-0 lead and saw the Angels come all the way back to tie before Edwin Encarnacion won it with a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning, after Bud Norris had walked the bases full. Ouch.
— MLB (@MLB) July 26, 2017
It was the second walk-off grand slam of the season (Matt Carpenter hit one for the Cardinals) and the second grand slam of the game for Cleveland, as Bradley Zimmer hit one in the second inning. Zimmer has been struggling in July, so hopefully his 3-for-5 night with a walk will get the rookie turned around. That's five in a row for the Indians. As with the Cubs, maybe this is the time for that big hot streak everyone keeps waiting to happen.
I'm sure there were a bunch of home runs hit on Monday night. It's 2017; there are a bunch of home runs every night. That's why what Jose Altuve is doing is way more fun than the barrage of home runs.
After going 4-for-4 with a walk in the Astros' 13-4 thrashing of the Phillies for his second straight four-hit game, Altuve is now hitting .365. He has a 16-game hitting streak that includes 12 multihit games, he's hitting .430 on the road and he leads the majors with 18 games of at least three hits. All of that's pretty awesome, but he's also doing this:
José Altuve is hitting .507 in July. The last player to hit .500 for a full calendar month was Iván Rodríguez in June 2004 (min. 75 AB).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 25, 2017
Granted, Altuve wasn't exactly facing Roy Halladay or Steve Carlton, but Monday's performance showed how he is locked in at the plate:
- First inning vs. Vince Velasquez: Draws walk on a 3-2 fastball just off the plate
- Third inning vs. Velasquez: Doubles to left field on an 0-2 curveball, after fouling off three pitches at 0-2
- Fourth inning vs. Ricardo Pinto: Lines single to left on a 1-2, 98 mph fastball
- Fifth inning vs. Pinto: Line drive base hit to center off a 3-2 fastball, after fouling off two pitches at 3-2
- Seventh inning vs. Hoby Milner: Doubles to right field on a 1-1 slider
Back in April, Altuve struck out in 22.5 percent of his plate appearances, which was oddly high for him; but since then, he has been under 10 percent. He fights off pitches and sprays the ball around. You can't throw 98 mph fastballs past him, and you have to respect the power that has him on pace for 49 doubles and 25 home runs. Most players today are swinging from their heels, hoping to launch one over the fence no matter the situation. Altuve is a throwback, and it's a beautiful thing to watch.
Altuve's OPS is up to 1.005. Since 1950, the only second basemen with an OPS over 1.000 are Jeff Kent in 2000 and Joe Morgan in 1976. Both won MVP honors those seasons, which brings us to the MVP race in the American League. At the All-Star break, Aaron Judge led Altuve in WAR, 5.3 to 4.7. Entering Monday's play, Altuve had jumped ahead of Judge, 5.5 to 5.3; and that's probably up to 5.7 after Monday's game, meaning Altuve has picked up a win in value over just 10 games (while Judge has slumped to a .158 average since the break).
It seems like those two have separated themselves from the field, especially with Carlos Correa now on the disabled list. George Springer (who exited Monday's game after tweaking his quad) and Jose Ramirez are certainly having MVP-caliber seasons, and Chris Sale has a strong case, if you want to consider a pitcher. But how awesome is it that the biggest player in the game is battling the smallest player in the game for MVP honors? Baseball is the best.
Curtain call for Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers led the Twins 3-2. Then the Twins took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, and I mention that because the Dodgers had won 46 consecutive games that they had led at any point. If that seems pretty unbelievable, it's because it is: That's a major league record. The Dodgers hadn't lost such a game since May 15, when they blew a 1-0 third-inning lead to the Giants. (Every other team has at least eight such losses since May 16.)
Cody Clutch. pic.twitter.com/If566252Kg
— MLB (@MLB) July 25, 2017
Solid hitting there, as Rogers threw a pretty good 0-2 curveball on the outside corner. Given the smile on Bellinger's face, he might have been a little surprised the ball carried over the fence. It was his 28th home run and third go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later this season. With the victory, the Dodgers hit the 100-game mark at 69-31, the best in the National League since the 1970 Reds were 70-30.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 25, 2017
OK, we can still talk home runs, especially when Giancarlo Stanton is hitting them. Stanton had another two-homer game, his fourth of July, in the Marlins' 4-0 win over the Rangers. He has 11 home runs in 19 games this month while slugging .806. Which means, of course, that everyone now wants to trade for Stanton. Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees called the Marlins about Stanton. Others said the call never happened. Yes, it's silly season.
I get that the Marlins are unpredictable. You can almost imagine a scenario where Brian Cashman calls up Jeffrey Loria and says, "Look, you're selling the team, you need to trade Stanton before his mega-salaries kick in next season, and we're happy to take him off your hands. You know the new owners wouldn't want that contract on their hands. Trade him, Jeff. To us."
I mean, we can dream of Judge and Stanton hitting back-to-back in the Yankees lineup, but it's not going to happen. There will be no blockbuster Giancarlo Stanton trade. Which also probably means there will be.
Big day for the Royals. First, the Royals make a smart trade to acquire starter Trevor Cahill and relievers Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer from the Padres, adding some much-needed pitching depth. Then they beat the Tigers for their sixth win in a row, as Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas homered in the 12th inning. They jumped past the Rays for sole possession of the second wild card. And they have the third-best record in the majors since May 1. What else is there to say? Just admit that Ned Yost is a genius and the Royals are probably going to win the World Series after everyone wrote them off in April.
Mike Moustakas on today's trade and the message from Dayton Moore: "We're in it. We're going to go out there and try to win a World Series."
— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) July 25, 2017
Pirates begin crucial stretch with a win. Why is this an important span for a team that climbed to .500 with a win over the Giants? Because the Pirates have two more games in San Francisco, followed by three in San Diego, then an eight-game homestand against the Reds, Padres and Tigers. In fact, their next 18 games are against sub-.500 teams, until they play the Brewers on Aug. 15 -- and the Brewers might be under .500 by then. If the Pirates clean up during this stretch, they have a chance to not only put pressure on the Cubs and Brewers but also climb into the wild-card race, should the Rockies or Diamondbacks falter.
Kershaw left after two innings because of soreness in his lower back and is headed for the disabled list. Strasburg also left after two innings as a precautionary measure because of arm stiffness. We'll learn more about both pitchers as the week progresses, but if either situation proves serious, it should certainly increase the volume of calls made to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels as the Dodgers and Nationals inquire about Yu Darvish.
It'll make for a hectic eight days for all concerned. The Rangers are 48-50 and Darvish is a free agent, but they're still just 2½ games out in the American League wild-card race and would love to re-sign their ace in the offseason. On the other hand, you have a chance to extract a premium prospect for what will probably be a failed playoff run; plus, you could do what the Yankees did with Aroldis Chapman -- trade him and then re-sign him.
The Dodgers, who might have been in the market for a starting pitcher anyway, will now have to make an educated guess on Kershaw's back and his return date. After the game, the lefty said, "Obviously, I'm not optimistic, just because I got taken out of the game," although he didn't want to compare this injury to the herniated disk that forced him to miss two-plus months last season. He was scheduled for tests with the team's back specialist later Sunday.
The Nationals, meanwhile, downplayed Strasburg's exit after he threw 51 pitches and walked three batters, with Dusty Baker saying Strasburg had trouble getting loose. Still, this is a guy with an extensive history of injuries (eight DL stints since 2010), so it has to be a cause for concern. Both teams have huge leads in their respective divisions, so they can afford to be as cautious as possible with both guys. But that July 31 date exacerbates the need to make a decision on their long-term health heading into October.
If the Rangers do end up trading Darvish, an ace-level starter of his ability is more valuable to a team already locked into a division title, since you know you're going to get one or two starts from him in a five-game series and potentially two in a seven-game series. A wild-card contender could miss the playoffs altogether or be one-and-done, so a division leader should be willing to give up more for Darvish since there's more potential value to be extracted from him.
The Dodgers' playoff rotation would be Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Brandon McCarthy (who just hit the DL because of a blister problem) or Kenta Maeda. Though the Dodgers lead the majors in rotation ERA, as good as Wood has been, he has gone more than six innings only three times in 15 starts. In the changing landscape of postseason pitching, Hill, McCarthy and Maeda are starters from whom you would hope to get five innings in the postseason. Without Kershaw to carry a bigger workload, that would transfer a huge burden to the bullpen.
The Nationals, third in the majors in rotation ERA, would line up with the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Strasburg, plus Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. Given the state of their bullpen -- even with the recent acquisition of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle -- they're a team that needs more innings from their starters, not fewer. Darvish would be an even bigger upgrade for the Nationals given Roark's inconsistency this season (4.83 ERA).
So the demand for Darvish might have just increased, along with the price to acquire him. The odds now have to lean to the Rangers making a trade.
One team that doesn't need a starter: The Indians have to be feeling good about the state of their rotation after what happened the past two days. Corey Kluber was pushed back from a scheduled Friday start due to a stiff neck, but the only thing he caused Sunday was whiplash to Blue Jays hitters after striking out 14 in 7⅔ innings, tying the second-best K total of his career. Since returning from the DL on June 1, he's 5-1 in 10 starts with a 1.52 ERA, 108 strikeouts in 71 innings and a .163 average allowed. He's as good as any pitcher right now.
The even bigger result was Danny Salazar's return Saturday, his first start since May 27. He threw seven scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and no walks with eight strikeouts. He threw 72 percent fastballs, reflecting the command and dominance he had of his heater. Suddenly, a rotation of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Salazar and Mike Clevinger (2.73 ERA) looks like the best in baseball.
Of course, the Indians don't have a big lead like the Dodgers or Nationals, so they might be the one team looking to trade for some offense. ESPN's Buster Olney mentioned that with Carlos Santana continuing to struggle (.740 OPS), maybe the Indians go after Yonder Alonso or another first baseman. Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer has cooled down after a hot start (.557 OPS in July with a 31 percent strikeout rate). Jason Kipnis is on the DL. The Indians remain the favorite in the AL Central with or without a deal, but it seems as if adding Alonso would be a good move.
Astros see Zach Britton up close and personal: Britton closed out Baltimore's 9-7 win over Houston, striking out two to record his first save since returning from the DL in early July after missing two months because of a sore elbow. He did walk Marwin Gonzalez but hit 97 mph, and his trademark sinker showed good life. Olney mentioned a couple of days ago that Houston was interested in Britton, and that makes sense if the Astros are willing to take the chance on his health. Their top relievers all are right-handed, plus the bullpen hasn't been as good the past couple of months, including blowing a 7-6 lead Sunday:
- April: 2.91 ERA
- May: 3.88 ERA
- June: 5.14 ERA
- July: 4.48 ERA
Given some uncertainty in the Houston rotation -- Lance McCullers Jr. had his third straight poor start Sunday, and Dallas Keuchel remains on the DL -- adding even more bullpen depth is a necessity, especially if the Astros don't acquire a starter like Darvish or Sonny Gray. Think of the advantage of having a healthy Britton matching up in the World Series against all those lefty hitters on the Nationals or Dodgers ...
Red Sox call up Rafael Devers: The club's top prospect will join the team Monday in Seattle, and John Farrell said Devers will make his first start Tuesday against Felix Hernandez. The plan is for Devers to start against right-handers initially, with Deven Marrero playing against lefties. After posting a .944 OPS in Double-A, Devers hit .400 with two home runs in nine games at Triple-A Pawtucket. Red Sox third basemen are hitting .228/.280/.320, ranking last in the majors in wOBA; Devers should certainly be an improvement on that production.
Hitting a baseball isn't easy. So this happened:
lol the GCL nationals no hit the GCL marlins in both games of their doubleheader today pic.twitter.com/0Zk3qqUBct
— MLB Statistics (@MLBRandomStats) July 23, 2017
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 23, 2017
I don't want to say the ball is juiced, but I think we're going to see a one-handed, broken-bat home run as a player falls to his knee before the season is over.
The most eye-popping stat of all the eye-popping stats we’ve seen lately about the Los Angeles Dodgers is the one that Elias put out late Wednesday: The Dodgers had won a record 44 straight games in which they held a lead of any kind.
That’s just flat ridiculous, but it also identifies the No. 1 item on your “How to beat the Dodgers” to-do list, which is to not let them get a lead.
Clearly no one in Los Angeles is going to sprint down Sunset Boulevard in sheer panic. No one thought the Dodgers were going to finish 133-29, even though there have been times lately when they looked flat unbeatable. They can be beaten. It’s baseball.
For all the depth and high-quality redundancy on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, if you want to squint hard enough to find an area for possible upgrade at trade-deadline time, it’s in the rotation.
That’s written with the understanding that any problem the Dodgers might have is of the first-world variety. I think Los Angeles would remain the World Series favorite even if Andrew Friedman and his staff decided to sit tight at the end of the month.
But consider this: After the big three atop the rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood), whom do you want to send out for the one game in which you probably need a No. 4 starter in a seven-game postseason series?
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 21, 2017
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Thursday marked the fourth time in 29 games a Dodgers starter had failed to go five innings. Three of those outings were by McCarthy, whose ERA (3.84) has been propped up by fortunate homer-to-fly ball rates and L.A.’s MLB-best defense. And yet, McCarthy has pitched at a similar level to Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Any of those three could get on a roll and make everyone comfortable with the Dodgers' rotation entering the playoffs. Still, given these choices and also the ongoing worry over Hill’s blister problems, another mid-rotation starter would make a lot of sense for a roster that is oh-so-close to perfect as it is.
Slamming the door
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 20, 2017
Just look at the outfield, which we were so high on entering the season:
- RF Gregory Polanco is hitting .404 with nine extra-base hits in July.
- CF Andrew McCutchen remains hot, having reached base in 25 of his past 26 games.
And, of course ...
- LF Starling Marte is back from his PED suspension to resume his place atop the batting order.
Nevertheless, the breakout star of the Pirates’ hot stretch has been closer Felipe Rivero.
— Greg Brown (@gbrowniepoints) July 20, 2017
Rivero is a personable, power lefty who has blossomed under the tutelage of prized pitching coach Ray Searage. He has a ridiculous 0.70 ERA and converted all nine of his save chances. According to FanGraphs, Rivero’s average pitch velocity (98.4 mph) is the highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 50 innings.
... and we're back
Whit sends one to the bullpen =ª pic.twitter.com/oo1uttjO26
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) July 21, 2017
Every time you think you can safely cross the Kansas City Royals off the list of possible contenders, they seem to spring back to life and remind everyone why they won two pennants in the very recent past.
Kansas City got back to .500 and closed within 1½ games of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central with a 16-4 pounding of the Detroit Tigers. It’s an outcome made all the more surprising by the fact the Tigers sent Michael Fulmer to the mound to start things. Last year's AL Rookie of the Year gave up a career-high eight runs and didn’t make it out of the third inning.
Detroit’s three first-inning errors didn’t help.
The Royals had eight players record multi-hit games, the first time they’ve done that since 2005. Now Kansas City has a weekend series against the scaled-down Chicago White Sox coming up, a great opportunity to really put the heat on the Twins and Indians ahead of them.
The Seattle Mariners got an encouraging outing from Felix Hernandez, who gave up one run in seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts, though he was outdueled by the dynamic Luis Severino in a tough loss to the New York Yankees. But Hernandez received some serious help from his defense in the form of this catch in center field by Jarrod Dyson, which Statcast gave a 21 percent probability of becoming an out.
— Mariners (@Mariners) July 21, 2017
Dyson, if you haven’t noticed, is fast. According to the new sprint speed metric from Statcast, Dyson is tied for 16th in the majors by covering an average of 29 feet per second in “max effort” situations. That might strike you as surprisingly low. If so, you might also be surprised by whom Dyson is tied with: Cubs rookie Ian Happ.
The sweep in Pittsburgh made for a rough week for the Brewers, who suddenly find themselves clinging to the National League Central lead they’ve held since May 27. Now, with the Cubs poised to reclaim first, the Brewers head to Philadelphia for a weekend series.
On one hand, that seems like a golden opportunity to right the ship. On the other, if Milwaukee can’t turn it around against the woeful Phillies, they then head to Washington to play the Nationals while dealing with a serious esteem crisis.
The Pirates, at 107 degrees, are now the hottest team in the non-Dodgers division of the major leagues. Again, that measure of “hotness” is based on a Bill James formula, where 72 degrees is average.
Out like a Lamb
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) July 20, 2017
The Diamondbacks bludgeoned the Reds 12-2 on Thursday behind another big day by third baseman Jake Lamb and an unusual degree of efficiency with their baserunners. Lamb hit two homers and drove in six in his third multi-homer game of the season.
Lamb has quite simply emerged as one of the better lefty hitters in all of baseball. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, since the start of last season, Lamb is one of five lefty sluggers to top 50 homers and 150 RBIs, joining Robinson Cano, Jay Bruce, Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto.
Arizona put up its 12-spot with just 13 baserunners -- on nine hits and four walks. No other National League team had done that since the Braves on July 13, 1979, against the Pirates. Bob Horner hit two homers in that game for Atlanta. There’s only one other NL team on that list during the live ball era -- the 1921 New York Giants, who did it against the Phillies on May 30 of that year.
By the way, newly acquired J.D. Martinez sat out to rest the left hand he injured when he was hit by a pitch on Wednesday.
A proportional response from MIN: About to upgrade their rotation by adding Jaime Garcia for a minor-leaguer, at relatively low cost.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 20, 2017
The Braves hoped to catch a little lightning in a bottle during the offseason by adding veteran starters Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to stabilize the rotation, since the top arms in their system didn’t figure to be big-league ready in 2017.
The Minnesota Twins seem to be following the same path, literally. After signing Colon after Braves released him a couple of weeks back, they reportedly reached an agreement on Thursday to acquire Garcia.
While it remains to be seen if the gamble on Colon will pay off, especially since he’s contemplating retirement, Garcia should give Minnesota the quality innings they need. Garcia has been Atlanta’s most consistent starter, with an xFIP of 4.23. (From FanGraphs, xFIP is a version of fielding-independent ERA with homer-to-fly ball percentage normalized.)
That’s better than anyone in the Minnesota rotation, even outstanding rookie Jose Berrios and All-Star veteran Ervin Santana. Minnesota is just a half-game back of Cleveland in the AL Central, by definition putting the Twins in the thick of the division race.
Minnesota has the worst run differential in the division (minus-61), but that’s a bit misleading because of a disconnect between their overall bullpen depth and the credible job their relievers have done in high-leverage spots.
It’s not the splashiest move we’ve seen this month, but given the tepid cluster of teams in the Central divisions of both leagues, it might be a little move that tips the scales. Garcia is a rental, so why not?
Down on the farm, hard-throwing White Sox prospect Michael Kopech had an excellent outing for Double-A Birmingham. Kopech went a career-high eight innings, allowed no runs or walks, gave up just four hits and struck out eight.
The Orioles clubbed four homers while completing a four-game sweep of a Texas Rangers club that can’t find a foothold in the AL wild-card race. The Baltimore homers broke a historical tie: Entering the game, the O’s had hit 2,490 homers at both Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the old, egg-shaped Memorial Stadium. Also, since I know you’re wondering, the franchise hit 2,786 homers from 1909 to 1952, when they played as the St. Louis Browns at old Sportsmans Park III.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera drove in his 1,600th career run in Kansas City, breaking a tie with Nap Lajoie for 35th on the career RBIs list.
With the trade deadline right around the corner, the general managers of every team are evaluating what they have as well as what they need -- and whom they would never give up to get what they want. Looking at all 30 teams, who is that guy, the one player they couldn't -- or shouldn't -- deal? But not just the obvious "must keep" franchise players, like Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge. We know they won't get traded. But after that kind of player, who's the guy who shouldn't get moved under any circumstance?
Arizona Diamondbacks: Domingo Leyba, 2B/SS. The D-backs will be looking to add to the big league team, but they entered the season with no top-100 prospects, so making an impact deal may be difficult. Pitcher Jon Duplantier has had a big season and made the Futures Game, but Leyba is a young middle infielder, just recently off the DL, who has shown some pop and bat control at a young age and looks like a sleeper impact bat.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran, RHP. Freddie Freeman is really the only untouchable player in the organization, although All-Star Ender Inciarte is close with his team-friendly contract that makes him a payroll bargain. Like a lot of pitchers, Teheran has been hit by the home run bug, and even though the Braves have young pitching on the way, you never exactly know about young pitching. Teheran is signed through 2020 and makes 30 starts every season and you need those guys.
Chicago Cubs: Adbert Alzolay, RHP. They just traded Eloy Jimenez, Keith Law's No. 5 prospect on his midseason top 50 list, so that means nobody in the farm system is off limits at this point. Alzolay dominated at high-A before a recent promotion to Double-A, where he struck out 10 in five innings in his first start. The Venezuelan suddenly looks like a guy who may be able to help out the Cubs as soon as 2018. Plus, he'd be the first Adbert in the majors. Of course, Jimenez would have been the first Eloy.
Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias, RHP. As they shop Zack Cozart, teams will inquire about Iglesias, who is having a dominant year as the closer, with a 1.65 ERA and 53 strikeouts and .159 average allowed in 43 2/3 innings. He's under team control through 2021 and has shown he can go multiple innings in relief, so it would require an Andrew Miller- or Aroldis Chapman-type package to get him.
Colorado Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, SS. As good as Trevor Story was as a rookie in 2016, his struggles in 2017 suggest he's not necessarily the long-term answer at shortstop. The Rockies may want to add a starting pitcher, but they shouldn't deal Rodgers, No. 18 on Keith's midseason list, who has reached Double-A at age 20.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Walker Buehler, RHP. The 24th pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt, Buehler had Tommy John surgery after signing, so this is his first full season in pro ball. He's flashed an upper-90s fastball while striking out 91 in 65 1/3 innings between A-ball and Double-A. He could probably help the Dodgers out of the bullpen in the postseason and then compete for a rotation job next spring. And if they want to upgrade the big league roster, there is still plenty of talent on the farm, including Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez and Willie Calhoun.
Miami Marlins: Christian Yelich, OF. His season is a little disappointing in the context of the rising power numbers across the game, but he's still a good player who had a 5.3 WAR season in 2016 and is signed through 2022 at bargain rates. You want to get guys like this, not trade them away.
Milwaukee Brewers: Lewis Brinson, OF. Brinson and 2016 first-rounder Corey Ray represented the Brewers at the Futures Game, and both showed why scouts love their physical tools. Brinson struggled in a 14-game big league call-up, but Ray is the outfielder to trade given his contact issues in the Carolina League.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom, RHP. There was a rumor out there about the Astros poking around about deGrom, but as miserable a season as it has been for the Mets, there's no need to tear things down. Keep deGrom, hope Noah Syndergaard is healthy, make way for Amed Rosario as the new shortstop, and there's no reason they can't be contenders in 2018.
Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP. Not that they would consider trading him, but with Vince Velasquez injured, Jerad Eickhoff having a mediocre season and Jake Thompson getting shelled in Triple-A, the future Phillies rotation doesn't look so hot. You don't trade the one guy who is a foundation piece.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole, RHP. There are obvious reasons to trade Andrew McCutchen, but less obvious ones to trade Cole. He's certainly been one of the bigger disappointments in the majors with a 4.35 ERA and 20 home runs allowed, but trading him now would be selling low. They still have him under contract for two more seasons and while there are doubts he ever becomes the ace he once appeared he'd be, the Pirates need him to contend in 2018 and '19.
St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, RHP. Sometimes the best move at the trade deadline is no move at all. The Cardinals are under .500 and have to be honest with themselves: Is this a team that can win a championship? No. So keep your prospects like Flaherty, who has emerged as the No. 50 prospect on the Keith's midseason update, or the injured Alex Reyes.
San Diego Padres: Jose Torres, LHP. Pretty much anyone in the bullpen is available, including Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter, Kirby Yates and Brandon Maurer, but the hard-throwing rookie lefty is the one to keep.
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt, 1B. Obviously, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are off-limits, but there could be some interest in Belt, who is signed through 2021. His salary jumps up to $17.2 million the next four seasons, however, so the Giants should listen, but be cautious. His .243/.349/.470 line isn't great, but his park-adjusted wRC+ is still better than Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, Nolan Arenado, Miguel Cabrera or Xander Bogaerts. Granted, only Cabrera is a first baseman, but Belt isn't the problem in San Francisco.
Washington Nationals: Victor Robles, OF. Look, the Nationals need a closer they can trust in October, but they also need to think to the future a bit. With Jayson Werth aging, Adam Eaton dealing with a major knee injury and a certain superstar running out of years left before free agency, dealing a potential outfield star isn't worth it to land a one-inning guy.
Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado, 3B. The Orioles are fading and Machado is a free agent after 2018 -- with the Orioles unlikely to sign him -- so the trade rumors are starting up. With Machado struggling to get his OBP over .300, in one regard this is a good time to trade him, because the fans may not be as upset about trading Machado in the midst of a bad season. On the other hand, you may not extract max value. If I'm the Orioles, I play out the season and re-evaluate where the team stands in the offseason rather than do something rash.
Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers, 3B. Yes, Dave Dombrowski has never met a prospect he wouldn't trade, but this is one he should keep. The Red Sox have a hole at third base? Then call up this kid and resist the temptation to include him in a deal for a veteran.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada, 3B. Jose Quintana? Gone. David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, or Todd Frazier? They're gone, too. All-Star Avisail Garcia? Heck, sell high if you can. So let's try Moncada again here. I had him listed as Boston's untouchable last year, and we all know how well that worked out. But the White Sox are on to something with this rebuild and stockpiling young talent is at the heart of their plan.
Cleveland Indians: Triston McKenzie, RHP. Catcher Francisco Mejia isn't going anywhere, but I'd make this rail-thin 19-year-old off-limits as well. He doesn't turn 20 until August, but as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League he has still dominated with 124 strikeouts in 96T innings.
Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer, RHP. The Tigers are bad and expensive, which is kind of like facing Aaron Judge in a Home Run Derby with a Wiffle ball bat. The long-term contracts for Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander mean payroll flexibility is limited in upcoming seasons. In other words: Anyone is available -- or should be -- with the exception of Fulmer.
Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF. Tucker may have been bait in a Jose Quintana trade, but now that Quintana's off the board, the Astros should keep Tucker as the 20-year-old is tearing up Double-A since his promotion. This kid looks like a future All-Star and while the Astros are in win-now mode, I don't think Sonny Gray is juicy enough to pry Tucker away.
Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer, 1B; Mike Moustakas, 3B; Lorenzo Cain, CF. The Royals have the best record in the AL since June 1 and have climbed back in the AL Central and wild-card races. In April, they looked like sellers, but not now. Maybe you lose all these guys as free agents, but give it one last run and hope for a memorable going-away party.
Minnesota Twins: Ervin Santana, RHP. The Twins could sell high on the All-Star starter, but teams are too smart today to overpay for him. Considering Santana is signed for 2018 with a 2019 team option and given the state of the rest of the Minnesota rotation other than up-and-coming Jose Berrios, trading Santana could be a step backward for a young team that is getting closer.
New York Yankees: Chance Adams, RHP. The Yankees have a loaded farm system if they want to make an upgrade at the trade deadline, but this is one pitching prospect I'd hold on to, especially since he could help the rotation down the stretch. He has a 2.60 ERA in Triple-A, holding opponents to a .164 average. He's primarily a fastball/slider guy, but has a developing changeup and minor leaguers haven't been able to touch him. Let's see if the stuff plays at the big-league level as well.
Oakland Athletics: Sean Manaea, LHP. For the right price, anybody else could be traded, including Khris Davis, although Sonny Gray, Yonder Alonso and a couple of the veteran relievers are most likely to be dealt.
Seattle Mariners: James Paxton, LHP. The Mariners are in no-man's land, a veteran team with a bad farm system currently sitting under .500 and on the fringes of the wild-card race. The Jean Segura extension likely means they'll keep this team together for another season and hope for a healthier rotation in 2018. In the meantime, teams will inquire about Paxton and get turned down.
Tampa Bay Rays: Chris Archer, RHP. Stop. Enough. The Rays are not trading him to the Dodgers, they're not trading him to the Astros, they're not going to trade him. Look at his salaries the next four seasons: $6.4 million, $7.67 million, $9 million and $11 million. He's good and he's a bargain. Oh, and there's a good chance he starts the wild-card game.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish, RHP. Things haven't clicked for the Rangers, and while Darvish is a free agent and would bring a nice return, they're not out of the wild-card race at the moment. The Rangers will also look at the big picture: They'd like to not only re-sign Darvish, but if they re-sign him they'd also have better odds of signing Japanese superstar Shohei Otani when he gets posted.
CHICAGO -- For months now, Chicago White Sox fans have been hearing about their club's plans to create a brighter future with a lot of young men they mostly know from reading prospect rankings.
That changed Wednesday when Yoan Moncada morphed from theory to practice, making his Chicago debut on, of all things, "Game of Thrones" night at Guaranteed Rate Field. And the opponent was no joke: The high-flying Los Angeles Dodgers.
Moncada was picked up early in the day from the airport by first baseman Jose Abreu, whom he has known since he was 15 years old. As it turns out, Abreu and Moncada both hail from Cienfeugos, Cuba. In fact, the 22-year-old Moncada is young enough to have a bit of hero worship for Abreu, who is only 30 years old.
"I was glad to see him [at the airport]," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We got a chance to talk a little bit about everything. He was the superstar of our town and at that moment in Cuba, he was the best player in our country."
Manager Rick Renteria has learned his strategic locker assigning well, giving Moncada the stall smack between two veterans: Abreu and Melky Cabrera. There's a method to that, of course, with the goal being to find the right mentor for the young player. Similarly, young Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson was put next to Todd Frazier during his early time in the majors, until Frazier was dealt to the Yankees on Tuesday.
"The only thing I can tell him is just keep playing his game," Abreu said through the interpreter. "It's the same as it was when he was playing the minors. He has to first be more focused in the game. I'm going to try to help him as much as I can."
There's no doubt there was extra buzz to the early proceedings of Wednesday's game. The media horde was swollen about three-fold from its usual G-Rate size -- I'm sure there's a "Game of Thrones" analogy to be made here, but we'll skip it for now -- and the White Sox announced 5,000 tickets were sold after word got out that Moncada would be summoned from Triple-A Charlotte.
"The fan base is obviously very excited about what the organization is doing in general," Renteria said. "I think for them to be able to see one of the young men we were able to get in a trade, having him here with us, they are very excited to get a little taste of what the future is going to look like."
That made for a festive early few innings. When Moncada strode to the plate for the first time in the second, he got a standing ovation from his new fans. He fell behind 0-2 to the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda but worked his way back to a full count. The crowd rose to its collective feet as if the game were on the line and, when Moncada walked, it was the loudest cheer of the night.
Moncada went 0-for-2 with that walk before a monsoon halted things in the eighth and the game was called for a 9-1 Dodgers' win. The nine pitches Moncada saw in his first plate appearance were two more than he saw in any of his 20 trips to the dish during his audition last season for Boston. Both of Moncada's outs were well struck, a groundout to first and a hard liner to center that, had it found an opening, would have scored Abreu from second.
"I feel good," Moncada said, who added it felt like a second major league debut for him. "I didn't get any base hits, but I hit the ball hard. I executed my plan. I feel relief after that game, the first one. It's going to be good."
But those results were secondary. For both the White Sox and Moncada, this game was about the future ... and all of those touted prospects brought into the organization over the past couple of years who are expected to follow in Moncada's wake. Wednesday was only a taste; a little sample, like the ones they put out in the cheese department of Whole Foods.
The game also served as a kind of warning for all the excited White Sox fans. The Dodgers barely broke a sweat in their routing of the Sox which, again, is something screaming for a "Game of Thrones" reference. The Dodgers are very much where the White Sox hope to be at some indeterminate point in the future. But the path from here to there is long and rocky and fraught with pitfalls -- kind of like the Kingsroad in Westeros. (Finally!)
Someday, the White Sox hope we'll look back on Wednesday as the day their rise started. Make no mistake though, one look at the scoreboard tells you the length of the journey still ahead.
"I can feel the excitement," Moncada said. "And that's something that makes me feel happy. I just want to take advantage of it."
Nolan is rollin: Nolan Arenado enjoyed something of a career day in the Colorado Rockies' 18-4 shellacking of the San Diego Padres. I add the qualifier only because he has had other career days and is sure to have more in the future. Arenado, simply put, is one of the best players in baseball. He's a wizard at third base, where he ranks third among all defenders regardless of position with 17 defensive runs saved.
He's pretty good with the bat, too. Arenado went 5-for-6 with three homers and seven RBIs against San Diego. His 14 total bases tied a team record held by Larry Walker and Jeff Cirillo. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, only the Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz (107) has hit more homers than Arenado's 104.
Nolan going once!
Nolan going twice!
Nolan going three times! pic.twitter.com/ipXh6MApks
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 19, 2017
Arenado is a man of his context, of course. His five-hit, three-homer game was the third of the season -- the Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon and the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett also did it. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, there have never been more than two such games in any season since 1920.
There's also this: It was the 20th three-homer game in the 22 years since Coors Field opened. That's the same number Tiger Stadium in Detroit saw in 87 years of existence.
Coy Keon: It has been a terse, tight series this week between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, and that was certainly the case Wednesday. Milwaukee led 2-1 in the ninth inning when John Jaso made a bid for a tying homer. Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton made a fine leaping catch, then decided it would be a good idea to be coy on the subject of the ball being in his glove. Jaso didn't think it was a good idea.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 20, 2017
The Pirates came back to win in 10 innings anyway when Max Moroff, who started the day hitting .152, singled home Josh Harrison. Pittsburgh has won the first three of the four-game series by a combined score of 11-7.
The Pirates have closed to within a game of .500, passed the St. Louis Cardinals for third place in the National League Central and are now only four games behind Milwaukee atop the division. It's hand-wringing time for the Brewers, who in less than a week since the All-Star break ended, have seen their lead over the Chicago Cubs shrink from 5½ games to 1½, and are now tied with them in the loss column.
Ho-hum, another Dodgers rout, yawn: With their blowout win over the White Sox, the Dodgers have won 31 of 35. The next-fewest losses by any other team in that span is 13, by the Kansas City Royals.
Meanwhile, Justin Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk a day after he quietly passed the threshold needed to qualify for the batting title. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, his MLB-best .372 batting average is the best a Dodgers hitter has had through Turner's number of plate appearances (296) since Duke Snider in 1954.
Turner's career trek is amazing. Through his age-28 season, he had a .684 career OPS. Now, at age 32, he leads all position players on the majors' best team in WAR. Not Corey Seager, not Cody Bellinger. Justin Turner.
They might be Giants: With his ninth homer in 11 games, the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton set the franchise record for home runs in July, per ESPN Stats & Information research. When you factor in the break, he basically did so in half a month.
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) July 19, 2017
Stanton now has 30 homers and is on pace to hit 52 this season. The New York Yankees' Aaron Judge also remains on pace to hit more than 50, though he hasn't homered since July 7. There haven't been two 50-home-run sluggers in the same season since 2007, when Prince Fielder and Alex Rodriguez did it.
Unfortunately, reaching 30 homers so early in the campaign did little to brighten Stanton's mood.
Tidbits: The New York Mets' Jacob deGrom has won seven straight starts, a feat also accomplished this season by Kansas City's Jason Vargas and little-known Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is working on a streak of eight straight winning starts.
Miguel Sano hit his 23rd homer in the Minnesota Twins' 6-1 win over the Yankees on Wednesday. It was his 66th homer in 285 career games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that's tied with Albert Pujols for the most homers in 285 career games among Dominican-born players.
Great showcase outing for Sonny Gray in the Oakland Athletics' 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Gray gave up two runs in 6⅓ innings and struck out six. He's 4-1 over his past five starts with a 1.62 ERA. Gray got a nice ovation from a home crowd that recognized it might be seeing his last outing for the A's.
Here's a scenario: The Mariners land an AL wild-card slot, start Felix Hernandez in the wild-card game and win. That puts James Paxton on the mound in Game 1 of a potential American League Division Series matchup with the Houston Astros. Paxton beat Houston on Wednesday and now has given up one earned run in 20 innings this season against the AL's best team. Am I overthinking this?
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 20, 2017
CHICAGO -- By the tone of the postgame questions directed at Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, you would have thought he had just gotten rocked. In a very real way, the fact that the questions took the form they did was a terrific compliment.
Kershaw shut out the Chicago White Sox over seven innings, leaving a 1-0 lead to his impenetrable bullpen, and after Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen did their work, that ended up as the final score. As they do on almost a nightly basis, the Dodgers won again.
"He didn't [have his best stuff]," Roberts said of Kershaw. "But still seven innings scoreless. He pitched out of a couple of jams. He made pitches when he need to."
That's 10 straight wins for the hottest team in baseball. How hot? I track Bill James' formula for measuring "team temperature" by which 72 degrees is the average. The Dodgers are at 130.9 degrees -- the highest mark of any team all season. The next-hottest team in the majors is the Washington Nationals at a relatively lukewarm 99.6 degrees.
"I was a little rusty tonight," Kershaw said as he answered more questions about his less-than-peak stuff. "Things got a little better as it went. Nine days off, definitely not something I'm used to. So I'm thankful to get out of that and get this win."
Los Angeles has won an astounding 30 of its past 34 games. Sometimes, you can adequately illustrate the amazing nature of a performance by simply layering on the facts, and that's what I'll do here:
- According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Dodgers had never won 30 in a 34-game stretch. They hadn't won 29 of 33 since 1899 -- the year aspirin was patented.
- The Dodgers are on pace to win 112 games -- the most by an NL team since the 1906 Cubs won 116.
- L.A. has won its past 25 games started by either Kershaw or Alex Wood.
- The Dodgers have won 14 straight Kershaw starts, the longest streak of his career and, according to Elias, the second-longest streak in franchise history.
And yet, we repeat: Kershaw did not have his best stuff Tuesday. He struggled early with fastball command. So, being Clayton Kershaw, he pivoted. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he threw fastballs on only 37 percent of his offerings -- his low figure for the season -- and threw 43 percent sliders, a season high. And it worked: Chicago whiffed on 73 percent of their whacks on Kershaw's slider, and he got a 57 percent chase rate on that pitch.
"He really wasn't synched up tonight," Roberts said. "But when he needed to make pitches, as he always does, he made them."
Kershaw is now 15-2 on the season. And in beating Chicago in his first appearance at the new Comiskey Park (aka Guaranteed Rate Field), he improved his career interleague ERA to 1.95: the best of any qualifying pitcher.
"Every night, we find a different way to win," Kershaw said.
Have we layered on enough details to get the point across? The Dodgers, and their Hall of Fame-bound ace, are really on top of their game. In some respects, they are only competing against themselves.
"With our club, one through 25, I know we're the best team when we take the field," Roberts said. "[The players] know that. We've got to stay focused on the process."
The tortoise and the hare. A guy with 30 homers faces a guy with an 8-plus ERA, so of course this happens:
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 19, 2017
The reference to the Aesop fable is, on one level, about creating false expectations based on superficial contrast. And when it comes to contrast, you don't have a starker example than when you pit the Bunyanesque rookie Aaron Judge against the "Big Sexy" Bartolo Colon in his Twins debut.
A tale of the tape, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:
Colon has been defying expectation for years. Last season, we all laughed and cried along when he hit his first big league homer for the Mets. And his whiff of Judge will certainly be one of the most memorable moments of this campaign. Colon spreads happiness wherever he goes.
Sadly though, this is no fable. The Twins are in a playoff race and need reliable starting pitching to cash in what still feels like a long-shot playoff push. Colon gave Minnesota only four innings, surrendering eight hits and four runs. He'll get another chance or two, one would figure, but the Twins don't need a character from a fairytale. They need quality innings.
Take him to the river. The Brewers have vowed to be unbowed by the Cubs' splashy acquisition of starter Jose Quintana, someone in whom owner Mark Attanasio admitted his club was also interested. Milwaukee went into the All-Star break with a surprising 5½-game bulge in the National League Central, their largest advantage in a race they've led for most of the season.
The Brewers haven't played badly since the break. They won two of three against the Phillies, dropping the series finale Sunday. Then they lost a tough 4-2 decision in Pittsburgh on Monday.
With the Cubs sprinting out the gate, you have to think Brewers fans were starting to squirm. Then Travis Shaw polluted the Allegheny River.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 19, 2017
Shaw later improved to 10-for-13 in his career against Pirates starter Ivan Nova with a single. Milwaukee led 3-0 heading into the sixth inning and all seemed well, but then Junior Guerra surrendered homers to Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison to tie it up, followed by David Freese who drove in Andrew McCutchen and all of a sudden, the Brewers lost 4-3 -- their third straight defeat.
And just like that, Milwaukee's edge in the division is shrinking. It's down to 2½ over the Cubs, but now the Cardinals are just 4½ back and the resurgent Pirates are within five. This is going to be a very interesting division in the 12 days leading up to the trade deadline.
Also: Starling Marte started and led off for Pittsburgh in his first appearance since his 80-game suspension for PED use ended. He singled, walked and scored a run.
Out goes Frazier, in comes Rutherford. I'll admit ... I liked the symmetrical notion of the Yankees sending outfield prospect Clint Frazier to the White Sox in the major deal that sent Chicago's David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and, of course, Todd Frazier to New York on Tuesday. But by all accounts, Blake Rutherford is yet another high-quality get for White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
The list of prospects acquired by Hahn since December is dizzying. Because it's at hand, I'll use Baseball America's midseason top 100 rankings as a guide. Chicago now has eight of the players on that list:
As for Frazier, there are worse things for him than to be headed to the Big Apple. He's from Tom's River, New Jersey, and grew up a Yankees fan who, the very first time he stepped foot on a big league field, stood next to Derek Jeter.
"I remember the first game I went to was at the old Yankee Stadium," Frazier said. "It was Don Mattingly, I actually brought it up with Don a couple years ago about the home run he hit to win 1-0. He was like, 'Yeah, I remember that day, I remember the pitcher's name.' I looked it up and he remembered it like it was yesterday. I remember the upper deck was shaking. To call New York my home now is pretty surreal."
Burying the lede. After Hahn made his opening statements about Tuesday's big trade, he said, "I guess I buried the lede here." He was referring to his next announcement -- one that should have White Sox fans excited that, perhaps, the parade of prospects they've been hearing about might finally start to arrive.
Moncada (Baseball America's current No. 1 overall prospect) will be summoned from Triple-A Chartlotte to play in Wednesday's game against the Dodgers. According to Hahn, expect to see plenty of Moncada over the rest of the season.
"We're not bringing him in here to sit," Hahn said. "We're bringing him here to continue the development that needs to take place in Chicago. He still has work to do. He's still very young. But we feel that he's ready for that next challenge at the big league level. There are going to be growing pains. He's not a finished product."
The 22-year-old hit .282 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage for Charlotte.
Get well soon, Carlos. If the regular season were all that mattered, the Astros would almost certainly be just fine if Carlos Correa didn't play another inning. That's the luxury of enjoying a 15-plus game advantage in the third week of July. They should be fine muddled along with Marwin Gonzalez filling in at shortstop, and Alex Bregman sliding over, etc.
It's a loaded team with plenty of position player depth. Gonzalez has plus-8 defensive runs saved while playing shortstop during his career, per baseball-reference.com, and Correa is a modest plus-1 this season. And since Gonzalez (161 weight runs created, per FanGraphs) has actually outhit Correa (158), the Astros should be fine at the six hole. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Gonzalez has now reached base in 22 straight games, tied with Jorge Bonifacio of the Royals for the longest active on base streak in baseball.
You'd certainly expect Correa to be better than Gonzalez going forward, perhaps exponentially better, but there is no reason to expect a crash either offensively or defensively because of Correa's injury. Houston will have to dig a little deeper into its outfield depth if Gonzalez starts moving around less. But, still, the Astros remain on cruise control in the playoff race.
So it all comes down to a health watch, because you know the Astros will need Correa back in the lineup and functioning like the MVP candidate he was by the time October baseball ramps up to full speed. That makes the timeframe of 6-to-8 weeks for his return a bit anxiety-inducing. The outer edge of that range is starting to rub up against the end of the schedule and doesn't allow much wiggle room for setbacks in the recovery process.
Bottom line: The Astros have the luxury of time in allowing their young star to get healthy. But they don't have all the time in the world.
If the Arizona Diamondbacks reach the postseason for the first time since 2011, it will be as a wild-card team. The Los Angeles Dodgers have disabused them of the notion that a National League West title is within reach by playing .753 ball since the end of April.
Regardless of how long the Diamondbacks stick around in October -- even if it's for a nine-inning cameo -- they're going to go down swinging.
The D-backs made a major strike Tuesday, acquiring outfielder J.D. Martinez from the Detroit Tigers and adding to the fifth-highest-scoring offense in the National League. The D-backs sent minor league infielders Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King to Detroit for Martinez, who is eligible for free agency in November.
The move by Arizona general manager Mike Hazen and his front-office staff was a show of faith in a team that has been a pleasant surprise all year, for an abundance of reasons. The Arizona pitching staff ranks second to the Dodgers in the NL with a 3.51 ERA, and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is making a run at his first MVP award after two second-place finishes. Jake Lamb, Goldschmidt's wing man, has been good enough that his peers named him an All-Star at third base ahead of Kris Bryant and Justin Turner.
But Hazen and his group had some flaws to address before the July 31 trade deadline. For starters, there's the closer, Fernando Rodney, a man who's always one implosion away from inciting Phoenix-area baseball fans to put their feet through TV screens in anger. Arizona's lineup also includes some free-swingers -- second baseman Brandon Drury, shortstop Chris Owings and outfielder/third baseman Yasmany Tomas -- who might be vulnerable in October, when the pitching is uniformly first-rate and the scouting reports are exhaustive.
Martinez, who is slugging .630 in 57 games with the Tigers this season, gives manager Torey Lovullo another big presence in the middle of the order. He's a 150-plus-strikeout guy, but he also ranks 20th in the majors with a .378 on-base percentage since Opening Day 2016. He should also benefit greatly from leaving Comerica Park, the 22nd-best hitter's park in the majors, for Chase Field, which ranks second overall to Coors Field among the 30 MLB parks in offensive-friendliness.
"J.D. Martinez is a pretty damn good hitter," said a National League general manager. "I understand the idea of not giving up too much for midtier rentals. But when you have the top rentals -- and I think J.D. Martinez is the top rental bat -- giving up two or three names isn't that crazy. Mike Hazen is a very smart guy. If he and his staff felt like the value is there, I'm certain that it is."
While Tigers officials pronounced themselves happy with their return package, one MLB evaluator thought Detroit came up light in its end of the deal. "It's two utility infielders and a rookie-ball guy [King] that looks like a utility infielder," he said.
Only time will tell on that assessment.
For now, the Diamondbacks have a season to play out. If the playoffs began today, they would host the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card game with Zack Greinke on the mound. Depending on how adventurous Lovullo feels, he could have the option of summoning Robbie Ray and his 94 mph heater for an inning or two of relief. And that lineup is going to be a challenge for any opposing staff to navigate.
Nine months into his tenure, Hazen could have taken the safe approach, been happy with a playoff berth and settled for a minor upgrade or two. With the Martinez trade, he assured that the D-backs will be a team no one is going to look forward to facing in October.
When you're past the All-Star break and you're leading your division by 15.5 games, these summer days are supposed to be relaxing. Monday was anything but for the Houston Astros.
It all started with a little bit of good-natured frivolity. After all, Houston is 10.5 games better than anybody in the American League. And when you're cruising like that, you've got to mix it up. So the Astros decided to stage a funeral for Carlos Beltran's glove. He hasn't played in the field for two months and, well, why not?
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 18, 2017
If you think the ceremony might have been just a tad premature, then you're in agreement with Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who told MLB.com, “I've not quite given up on the glove, even though they're going to bury it in the outfield today.”
You can't beat fun at the old ballyard. When the day began, it seemed like the more interesting ballpark in the Astros organization was Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas, where ace Dallas Keuchel was making a rehab start. (It was a good night for high-profile rehab starts, with the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Hendricks throwing five perfect innings for Double-A Tennessee.)
Keuchel did fine, throwing three scoreless frames with two hits and a walk. He threw 45 pitches, 29 for strikes. Keuchel, 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA, has been out since June 2 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. He's likely to have a couple of more minor league outings, if only because there is exactly zero reason to rush him back to The Show.
After all that, the Astros had a game to play, and it was a doozy. The opponent was the hard-charging Seattle Mariners, whom some like as a wild-card contender. It's not a stretch to say that the Mariners' series in Houston is a much bigger deal to Seattle than it is for the Astros.
Seattle jumped to the early lead, but Beltran tied it the sixth with his 433rd career homer. While the teams were trading runs to set up a dramatic finish, alarm bells were sounded all over Houston when MVP candidate Carlos Correa had to leave the contest with a wrist injury that is becoming a little too pesky. The team announced he'll be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and while the Astros have that gargantuan buffer in their race to the AL West title, things might feel a little tense as their fans look ahead to October.
The game was tied 7-7 entering the bottom ninth, when Houston's Josh Reddick doubled to start the inning. But then, Seattle shortstop Jean Segura put on a defensive show to get the game to extra innings. It was an amazing sequence. Ozzie Smith couldn't do it any better.
Jean, Jean the incredible-game-saving-putout machine. pic.twitter.com/BgzC2HBwDe
— Mariners (@Mariners) July 18, 2017
On the flip side, Seattle moved within 1.5 games of the New York Yankees for the second wild-card slot in the AL and climbed back to the .500 level for the first time since June 25.
Fearsome foursome in D.C. While the focus on the Washington Nationals temporarily shifted to its bullpen after this weekend's move for Oakland Athletics relievers Sean Doolittle* and Ryan Madson, the offense just keeps mashing. Especially the heart of the lineup, featuring a murderers' row of Bryce Harper (1.038 OPS), Anthony Rendon (1.012), Daniel Murphy (.985) and Ryan Zimmerman (.965). These sluggers, as a group, are headed for rarefied air.
After Monday's matinee against the Cincinnati Reds, in which Harper hit his 23rd home run, Zimmerman hit his 20th homer and Rendon reached base three times on the day he was named National League Player of the Week, all four have an OPS of at least .965.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, only one team in major league history has had four qualifying players in the same lineup post an OPS at least that high -- the 1929 Cubs, with Rogers Hornsby (1.139), Hack Wilson (1.044), Riggs Stephenson (1.006) and Kiki Cuyler (.970) finishing over the threshold. The National League's aggregate OPS that season was .783, the second highest of the modern era, behind 1930. The NL's OPS this season (.749) ranks 11th in the post-1901 period.
By the way, the Astros also are in position to potentially join that short list. Through Monday, George Springer (.977), Jose Altuve (.970) and Correa (.966) are all above the threshold. So too is superutility guy Marwin Gonzalez (.973), but he doesn't quite have enough plate appearances to qualify. He's on pace to finish about 30 plate appearances shy of the 502 minimum needed to count for rate stats.
* No known relation to the author, despite identical surname and similar encyclopedic knowledge of the "Star Wars" universe.
You be the judge. The real-life back story of Yankees phenom Aaron Judge and that of fictional phenom Roy Hobbs doesn't exactly line up, but there are similar narrative shapes to their respective tales. Both emerged from relative-ish obscurity to capture everybody's imagination with the frequency and ferocity of their home run balls. And then, when they get a chance to show off their arm, they amaze us anew.
— MLB (@MLB) July 18, 2017
The best part of it was the broadcaster assuming the throw was to the cutoff man, only to be caught off guard when Judge's throw sailed right into the eager glove of catcher Austin Romine. Good stuff.
Nevertheless, the Yankees would love to see Judge get back to what lifted him into the stratosphere: Slugging balls out of the park. Judge went 0-for-3 on Monday and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he has gone a season-high 35 appearances without a dinger. Judge's average has dropped to .311.
Biggest fish catches two. Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton hit two more runs in a 6-5 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, giving him an NL-high 28 on the season. That puts Stanton on pace to hit 50 homers for the season. Judge, by the way, is on pace for 53 homers, despite his current struggles.
Stanton made a bid for a third homer, but it was flagged down by ... somebody who plays outfield for the Phillies. OK, it was Cameron Perkins. But for a second, you couldn't tell.
I'd like to report a robbery...
Cameron Perkins steals extra bases from Giancarlo Stanton with this amazing catch. pic.twitter.com/e8LdUkdf21
— CSN Philly (@CSNPhilly) July 18, 2017
First of all, that's terrible communication by outfielders on a team on pace to lose 109 games. Second of all, that was awesome. It was like the next generation of the old Fun Bunch celebration by the Washington Redskins wide receivers back in the 1980s. Only it's on a live ball, so it counts.
Miami won the meaningless game on Dee Gordon's base hit, beating a team that apparently is interested in every decent player the Marlins have, including Gordon, which for a number of reasons makes little sense. Here are two: Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Phillies now have nine walk-off losses this season. No other squad has more than six.
That's right, Rick -- relax. The Chicago White Sox had a day off on Monday. On Tuesday, they begin a two-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will send Clayton Kershaw to the mound. Meanwhile, Chicago's manager, Rick Renteria, has forged a reputation as the neo-Earl Weaver by getting kicked out of games. A lot. It's a potentially combustible set of circumstances.
Renteria was tossed from Saturday's loss to Seattle, his sixth ejection of the season and 12th of his relatively young managerial career. Based on this piece from Beyond the Box Score, the late Hall of Famer Weaver entered this season as the all-time leader in ejection rate among the top 30 “leaders” in total heave-hos at 3.7 percent.
Renteria has amassed his dozen ejections in just 252 games through Sunday for a rate of 4.8 percent. In other words, Renteria makes Weaver look like a baseball pacifist. So whether it was because of doctor's orders, a suggestion by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf or simply because he likes to do it, this is how Renteria spent part of his day off.
The skipper in action. <Ì pic.twitter.com/WPTNeOERfv
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 18, 2017
Actually, it was a White Sox charity event, and it was a beautiful day in Chicago. You can't blame Renteria one bit.
NEW YORK -- The power plays for St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. It plays in the minor leagues and the major leagues. It plays when he pulls the ball and when he goes to right-center. And it especially plays when he faces the New York Mets.
DeJong’s 10th home run of the season -- a two-run shot in the sixth inning of Monday’s game at Citi Field -- helped the Cardinals to a much-needed 6-3 win after Sunday’s disastrous loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. DeJong has the second-most home runs through 40 career games of any Cardinals player. Albert Pujols has the most, with 14.
Four of DeJong's 10 home runs have come versus the Mets, against whom he is hitting .588 with 10 hits and six RBIs in four games. He is the only Cardinals player to homer in four straight games against the Mets. The best streak Pujols could muster was three straight games.
DeJong is also the 10th player to homer in four straight against the Mets in one season, joining a list that includes Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey, along with well-known Mets tormentors Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones.
More than that, DeJong has impressed to the point that his 45 strikeouts and only four walks are forgivable numbers given everything else that he brings.
“He’s always got his antennae up to learn something new,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He has a good baseball IQ already. He’s already showing that aptitude. He’s going to win us some games just by wanting to be ahead a couple of steps.
“He keeps getting his money’s worth. There’s a fine line. There’s usually a better balance between the strikeouts and walks. But there are times where he’s hitting in the lineup, we don’t want him giving himself up. We want him to let it fly, and when he does, it seems to carry well.”
“That’s the inning we’ve been looking for,” DeJong said, likely in reference to the previous series in Pittsburgh, in which the Cardinals totaled nine runs.
Matheny’s reference to learning applied to DeJong’s fielding as well. DeJong made 115 starts at third base in the minor leagues and only 48 at shortstop, but he has now made 19 starts at second base and 18 at shortstop and acquitted himself fine. By the defensive runs saved metric, he grades out average. He has passed Matheny’s eye test, too.
“I like the way he plays,” Matheny said. “He’s making some tough plays and getting better all the time. He’s looking more natural at shortstop.”
Avoiding frequent chasing of bad pitches and controlling his defensive effort are DeJong’s two focal points at the moment.
“Managing the strike zone is one of those things I’ve been working on,” DeJong said. “And I think that is going to be a challenge and something I work on my whole career.
“[On defense], most of the plays I’ve messed up have been the weird ones, but I’ve been pretty good on the routine plays so far.”
DeJong’s day included a trip to Wall Street and to Topps to see his baseball card, one commemorating his home run in his first major league at-bat. The home runs have kept coming, and they’re much-needed, given that the Cardinals' playoff probability entering the day, per FanGraphs, was 25 percent but will, like DeJong, take a small step forward.
“I still have a few moments where I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m in the big leagues,'" DeJong said with a smile.
He isn't just in the big leagues. He’s quickly become a power player.
It was mostly a very Rich Hill kind of outing on Sunday. The Los Angeles Dodgers lefty baffled the Miami Marlins for five innings, burning through 92 pitches while allowing a single run, as his team went on to win 3-2. It was the ninth straight win for the juggernaut Dodgers, who are threatening to reach 70 victories before they even reach 30 losses. They just don't seem to lose anymore.
Hill has been the poster boy for baseball's surge in blister problems over the past couple of seasons, during which he's gone on the disabled list four different times because of the nettlesome malady. The issue has kept Hill's innings total low, and not just because of the DL stays. He's now pitched five innings or fewer in 10 of his 13 starts, though he had gone seven in three straight outings prior to Sunday.
An unfortunate offshoot of Hill's low innings total is that it skews just how well he's pitched overall. Hill has had two poor outings, giving up five runs in four innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 24 and seven runs in four innings against the Cleveland Indians on June 15. Because of those bombs, his season ERA remains an artificially high 3.55 even after Sunday's performance.
But since, Hill has hit a stretch of good health and longer outings. Let's ponder the possibilities here. Take out the two bad outings and Hill's ERA this season is 2.25 -- only a bit higher than last year's 2.12 mark between L.A. and Oakland.
Now think about this: If Hill is pitching at that level and you've got Clayton Kershaw, who has been at that level since birth, and Alex Wood, who has allowed three runs over the past month, just how good is that playoff rotation stacking up?
We often look at teams, such as the San Francisco Giants in years past, as being a greater threat in October than in the regular season because the postseason format allows their starting pitching to paper over shortcomings elsewhere, and often to dominant effect. But these Dodgers ... don't have any apparent shortcomings to paper over.
Hill is about the most un-scary guy you'd ever meet. But if he stays off the DL, he makes the Dodgers truly frightening.
The real Samardzija, where are ya? Is there a ballplayer who is producing just flat-out weirder results these days than the Giants' Jeff Samardzija? Samardzija entered Sunday's start against the San Diego Padres leading the National League with a rate of 1.1 walks per nine innings and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 9.07. And yet he was just 4-10 with a 4.58 ERA.
Make that 4-11 with a 4.86 ERA. Samardzija was tagged with seven runs and nine hits over six innings during San Francisco's 7-1 loss to San Diego. But those control numbers were still growing: He struck out eight and didn't walk anybody.
Since April 28, Samardzija has struck out 100 batters and walked four over 92 2/3 innings in 14 starts. That's an easy K:BB ratio to calculate: 25.0. His ERA during that stretch? It's 4.37.
So we ask again: Who is the real Samardzija? Frankly, I'm betting it's more the control-master version than the one with the inflated ERA. Samardzija has allowed a .333 average in balls in play this season. It's "only" the 11th-highest number among qualifying hurlers, but it's 33 points above his career mark.
And perhaps not coincidentally, the Giants rank 29th in the majors with minus-74 defensive runs saved.
This is why they call it a ballglove. The Chicago White Sox are a little more interesting in the present for their role in the upcoming trade deadline than their attempts to win games on the field. That's the reality of the rebuild, and an unfortunate byproduct of that is their presence in highlight packages will be largely limited to curiosities. But as far as curiosities go, this is a pretty good one: Derek Holland's behind-the-back stab and subsequent throw of his glove -- with the ball stuck in the webbing -- to first baseman Jose Abreu.
not supportedAt least he kept his glove in the park. In more glove-related hijinks from non-contending teams, Giancarlo Stanton's glove fled his hand when he ran into the outfield fence while trying to take an extra-base hit away from Chris Taylor. The only confusing thing here is why Stanton didn't simply tear a hole in the wall to retrieve his glove, because we know he's more than capable of doing that.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 16, 2017
Sun-blocked. It's usually a good idea to keep religion out of game-reaction pieces, but the sun god Sol played a key role in helping the Kansas City Royals to a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers. After Jorge Bonifacio struck out with one out and the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain lofted a lazy fly ball to Rangers right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. But the afternoon sun blinded Choo, and the ball clanked off his glove, allowing Alex Gordon to score the winning run.
not supportedThe best part is Cain's response, which was to pay homage to that bright, glowing orb in the sky. Thanks, Sol. The win ended a five-game skid for Kansas City and put the Royals back at the .500 mark. Through Sunday, the American League wild-card race now features four teams within a game of .500 chasing a postseason slot, just behind the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. It's a good year to be so-so.
Godley streak ends. Zack Godley has been, well, a godsend for the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation, which had to pivot from the season-ending injury by Shelby Miller early in the year. Entering Sunday, Godley had started 11 games and allowed three runs or fewer in all of them. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was the third-longest streak in Arizona history.
The streak is over. Godley was tagged for seven runs -- six earned -- over six innings in Arizona's 7-1 loss at the Atlanta Braves. The Braves swept the weekend series at SunTrust Park and, at 45-45, are back at .500 for the first time since April 17. And when the Braves hit .500 that day, it was their first time getting back to break-even since July 7, 2015.
The Braves are a half-game behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League wild-card chase as the teams begin a three-game series in Atlanta on Monday. Chicago is 5.5 games back of the Colorado Rockies for the NL's second wild-card spot and 6.5 games behind Arizona.
Old-school standings. Among the slew of advanced metrics, forecasts and simulation models in my MLB tracking system, I keep one sheet that is simple as simple can be. This one displays the current standings as if there were just two leagues and no divisions. Yes, if I was in charge, that is the way it would be.
With the Dodgers and the Houston Astros running away with their respective leagues, that wouldn't be a popular policy right now. Through Sunday, Houston leads the AL by 11 games over the Boston Red Sox (pending Sunday night's game), and the Dodgers lead the Washington Nationals by eight games.
My argument would be that if one race or the other actually turns into a race, it would be of the epic sort that in today's structure is literally impossible. And all of this examination of who might emerge from the gaggle of .500-ish wild-card contenders would be moot.
I'll never let go.
Language peeve alert. I've never been too thrilled with the rise of "walk-off" as an adjective, especially as it pertains to things such as "walk-off walks" and even "walk-off balks." This year, I've increasingly picked on announcers who are going one step further and using it as a verb. Example: When the Royals won their game against Texas in the ninth inning on Sunday, I heard the broadcasters from another game say, "The Royals walked off the Rangers today."
One request: Stop. Please. Just stop.
All across MLB front offices, general managers are huddled with their staffs and plotting their teams' courses through the July 31 trade deadline. Columnists and commentators play along, with virtually all discussions revolving around whether teams should be buyers or sellers.
Thanks to their being a perennial contender for a postseason berth since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have for years been identified as buyers. But this year, with the team on pace to lose 100 games and sitting an astounding 27 games out of first place, the Giants are generating discussion about whether they should be sellers. Inevitably, that discussion leads to the trade value of a couple of specific players, but that misses the point entirely. The Giants shouldn’t be buyers or sellers -- they need to be a wrecking crew.
Thanks to the changing nature of the game, the roster philosophy the Giants used in constructing three world championships in five years -- exceptional defense and contact hitting from their everyday players -- is obsolete. Stated more starkly, the Giants could have every player on their roster healthy and playing to expectations, and they’d still have a hard time playing .500 baseball, let alone making it to the postseason. It’s not that the players have gotten old or even that their skills have eroded; it’s that the Giants have no more chance to be a top-tier MLB team than does an NBA team that is exceptional in every aspect of the game except shooting 3-pointers.
I think I can prove that to you with one example. In 2014, when the Giants won their third World Series, San Francisco hit 132 home runs. Last year, it hit 130, and this year, it is on pace to hit 135. Let’s look at what that means in terms of placing the team at a competitive advantage or disadvantage.
In 2014, the average MLB team scored 659 runs. In that environment, 8.9 runs equal a win. In other words, for each 8.9 runs a player generated in excess of the so-called replacement player, he would be credited with 1 WAR. (Thinking about it from a team perspective, a run differential of plus-nine would result in a team expected to win 82 games, plus-18 would equal 83 wins and so on.) Scoring has increased each year since 2014, however, so runs are less scarce, and a team needs to create more of them to generate a win. In 2016, 9.8 runs equaled one win, and so far this season, it takes 10.2 runs to create a win.
Let’s put a pin in those figures and move to some home run math. Baseball is unmistakably turning into a three-outcome game, with at-bats more likely than ever to result in a home run, a strikeout or a walk, and the first two outcomes are growing at a faster pace than walks. As a result, there are fewer baserunners than ever, which means the value of a single home run is slowly decreasing, even as a lot more of them are being hit. Skip a few math steps, and it can be summarized like this:
In 2014, by hitting 130 home runs, the Giants could very credibly say that their low-strikeout offense and exceptional defense combined with solid starting and relief pitching easily made up the win deficit they spotted the league through reduced home runs. But that’s not remotely true anymore, and that's why the Giants have started losing with alarming frequency since the second half of the 2016 season. There is no way, mathematically, to play good enough defense or put enough balls into play to overcome the huge competitive disadvantage they face on offense. The margin of error to make up nearly 14 games just to get to .500 is too small. The Chicago Cubs were the greatest defensive team in the history of modern baseball last year, and they created only eight more wins than the average team with their defense.
I am certain that, for the most part, manager Bruce Bochy and the players don’t feel this way. They’re almost certainly convinced that, if all the regulars are healthy and playing to their peak potential, the team will find itself right back in the 90-win range. Regardless of whether that type of performance is realistic, it doesn’t matter because it’s false hope. The math doesn’t work.
That’s why, if the Giants want to be a postseason threat anytime before the next generation of players comes in the clubhouse during the 2020s, they need to blow up the current roster, sell off any part that returns value and start acquiring players with the skills that can help them win games from 2018 to 2020.
The Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox got the trade deadline off with a bang, and with so many teams needing to upgrade and a cluster of teams in the American League wild-card race, the next two weeks will be full of trade speculation and might even feature another blockbuster or two.
As teams pursue deals or a playoff spot, here is the most important thing for each team to achieve in the second half.
American League East
Boston Red Sox -- Solving third base, where the Red Sox are hitting .235 with seven home runs, is the obvious need, and maybe top prospect Rafael Devers is the eventual answer.
But the most important thing might be getting David Price in the right frame of mind heading into the postseason, where his track record is notoriously poor. After a couple of incidents with the media, he has pitched better of late, with a 2.52 ERA in his final four starts heading into the All-Star break.
New York Yankees -- Thanks to first-half MVP Aaron Judge, they're second in the AL in runs scored, but they've done that despite a huge hole at first base. Greg Bird is still battling an ankle injury, and Chris Carter was released. The Yankees rank 29th in the majors in wOBA at first base, hitting a collective .198.
They just acquired Garrett Cooper, who is hitting .366 with 17 home runs at Triple-A Colorado Springs for the Brewers, but All-Star Yonder Alonso looks like a perfect trade candidate.
Faria has had a hot start to his career with a 2.11 ERA through six starts, including a sterling 37-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38⅓ innings. Former top prospect Snell is 0-5 in 10 starts, as he continues to walk too many batters.
Baltimore Orioles -- The collapse of the starting rotation, a 5.75 ERA and disappointing seasons from Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo mean that the Orioles are unlikely playoff contenders, which might force Dan Duquette into trading relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach as the O's look to add some young talent to a weak farm system.
Toronto Blue Jays -- The front office has to decide whether to write off 2017 as a bad year and regroup in the offseason or view this as an aging club in decline. The offense has fallen from first in the AL in runs in 2015 to 14th. If the Blue Jays decide to sell, that could mean shopping Josh Donaldson, who is eligible for free agency after 2018. The team most in need of a third baseman, however, is the division rival in Boston. Donaldson for Devers?
American League Central
With Danny Salazar on the DL and Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin scuffling, Mike Clevinger has become the de facto No. 3 starter behind Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. As such, the Indians need Salazar or Bauer to figure things out or maybe need to consider adding some rotation depth.
Minnesota Twins -- They're hanging in there in the playoff race, but a minus-60 run differential suggests that it is unlikely to continue. That means the second half is still about the development of the young players, particularly Byron Buxton, who is trying to find some consistency at the plate so he can become something close to a league-average hitter.
The Royals are 29th in the majors in wOBA from left field and 29th from right field, so they need offense from those two spots. They might have to bite the bullet on Alex Gordon, who looks washed up, and see if Jorge Soler is a solution in left field. Rookie Jorge Bonifacio has at least provided league-average production in right since his call-up.
Detroit Tigers -- J.D. Martinez will be a free agent, which means it's pretty much a sure thing he'll be traded. Justin Wilson has another season of team control, but a lot of teams will call about the power lefty with 49 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. It's all about maximizing the return for those two.
Chicago White Sox -- They made their big move in trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs and could still deal David Robertson, but it's time to call up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada from Triple-A and give them two-plus months in the majors. None is tearing it up at Charlotte, but at this point, they need to be challenged and learn against the best.
American League West
Houston Astros -- They have a couple of questions to address, such as whether to call up Derek Fisher and play him in left field or DH, but the absolute most important thing is getting Dallas Keuchel healthy and back in the rotation. He has been out since June 2 because of a neck injury, and his health might determine whether the Astros go after another starting pitcher, such as Sonny Gray.
Los Angeles Angels -- It's 2017, fly balls are leaving the park like Marlins fans in the seventh inning of the All-Star Game, and Angels first basemen are hitting .211/.274/.332, numbers barely acceptable for a middle infielder in 1974.
Sure, getting Mike Trout back and slugging .742 the rest of the way will help, but the Angels need something from first base.
Texas Rangers -- Rougned Odor has a .260 OBP, Mike Napoli has a .273 OBP, and Jonathan Lucroy has a .303 OBP. That was supposed to be the meat of the Rangers' lineup. They can look to make a trade to add pitching, but unless those three do better at getting on base, the Rangers won't be playing baseball in October.
Seattle Mariners -- The Mariners are kind of stuck, with a poor first half that leaves them looking up in the wild-card race but without a farm system that will allow them to make any significant additions. They can bring this team back for 2018, so a key in the second half is figuring out if young starters such as Andrew Moore and Sam Gaviglio are legitimate rotation options for next season.
Oakland Athletics -- Alonso is a free agent, and Gray is having a comeback season. Billy Beane and David Forst will be making a lot of phone calls the next two weeks.
National League East
Washington Nationals -- "Hello, this is Mike Rizzo. I'm looking for some bullpen help. Yes, your entire bullpen."
Atlanta Braves -- Besides determining whether the Freddie Freeman experiment at third base can be a real thing, the development of Dansby Swanson is huge. He's hitting just .221/.296/.324 with 77 strikeouts in 85 games in a poor first half.
Miami Marlins -- The potential sale of the team by owner Jeffrey Loria looms over the second half. Three bids are reportedly in to Loria, with big names such as Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Tom Glavine and rapper Pitbull involved in some of the groups. The favorite, however, might be South Florida billionaire Jorge Mas.
New York Mets -- Don't say it ... don't even go there ... it's a ridiculous idea ... I'm going to say it: WILL TIM TEBOW BE CALLED UP IN SEPTEMBER?
Philadelphia Phillies -- They might make a minor trade or two, such as Pat Neshek and Jeremy Hellickson, but the most important thing is Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco and minor leaguer J.P. Crawford showing improvement after terrible first halves.
National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers -- They'll probably add a bullpen arm and maybe a starter, but to hold on to first place over the Cubs, they'll need Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson to match their first halves. Nelson went 8-4 with a 3.30 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 109 innings, finally showing the command to match his stuff. Anderson had a 2.89 ERA but is currently on the DL because of an oblique strain.
Chicago Cubs -- Acquiring Quintana will help the rotation, but the offense needs to step it up. The Cubs are averaging 4.53 runs per game, just below the NL average of 4.62; in 2016, they averaged 4.99 runs, more than a half-run better than the average of 4.44.
St. Louis Cardinals -- The bullpen has borne the brunt of the criticism, and though they've lost only two games they led going into the ninth inning, the relievers are just 8-16 and rank 14th in the majors in win probability added. But some of that blame goes to the offense: The Cards are hitting .202/.285/.351 in late and close situations. They need better late-game clutch performance from the hitters as well as the relievers.
Pittsburgh Pirates -- Andrew McCutchen's OPS+ in 2017: 135. His career OPS+: 138. After posting a 1.193 OPS in June and 1.292 so far in July, McCutchen has re-established his trade value, and for a team looking for a corner outfielder, he suddenly looks like a good fit. Will the Pirates deal the face of their franchise? If they were closer in the playoff race, maybe they keep him and make a run, but they're 42-47. Look for a deal to happen.
Cincinnati Reds -- The rotation owns a 5.91 ERA, which would be the worst since the 2005 Royals had a 6.00 mark. The one guy having a good season is Scott Feldman, and he'll probably be traded. The second half should be about giving innings to guys such as Amir Garrett, Luis Castillo and Cody Reed to see if any of them has the potential to fill a spot in the 2018 rotation.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers -- They have the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors, but they should make a move for a lefty reliever to use with righty Pedro Baez in front of Kenley Jansen. Britton and Wilson would be excellent candidates, as well as San Diego's Brad Hand. If the Dodgers want to work a bigger deal with the Tigers, bringing in Martinez to play left field would add a power right-handed bat to the lineup.
Arizona Diamondbacks -- Speaking of Martinez, the D-backs could use an upgrade in the outfield, where they rank 24th in the majors in wOBA in left field. Yasmany Tomas isn't good, and he's on the DL, which means they're faking left field with bench guys such as Daniel Descalso, Gregor Blanco, Chris Herrmann and Rey Fuentes (all of whom started in left field last week).
Colorado Rockies -- I keep pounding this home, but the Rockies have only three regulars with an OPS above league average. Carlos Gonzalez has arguably been the worst regular in the majors, and if his shoulder isn't 100 percent healthy, they need to find a solution. Maybe that's Gerardo Parra or Raimel Tapia, or maybe the Rockies should pursue Martinez as well.
San Diego Padres -- They'll probably trade Hand and maybe Trevor Cahill, but the second half is mostly about the continued development of young guys such as Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges and Carlos Asuaje.
San Francisco Giants -- They're 64-98 since last year's All-Star break, so the front office has to take a long look at which veterans will still be here in 2018 and whether this group can regain its mojo next season. Trade options are minimal: maybe Brandon Belt, and maybe Johnny Cueto, except his opt-out clause means that his trade value is somewhat limited.
Yes, it has been that kind of year for the Chicago Cubs. With Joe Maddon managing the National League All-Stars, he brought in Wade Davis -- the lone Cubs player on the team -- in the top of the 10th inning ... and Davis promptly gave up a home run to Robinson Cano, who lined a 1-1 curveball to right field for the winning run in the American League's 2-1 victory.
In a night dominated by both pitching staffs, the game had a bit of an anticlimactic feeling following Monday's Home Run Derby. But it certainly wasn't a surprise that in the Year of the Home Run, it would finally be decided by a homer. What was surprising is that it came off Davis, who has allowed just one home run in 30 innings this season and just four over 212⅓ innings over the past four seasons.
Cano's homer was the fourth in extra innings in All-Star history, and the previous three were all hit by Hall of Famers: Red Schoendienst in 1950, Stan Musial in 1955 and Tony Perez in 1967. Even cooler: Perez was in the park to be part of the pregame ceremony as one of the eight Latin Hall of Famers who threw out the first pitch.
A few other items from the game you might have missed if your head was still hazy from watching Aaron Judge's 500-foot bombs on Monday:
Justin Upton saves the day. In a game that featured several nice defensive plays, Upton's diving catch in right field robbed Corey Seager of a potential leadoff double or triple off Andrew Miller in the bottom of the 10th. Even more remarkable: Upton hadn't played right field in the regular season since 2013. Also noteworthy is that Cano and Upton were both injury replacements, Cano for Starlin Castro and Upton for Mike Trout.
Their heroics also evened up the all-time All-Star ledger at 43 wins apiece (although the AL has won 17 of the past 20, with one tie). And get this: Both leagues have scored 361 runs. Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.
Yadier Molina's helmet and chest protector was pretty much the most awesome thing ever. Salvador Perez unveiled his gold-colored glove Monday, but Molina topped him with an outfit straight from a Ridley Scott movie.
— MLB (@MLB) July 12, 2017
Maybe Molina should make this a permanent thing. In his first at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning he tied the score at 1-1 with a home run to right-center off a 2-2 fastball from Ervin Santana.
Nelson Cruz is a big fan of Joe West. Now that the All-Star Game doesn't matter, the trendy thing will be what fun things players will do doing during the game to create the moment that creates a buzz on social media.
Cruz wins honors this year for walking to the plate, pulling a cellphone out of his back pocket, handing the phone to Molina and posing for a photo with West, the umpire. You read that right. He didn't pose with Molina but with an umpire. Maybe Cruz is just a big fan of West's country music and wanted a picture with his favorite musician.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 12, 2017
Greinke should have hit the phone. He's got the control to do it.
— Chris Cwik (@Chris_Cwik) July 12, 2017
— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) July 11, 2017
Harper put the shoes in action, making a diving catch on Perez's soft liner to end the second inning, losing his hat in the process then flipping his hair back to get it out of his face. He was also one of the players mic'd up during the game, as the "this time it doesn't count" theme allowed Fox to conduct in-game interviews.
Harper was one of those most vocal about just wanting to come to the All-Star Game and having some fun for a couple of days, even proposing a draft so he could face Max Scherzer. Now that the game is back to being just an exhibition, well ... maybe we do need it to count.
Look, the idea of the All-Star Game determining World Series home-field advantage was always a little absurd. Here's my idea, stolen from a fantasy league I'm in: Home field would be determined by three factors: (1) Best regular-season record, (2) The league that fares better in interleague play and (3) All-Star Game winner. Whatever team wins two of the three categories gets home-field advantage. So the All-Star Game could be the decisive third factor in some years, and thus of some importance.
Plus, it at least gives us an excuse for complaining when Judge doesn't play the whole game.
Speaking of the Big Guy... Judge went 0-for-3 in his All-Star debut, although his impressive victory in the Home Run Derby still made him the star of the week's All-Star festivities. In his showdown against Scherzer in the first inning, the Nationals' ace showed respect by starting Judge off with a slider for a called strike. Judge managed to work the count full before swinging and missing on a slider perfectly placed on the outside corner. No, they don't throw those during the Derby.
Facing Carlos Martinez in his second at-bat, the Cardinals' right-hander challenged Judge with four pitches clocked at 100 mph, 99.9, 100.1 and 99.2, respectively, with Judge swinging at the fourth one and grounding out to shortstop. He then faced Dodgers lefty Alex Wood and sent a 1-2 changeup to medium-deep right-center, eliciting a momentary rush of excitement from the crowd, but Charlie Blackmon hauled the ball in just short of the warning track.
Don't run on Mookie. Nolan Arenado learned what AL players already know: Mookie Betts has one of the best arms in the league. Betts was in center field with Arenado on first with no outs in the fourth inning when Ryan Zimmerman hit a fly ball to the warning track. Arenado tried to tag up from first, but Betts delivered a rocket measured at 93.1 mph, easily nailing Arenado for the double play.
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) July 12, 2017
Bettis underwent surgery for testicular cancer in spring training but is on the mend and will make his first rehab start Thursday for the Hartford Yard Goats. He'll throw 30 pitches, simulating a first spring training start and gradually work back up to 90-95 pitches over six weeks.
Pitch of the day. Dellin Betances, who has walked 26 batters in 28 1/3 innings, struggled again with his control, walking two and throwing two wild pitches in his inning of work -- although he escaped without giving up any runs. He did, however, throw this pitch to Daniel Murphy:
Dellin Betances, 84 mph curveball movement. >"=7=1 pic.twitter.com/5AAmAsejhp
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 12, 2017
Baseball fever, catch it. Given the price of All-Star tickets, why would you leave early? Fans started trickling out in the seventh inning, and by the ninth, Marlins Park was about only two-thirds full:
Quite a few empty seats in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 All-Star Game at Marlins Park. pic.twitter.com/yDZWVpxVMk
— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) July 12, 2017
I always say this about the All-Star activities: You don't have to like it. Maybe the Home Run Derby isn't your thing and you don't like that the game doesn't seem to mean as much as it once did. Still, it's a three-day celebration of the sport and, especially in diverse city like Miami, a reminder of all the cultures that baseball touches.
It is something that brings us all together, and that's an important attribute in 2017.
MIAMI -- Not every night can belong to Aaron Judge. The New York Yankees' rookie right fielder, who towered over the competition in winning Monday's Home Run Derby with an impressive power display that included three blasts over 500 feet, went 0-for-3 in his first All-Star Game, with a strikeout and a fly ball to medium-deep right-center that momentarily got the crowd excited.
As they say, they don't throw sliders or 100 mph fastballs in the Home Run Derby.
Of course, given the spotlight and all the attention, you can excuse Judge for perhaps being a little exhausted. When the American League players came out of the clubhouse late in the afternoon to take their pregame batting practice, the media members on the field created a pack five or six deep, tweeting and Instagramming photos of Judge as he walked toward the batting cage. He posed for a photo with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and shook hands with various people, followed all along by a cameraperson.
This will be life for Judge in the immediate future: Everyone wanting a piece of his time. Meanwhile, he still had a baseball game to play.
American League manager Brad Mills, the bench coach for the Indians who was filling in for Terry Francona, told reporters he hit Judge third to ensure he'd bat in the first inning. "He's one of the biggest stories, if not the biggest story, of the first [half of the season]," Mills said. "He has done an absolutely outstanding job. I wanted him to hit in the first inning."
That set up the anticipated Judge versus Max Scherzer showdown, with Scherzer working from the stretch after Jose Ramirez had singled with one out. Scherzer, showing immediate respect, started off Judge with a slider for a called strike. Judge fouled off a 95 mph fastball, but then worked the count full as Scherzer threw fastballs off the plate and then a slider. The 3-2 pitch was another slider, perfectly located on the outside, and Judge swung and missed.
In Judge's second at-bat, he faced Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, with Ramirez once again on first. Martinez dialed up the octane and threw four fastballs at 100.0, 99.9, 100.1 and 99.2 mph, respectively, with Judge swinging at the fourth one and hitting a hard grounder to shortstop.
In his final at-bat, Judge had to face Dodgers lefty Alex Wood, the master of a changeup that dives away from right-handed batters. Wood started him with a 91 mph fastball, got Judge to swing through one of those changeups, then threw a curve that Judge took for a strike. After Judge fouled off a changeup, Wood threw yet another one and Judge sent the ball to deep right-center, where Charlie Blackmon hauled it in just shy of the warning track.