Articles By Charlie Miller
Every summer August 1 is something like New Year’s Day in baseball. General managers around the league work frantically through July 31 to reshape their teams into contenders or sell off spare parts in order to rebuild for the future. It marks the beginning of the pennant drive, with a different look to many lineups.
Many teams’ destinies are defined by decisions made at the annual trade deadline. There was no better example than in 2011. Both the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals rebuilt their pitching staffs, most notably their bullpens, at the deadline, and those key moves proved instrumental in both teams’ pennants.
Every trade deadline presents winners and losers. Here are this year's best and worst.
It’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this season. Painfully clear. However, they are moving to the American League West next season, and the building process is well underway to compete with the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels over the next five years. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done a magnificent job stockpiling talented young pitchers. The 10-player deal with Toronto brought Houston two former first-round draft picks with big upsides in Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. The Astros also grabbed a couple of corner outfield types from Arizona in Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering. The two big swingers strike out too often for Arizona GM Kevin Towers’ liking, but their power should play well at Minute Maid Park.
The Tigers are built to win now. The signing of Prince Fielder over the winter and the subsequent move of Miguel Cabrera to third gave the Tigers a powerful lineup but exposed the team defensively. With a gaping hole at second base, the Tigers were able to bring Omar Infante back to Detroit, and with him came starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who has a no-hitter on his resume. That should be enough to win the AL Central.
New York Yankees
These aren’t the Yankees of the free-spending, wheeling and dealing era, but these are shrewd Yankees who know how to build a winner. New York welcomed former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki to New York at very little cost. Casey McGehee should be a productive right-handed bat off the bench and a solid option at third while Alex Rodriguez is recovering from a hand injury. The pieces are in place for the favorite in the American League.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Witness baseball’s next version of the Evil Empire. The Dodgers are determined to win. They are determined to win back the fans in Los Angeles who were lost during the McCourt regime and prevent the Angels from getting all the headlines. Hanley Ramirez had lost his edge in Miami, but a change of scenery should be just what the doctor ordered. Shane Victorino provides Gold Glove defense in the outfield and can be the leadoff hitter the Dodgers have sorely needed in front of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier this season. The offense, which hit just six home runs in June, has suddenly become a force.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Carlos Beltran at this point last season and it wasn't enough to get the team over the hump. In dire need of offense, the team was without Buster Posey in 2011, so the hole was much deeper. Now with Posey in the lineup and Pablo Sandoval expected back soon, adding Hunter Pence is a huge boost for the Giants as they battle the Dodgers and for one of the wild card spots. In his career, Pence has a career .329 average at AT&T Park, not a friendly place for most hitters.
Chicago White Sox
The surprise team in the AL, the White Sox see the opportunity in the AL Central, and the addition of the second wild card certainly made the decision to go for it this season easier. Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano bring depth to a young pitching staff. Myers, especially, should be a welcome presence to a staff that has had as many as seven rookies at one time this season.
It’s not so much what the Pirates did that makes them winners, it’s just that they did more than their NL Central rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati. Wandy Rodriguez can be a huge lift to an already promising rotation. Gaby Sanchez, an All-Star in 2011 has been horrible with Miami this season and was demoted to the minors. He has a chance to revive his season and give manager Clint Hurdle some options at first base.
Toronto Blue Jays
It’s difficult to see exactly what the Blue Jays are up to. They gutted their farm system for very little in return, especially with such little impact this season. Adding Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln, J.A. Happ and Steve Delabar deepens the bullpen for sure, but it’s not like those were the final pieces for a championship run.
St. Louis Cardinals
Last season the Cardinals added lefthander Marc Rzepczynski and righty Octavio Dotel and completely changed their bullpen. This season the additions of lefty Brian Fuentes and righthander Edward Mujica should serve the same purpose. But the key that is missing this season is that Edwin Jackson, also acquired last year, made 12 starts and threw 89 innings, allowing Kyle McClellan to move to the bullpen and complete the puzzle. Missing out on another starting pitcher this season will leave the Cardinals short of the postseason.
While the Reds seemed to have forgotten how to lose, even without superstar Joey Votto, the absence of a true leadoff hitter and big bat behind Votto will haunt the NL Central leaders. The Reds, with the best bullpen in the National League, improved themselves there by adding former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals. Now Broxton and Sean Marshall in front of closer Aroldis Chapman really shortens games. But Reds fans are hoping the offense will do enough to get leads after six innings.
I don’t blame the Marlins for aggressively selling at the deadline. It makes sense. What’s tough to swallow for fans is that they were such aggressive buyers in the offseason, and even traded for Carlos Lee earlier in the season. Getting 21-year-old righthander Jacob Turner from Detroit should pay nice dividends for the future, but this season has turned into a debacle in South Florida.
Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox
I can understand throwing in the towel and watching the Yankees cruise to the AL East title. But with two wild cards, these teams are competing against the each other, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s. It doesn’t take much to separate from that pack. But these teams didn’t pull the trigger on any opportunities for improvement.
Caught in Between
The Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s were caught in that precarious position on the verge of contending, but reluctant to forsake their futures for this season. All three have players attractive to contenders, but they are in position to contend next season and beyond. With teams ahead of them in their divisions getting stronger, it’s understandable why these three will play out the season standing pat.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonSports)
Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames.
Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.
50. Don Mossi
Ears (also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”
49. Ernie Lombardi
Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.
48. Nick Cullop
Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.
47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.
46. Don Zimmer
Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.
45. Bill Lee
And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.
44. Jim Grant
Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”
43. Jim Hunter
Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.
42. Randy Johnson
Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”
41. Mark Fidrych
The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.
40. Marc Rzepczynski
Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.
39. Doug Gwosdz
Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.
38. Johnny Dickshot
First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.
37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains
Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.
36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee
Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.
35. Bob Feller
Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).
34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board
Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.
33. Leon Allen Goslin
Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.
32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid
There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.
31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet
Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.
30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky (also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.
29. Brooks Robinson
If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”
28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.
27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.
26. Darrell Evans
One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.
25. Dennis Boyd
Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.
24. Johnny Lee Odom
Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?
23. Frank Thomas
Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.
22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense
If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.
21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay
And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.
20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange
Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.
19. Jimmy Wynn
His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.
18. Steve Balboni
Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.
17. Joakim Soria
When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.
16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher
While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.
15. Carl Pavano
After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.
14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.
13. Mariano Rivera
Good night batters.
12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal
One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.
11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian
Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.
10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go
A true artist of the stolen base.
9. Ken Reitz
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.
8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda
The loveable Giant Panda.
7. Fred McGriff
One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.
6. Kenny Rogers
“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.
4. Harry Davis
Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.
3. Ron Cey
Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.
2. William Ellsworth Hoy
As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.
1. George Herman Ruth
Babe (also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 6, 2012.
1. Reds — Aroldis Chapman toughest pitcher in majors.
2. Nationals — Closer Drew Storen finally gets his first save this season.
3. Yankees — Two four-game losing streaks since All-Star break.
4. Rangers — Scored 41 runs in last five games, but gave game away Sunday.
5. Pirates — Needed more than one of three vs. Reds; now have 11 at home.
6. Braves — Allowed just 23 runs over last 13 games.
7. Dodgers — Six streaks of three or more wins or losses since break.
8. Angels — Lead the majors in scoring after All-Star break.
9. Giants — Sweet sweep at Colorado.
10. Cardinals — Sweep Brewers during 1982 Reunion Weekend.
11. A’s — Magic seems to happen every night in Oakland.
12. White Sox — Won nine of 12 since being swept at Detroit.
13. Tigers — Miraculous win on Sunday to complete sweep of Tribe.
14. Orioles — Chris Tillman has been nice lift since joining rotation in July.
15. Rays — Batted just .225 in July.
16. Diamondbacks — Next 10 games vs. contenders.
17. Blue Jays — Have no pitchers in top 70 in ERA.
18. Mariners — Efficient work by King Felix in the Bronx on Saturday.
19. Red Sox — Lost three of four vs. the Twins.
20. Mets — R.A. Dickey one of four 14-game winners in majors.
21. Twins — Are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back in top form?
22. Marlins — Won just five of last 19 games.
23. Phillies — Acquired Hunter Pence at 2011 deadline, dealt in 2012.
24. Indians — Lost heartbreaker to Detroit to cap horrendous stretch.
25. Brewers — Lost 14 of 19 since break when not playing Houston.
26. Padres — Chase Headley earning team MVP honors.
27. Royals — Last two wins have come in extras.
28. Cubs — Eight of next 14 games are against the Reds.
29. Rockies — Absolutely no pitching in Denver this season.
30. Astros — Can’t join the American League soon enough.
AL Player of the Week
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles—It was bound to happen. As soon as Pujols signed the $250 million pact over the winter, it was a given that he would eventually be Player of the Week. The Angels’ first baseman batted .424 and slugged 1.121 for the week. He led the majors with six home runs and 13 RBIs. He also scored six times. His 11 extra-base hits helped boost his average for the season from .277 to .289.
AL Pitcher of the Week
David Price, Tampa Bay—The Rays just can’t seem to get their offense going, much to the dismay of their pitchers. Price was winless in two starts last week, but threw 15 innings and allowed only seven hits and five walks. He struck out 16 and capped the week with eight shutout innings against Baltimore in a game the Rays would lose 1-0 in 10 innings. He has allowed just four earned runs in his last 29 innings.
NL Player of the Week
Buster Posey, San Francisco—The All-Star catcher is proving to be a valuable cog in the Giants offense. Posey batted .500 last week, and his six walks gave him an on-base percentage of .600. He homered in three straight games and drove home nine runs.
NL Pitcher of the Week
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh—Escaping New York proved to be just the ticket for Burnett, who is now 14-3 for the Pirates. Facing a sweep at the hands of the NL Central leaders at Cincinnati, the Pirates moved Burnett’s start up a day and he didn’t disappoint. He went 8.2 strong innings and gave up just two earned runs in the win. Earlier in the week, he tossed a one-hit shutout at Chicago.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for July 30, 2012.
1. Reds—Everything falling into place in Cincinnati.
2. Nationals—Will Stephen Strasburg be available down the stretch?
3. Yankees—Followed a 2-5 West Coast trip by losing two of three to Boston.
4. Rangers—Need to get Josh Hamilton back on track soon.
5. Pirates—Playing well, but can’t keep pace with ultra hot Reds.
6. Dodgers—Sweep at San Francisco has Dodgers and Giants virtually tied.
7. Braves—Stingy pitching allowed just five runs over last four games.
8. Angels—Former Angel Fernando Rodney saves Sat. and Sun. games.
9. Giants—Nothing more painful than getting swept at home by Dodgers.
10. A’s—Green and Gold is red hot in Oakland.
11. Cardinals—Let weekend slip away in Chicago.
12. Tigers—Made huge splash with trades and filled big hole at second.
13. White Sox—Young Sox are not going away.
14. Orioles—Buck Showalter has so much to build on for the future.
15. Rays—With Evan Longoria coming back soon, you never know.
16. Blue Jays—Jays have been within two games of .500 since June 25.
17. Diamondbacks—Arizona has Giants and Dodgers looking over their shoulders.
18. Mariners—11-6 since All-Star break; brighter days ahead.
19. Red Sox—Felix Doubront is latest Red Sox ace.
20. Mets—Wheels are coming off and team is breaking down.
21. Indians—7-2 vs. Tigers this season, but ended weekend two under .500.
22. Marlins—Contenders in the offseason, sellers at the trade deadline.
23. Twins—Winning records vs. Cleveland and Kansas City this season.
24. Padres—3.16 ERA at home, 4.47 on the road.
25. Brewers—Bullpen has been absolutely terrible all season.
26. Phillies—Doesn’t look like a spark will happen.
27. Cubs—Totally different team on the road than at home.
28. Royals—Same sad story of struggle in K.C this summer.
29. Rockies—Won just four of 15 since the break; season getting bleaker.
30. Astros—Tough to find a silver lining right now.
AL Player of the Week
Paul Konerko, Chicago— Teammate Alex Rios led the AL in RBIs and Adam Dunn scored the most runs, but it was Konerko who was the most consistent man in the middle of the lineup for Chicago last week. He batted .435 and drove home seven runs. His power stroke had been missing since a minor wrist injury earlier this month, but he hit three home runs and added a double.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Scott Feldman, Texas—The Rangers have been scuffling terribly of late, but Feldman was terrific in two starts last week. He allowed just one run to the Red Sox last Monday and tossed eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the AL Central-leading White Sox Sunday night. Two of the Rangers’ last three wins are courtesy of Feldman, who did not walk a batter and struck out 10 in his two outings.
NL Player of the Week
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee—The Brewers have not been very good of late, losing nine of their last 10 games. But the bullpen deserves most of the blame, certainly not the offense. Ramirez has done his part. Last week he batted .417 with four doubles and a pair of home runs while nursing a wrist injury that caused him to miss Sunday’s game.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Mike Minor, Atlanta—The young lefthander seems to be coming into his own after several false starts over the past two seasons. He logged 15 innings for the Braves last week without walking a batter. He gave up just 10 hits and whiffed 13. He allowed just two runs against Miami, but lost 2-1 before pitching eight innings and defeating the Phillies, 2-1.
After dictating the heaviest sanctions ever on an athletic program, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Now I ask you, Mr. Emmert, can you look parents, administrators, professors and students nationwide in the eye and assure them that every one of the NCAA’s institutions “will never again (place football) ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”?
I would submit there are athletic programs and coaches all over the land that would stutter through questioning under oath defending their programs against accusations of putting sports “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Do I believe all athletic programs are guilty of this? No way. Not even close. But to say that sports will “never again” be placed ahead of the ideals and original purposes of university is a bit comical, really.
Has basketball at the University of Kentucky ever been placed “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”? What about college football at Alabama? Florida State? USC? Texas? Oklahoma? Michigan? What about lacrosse at Johns Hopkins? Duke?
At Penn State, there has been a sordid individual allowed to commit insidious crimes against young people. This is no doubt a very serious, sinister situation. However…
What business is it of the NCAA?
Shouldn’t the National Collegiate Association of Athletics stick to athletics? The NCAA should be about fair play, enforcing the rules governing the sports, promoting its institutions and ensuring a level playing field exists for all schools. This is a very serious legal matter. It’s not an athletic matter.
There is no doubt that the athletic program, and football program in particular, at Penn State has outgrown its original, primary purpose at the institution. And many coaches and administrators inside and outside the athletic department were much more interested in protecting themselves, their small kingdoms and their legacies than protecting young boys. There is no denying that and there is absolutely no excuse. There should be punishment. And for the record, I agree that Penn State was prudent in taking down the statue of Joe Paterno. But again, this isn’t a place for the NCAA.
I believe that individuals should be punished severely for their actions — and non-actions — in this case. I would take great care in not rushing to judgment and afford all involved due process. This process needs to be thorough. There are clear laws in this country that were specifically written to deal with such atrocities. Let’s allow the legal system to serve its purpose.
Punishing an institution really doesn’t make sense. After all, who really feels the pain when a university is punished? Administrators? Faculty? Students? Alumni? All of the above. And who in that group really deserves it? Maybe some, but those individuals should be dealt with by the courts.
Perhaps that’s an argument against most NCAA penalties, but this situation seems to cast a different light on the concept of punishing an institution long after those that were at fault are gone. And we’ll save that debate for another day.
Individuals, who exercised questionable, if not criminal, judgment, should be relieved of their jobs. But punishing the entire university?
The Penn State penalties as given by the NCAA:
• $60 million fine
I actually like the idea of fines in typical rules violations scenarios. I think it strikes at — or at least near — the heart of why schools are tempted to cheat. However, in this situation, I am concerned about those that actually feel the brunt of the fine. The Penn State athletic department, with the accompanying bowl ban, could struggle to clear $20 million over the next few years. The school will pay this fine over four years, so it all adds up to a lack of revenue to support athletic teams other than the football program. How will the volleyball team travel to games? Will the baseball team have to give up spring break trips to the south because the athletic department can’t afford it? How will the women’s soccer team get its funding?
• 4-year postseason ban
This is a terrific penalty if the players, coaches and students over the next four years commit some serious violations. How does this punish those involved? If the objective is to break down a university for its lack of institutional control over the past 15 years, the fines are sufficient.
• Loss of 40 scholarships
Much like the postseason ban, this cripples a football program. And by crippling the Penn State football program, what else is affected at the university? Other sports in the athletic department.
• Forfeiting 112 games
How can this penalty be anything but punitive? And what purpose does this really serve other than to attack Joe Paterno’s legacy? Perhaps that is reason enough, but is that really the NCAA’s place to do that? Former players and opponents will never view any of those games differently. On Oct. 25, 2008, Penn State went into the Horseshoe in Columbus and defeated the Buckeyes, 13-6. Will this action by the NCAA make Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells fell any better about that game? Are LSU fans celebrating their 2010 Capital One Bowl victory today? The fact is that none of the Penn State wins that were vacated were ill-gotten wins. There were no performance enhancing drugs. There were no ineligible players. There were no recruiting violations that enticed players to Happy Valley. There are not illegitimate wins here. Now if the NCAA wants to spend resources digging up old records and details in search of some of the aforementioned violations, that’s one thing.
So, what do we do with this tragic situation? There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky has created a monumental mess for Penn State. He created it. Others exacerbated the problem by their inaction. Each individual connected with the Penn State football program should be under scrutiny, and either prosecuted or cleared. This begs for a thorough investigation of anyone who could have had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions. And any individuals who had knowledge should be dealt with harshly by the legal system. But there is no basis for grandstanding and headline-grabbing sanctions by the NCAA.
This is a legal matter, not an athletics matter.
Charlie Miller (AthlonCharlie)
A’s, as in the Oakland Athletics, are in a pennant race for the first time since 2006. We have the second wild card to thank for this, but the no-name A’s have been the hottest team since July 1. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you assemble a competent pitching staff.
It’s no secret how critical bullpens are down the stretch, but one strong bullpen in particular could dictate a division race. The Cincinnati Reds’ pen has been terrific all season, but can they maintain their edge for another three months? The Atlanta Braves claimed the majors’ best pen at this time a year ago, but the high inning workloads began to wear on Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty over the last six weeks of the season. Reds manager Dusty Baker, never one to shy away from bullpen overuse, may see the same breakdown this season in Cincinnati. Closer Aroldis Chapman regularly hits triple digits on radar guns, but if he loses a few MPHs, his edge would be kaput.
Cabreras certainly have a way of leaving their marks on baseball pennant races and the playoffs. Ask any Braves fans — or Pittsburgh fan — from the early 1990s and they’ll recall the name Francisco Cabrera. At the center of three teams in pennant races in 2012 are Cabreras — Melky, Miggy and Asdrubal. Melky has been a huge lift for San Francisco’s offense this season. Miguel owns a permanent spot in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup and carries a huge burden for producing runs. He’s also playing a different position this season at third base. He is sure-handed and makes few errors, but his range is rather statuesque. Asdrubal, the Indians’ shortstop and No. 2 hitter, is anything but a statue in the field. If Cleveland makes a charge, Asdrubal will be a key reason for the team’s success. However, in case you’re asking, Edwar of the Rockies and San Diego’s Everth will have little impact on the races this season. Orlando played a huge role at shortstop for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2004. He followed that with an amazing run of making the playoffs with the Angels in 2005 and 2007, the White Sox in 2008, Minnesota in 2009 and the Reds in 2010. After breaking the string last season, Orlando is no longer in the bigs.
Two notable droughts are perilously close to ending this season. There could be postseason baseball in Washington for the first time since the old Senators met the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. A much shorter, but perhaps more meaningful, drought is that the Pirates haven’t played in the postseason since Sid Bream just beat Barry Bonds’ throw from left field at the plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates are also busy trying to make fans forget they have a 19-year streak of losing seasons in Pittsburgh.
Ellis, Ellis and Ethier
While that’s not a law firm, it is the three top OBPs for the Dodgers behind superstar Matt Kemp. With Kemp out of the lineup and Ethier playing sporadically, the Dodgers hit just six home runs in June. For Los Angeles to muster enough offense to ward off the rival Giants in the NL West, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Andre Ethier must support Kemp. The pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Dodgers in the hunt, but the lineup must catch fire.
He was the hero for St. Louis last October and the Cardinals need him to be as clutch in August and September this year. The fairy that sprinkled the magic dust in St. Louis around mid-August last season may not show up this year. Everything fell into place last season for St. Louis— especially in the bullpen — but Freese may need to produce earlier and more often to get the Redbirds back in the postseason. Waiting until their final strike in 2012 will be too late.
The Milwaukee Brewers are out of the race but that doesn’t mean that Greinke won’t be. The Milwaukee ace is being dangled as trade bait and could have a huge impact in a close race down the stretch. It would be unlikely for the Brewers to trade within their division, but adding a top starter to the Reds, Cardinals or Pirates would probably tip the scales in such a close battle. Another ace would give the Braves a real shot at the Nationals in the East, and probably lock up the second wild card. The White Sox, Tigers and especially the Indians would get an appreciable lift from Greinke as well.
Josh Hamilton is among the best players in baseball. He anchors arguably the best lineup in the game in Texas. There is little doubt that the Rangers will once again win the AL West and be favored in the American League playoffs. But they must be firing on all cylinders and Hamilton is an important cylinder. His track record for staying healthy for long stretches isn’t the greatest. If he spends too much time out of the lineup, the door will at least remain open for the Angels. And if he’s out for the postseason, all bets are off.
Since Stephen Strasburg’s recovery from Tommy John surgery began more than two years ago, the Washington Nationals have been handling him with kid gloves. Since the outset of spring training, the front office has insisted that their ace has a strict innings limit this season. While the exact number remains a mystery, it’s reported to be around 165, maybe as high as 180. Currently Strasburg sits at 105 innings after 18 starts. Ten more starts at six innings per puts him at 165 with two weeks left in the season. I’d love to eavesdrop on the conversation between general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson as they discuss shutting down Strasburg for the final two weeks and the potential postseason. That won’t go over well with the manager, Strasburg or the Washington fans starved for postseason baseball.
With the exception of 2008, Derek Jeter has played in the postseason every year since 1996. As he chases down Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer on the all-time hits list, Jeter is almost certain to add to his 152 postseason games and 191 postseason hits. The Yankee Captain doesn’t chase down ground balls as he once did, but he remains a spark at the top of a potent Yankees lineup that recently added Ichiro Suzuki.
The Chicago White Sox, thought to be in rebuilding mode this past offseason, surprised the baseball world by maintaining a lead in the AL Central past the All-Star break. They’ve done it with a rookie manager and as many as 10 rookies on the roster at one time. But it won’t be the rooks keeping the Sox atop the division. If Chicago hangs with the Tigers and holds off charges by the Indians, Paul Konerko will be the leader.
Lynn and Lohse
The St. Louis Cardinals have a potent lineup, a beleaguered bullpen and a rotation without last postseason’s ace Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. Former ace Adam Wainwright continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery, but it will be Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn who must carry the Redbirds’ rotation. The two starters must consistently get through seven innings to give relievers Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte chances to close out games. Having to bridge a gap between the sixth and eighth innings has been a disaster for St. Louis this season. And Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and rookie Joe Kelly are not providing much help pitching deep into games.
The Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen is clearly the front runner for National League MVP so far this season. He’s leading the league with a .372 batting average, is tied for third in RBIs with 66, and even though he did not homer until May 8, is second in the NL with 22 bombs. The Pirates’ centerfielder must continue to perform at an elite level to keep the Bucs in the race. And I believe he will.
Excitement abounds in our nation’s capital once again. Ranking 13th and 14th in attendance among the 16 National League franchises over the past five seasons, the Nats are ninth this year with a bullet. Averaging more than 5,400 fans per game better than last season, Natitude has swept through the District.
During the past two seasons, Alexi Ogando has been a key weapon for the Texas Rangers. In 2010, he was a critical piece in one of the league’s best bullpens. Last season, he worked both as a starter and reliever. While effective early in the season, Ogando recently missed five weeks nursing a groin strain. Since his return, he’s been a bit shaky, but he will be asked by manager Ron Washington night in and night out to get crucial outs. The deeper the Rangers go into the postseason, the more important the bullpen — and especially Ogando — become.
Oh yeah, him. King Albert has been relatively silent so far this season. I mean, he’s been very good, perhaps even outstanding, but he’s been subpar on the Pujols Scale. He didn’t make the All-Star team. He doesn’t lead his team in any major categories, unless you count games, at-bats, doubles and walks. But down the stretch, no pitcher will want to face The Machine with the game on the line.
Few fans are familiar with Jose Quintana, but the longer the White Sox stay in the pennant race, the more fans will get to know the 23-year-old native of Columbia. His record is 4-1 with an impressive 2.30 ERA. The White Sox have won seven of his 10 starts and twice he has pitched eight shutout innings, only to watch the Sox lose. He will have an opportunity to pitch some key games for Chicago in August and September.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has resisted using Sergio Romo as his primary closer for much of the season since closer Brian Wilson was lost to season-ending surgery. But Romo will be the key to the Giants’ bullpen down the stretch. Whether it’s in a more traditional closer role, or more likely a hybrid setup-closer, Romo will be called upon to get key outs whether it’s the eighth or ninth inning.
On May 3, when elite closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging flies during BP, the Yankees’ season and pennant hopes hung in the balance. Not since 1996 had the Yankees known anything other than Mo at the end of games. Suddenly Rafael Soriano was thrust into the spotlight of closing games in the Bronx. And the former Rays closer responded admirably with 24 saves in 26 opportunities. Now he must prove he can be the man down the stretch.
Trout and Trumbo
The two position players most responsible for the success of the Angels so far this season are Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. When the Angels recalled Trout on April 28 and inserted him at the top of the lineup, he quickly sparked an offense that had been scuffling for the first month of the season. The Angels won 18 of his first 29 games as Trout chipped in with 35 hits, 12 walks and scored 20 runs. No player outside the hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado in 1996-97 has ever batted as high as .340 in a 30-30 season. After last Sunday, Trout was batting .357 with 31 steals and 15 home runs. Although power-hitting Trumbo led the team in home runs and RBIs in 2011, he was essentially cast aside once the team signed Albert Pujols over the winter. Given reps at third base and in the outfield, Trumbo — a natural first baseman — struggled in the field but not at the plate. His bat has forced manager Mike Scioscia to find a place in the lineup for the improving outfielder. Should the Angels chase down the rival Rangers this season, Trout and Trumbo will be in the middle of the mayhem.
Recently the ultra streaky Braves second baseman Dan Uggla has been pretty ugly at the plate. But he hustled out an infield single and forced a wide throw that enabled the Braves to cap off an amazing 11-10 win at Washington after being down 9-0. Atlanta needs run production outside of catcher Brian McCann, who must be rested occasionally, and the aging Chipper Jones, who has played in just 58 of the team’s 95 games this season. The Braves could use an Uggla hot streak come August.
Having never managed or coached at any level prior to this season, Robin Ventura managed the Chicago White Sox to the top of the AL Central at the All-Star break. In what was supposed to have been a rebuilding year in Chicago, Ventura’s White Sox have had a terrific season with as many as 10 rookies on the roster. How will the young manager with the young roster hold up during the pennant drive?
With the addition of an extra wild-card team in each league, MLB is getting exactly what it envisioned — wild races for the playoffs. Eight of the 11 AL teams not in first place are within four games of the final wild card spot. Fans in Oakland and Toronto actually have reason to believe their teams can play in October. With the one-game, do-or-die playoff for the two wild card teams in each league, there is a heightened emphasis on winning the division. So expect many more meaningful games down the stretch with more teams in the hunt and fewer teams playing out the string as spoilers.
NL East: Experienced Braves players vs. the inexperience of a pennant race among the Nationals. But Washington manager Davey Johnson is a proven winner, while Fredi Gonzalez allowed a 10.5-game lead to evaporate last season.
NL Central: Acquisitions will play a key role in this division, as will the schedule in the final week. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak has shown the guts and acumen to acquire the pieces necessary at the trade deadline. Can Neal Huntington do that in Pittsburgh? The Cincinnati Reds end the regular season with a road trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. It’s always better to end the year at home.
NL West: Big bat acquisition. Will the Giants or Dodgers boost their offense the most at the trade deadline?
AL East: Don’t be surprised the see the Orioles promote super prospect Dylan Bundy in September, much like the Rays did David Price in 2008.
AL Central: White Sox GM Ken Williams will be aggressive on the trade market, even after the non-waiver trade deadline passes.
AL West: If the Rangers are blessed with good health, their lead will be safe. If not, expect some help down the stretch by Loenys Martin with his speed and defense.
One of the most underappreciated players in the game, Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Former manager Tony La Russa referred to Molina as the most indispensible player in St. Louis, even when Albert Pujols was in town. His leadership during games, his handling of pitchers, his throwing arm and now even his bat, are among the best in the National League. Should the Cardinals surge and win the NL Central, Molina should receive considerable consideration for NL MVP.
Zimmerman and Zimmermann
Whether it’s with one "n" or two, the Zimmermen in Washington will be at the center of the NL East race down to the wire. Jordan with two n’s is a starting pitcher with a 7-6 mark for the Nats. His 2.35 ERA tells a more accurate story than does his W-L record. In Zimmermann’s six no-decisions, Washington is 4-2. And in his six losses, the Nats have yet to score more than three runs for him. The third baseman, Ryan, is a fixture in the No. 3 hole in the Nats’ lineup. As of Sunday, since June 24 Zimmerman is batting .392 with 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, nine doubles and 24 runs in 25 games.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 23, 2012.
1. Rangers—Still the scariest team in the American League.
2. Reds—Back-to-back weekend sweeps, one without Votto.
3. Yankees—Vaunted offense couldn’t solve Oakland pitching.
4. Nationals—Recovered from coughing up a 9-0 lead on Friday.
5. Pirates—Sweep Marlins, but gain no ground on Reds.
6. Dodgers—Four games at St. Louis before critical series at San Fran.
7. Braves—Needed to gain ground vs. Nats, but lost last two for split.
8. Tigers—Turned 3.5-game deficit to 1.5-game lead in five days.
9. Angels—Took two of three from Texas, 10 games remain with Rangers.
10. Giants—Still 12 games remaining with the Dodgers.
11. Orioles—Most road wins in the American League.
12. Cardinals—Beat up on Cubs, but still five games back of Cincinnati.
13. White Sox—Outscored 30-9 during recent five-game losing streak.
14. A’s—Currently tied for second wild card spot. Amazing.
15. Rays—Offense? Lost two 2-1 games to Seattle over weekend.
16. Blue Jays—Swept by Yankees, then swept the Red Sox.
17. Red Sox—Big Papi now injured, Lester awful. What next for Sox?
18. Diamondbacks—Devoured Houston pitching for 33 runs in three weekend games.
19. Indians—4.5 games back is largest deficit for Tribe in 2012.
20. Mets—Lost eight of nine since break, now Nats coming to town.
21. Brewers—Trade talks will intensify this week.
22. Mariners—12-10 vs. three first place teams in AL.
23. Marlins—Seems like a long time since Fish were tied for first on June 3.
24. Phillies—One of three NL teams with a losing home record.
25. Royals—Most doubles in the majors (40) in July.
26. Twins—No. 6 in AL attendance; fans performing better than players.
27. Padres—Signed Carlos Quentin to long-term deal rather than trade him.
28. Cubs—Were playing much better until trip to St. Louis.
29. Rockies—Jamie Moyer’s 5.70 ERA second among pitchers with 10 starts.
30. Astros—10-player deal with Toronto, for what?
While the wiry Pittsburgh centerfielder with dreadlocks continues his march toward his first MVP, does the season he has put together rank among one of the all-time best?
We’ll be able to judge the full season later but from May 9 to July 13, McCutchen had an impressive 56-game run rivaling that of the legendary Joe DiMaggio in 1941.
During that historic streak, Joe D hit .403 with a .459 OBP and .691 slugging for a 1.150 OPS. Not bad. (Not as impressive as rival Ted Williams’ stretch during the same time period, but that’s a column for another day.)
McCutchen’s numbers are right there with DiMaggio’s. He hit .396 with a .442 OBP and .733 slugging for a 1.174 OPS. Arguably better.
DiMaggio hit safely in all 56 games, which is what makes that streak so special, obviously, and McCutchen hit safely in only 45 and reached by hit or walk in 51.
The Yankee Clipper was surrounded with a much better lineup and scored 57 times and collected 36 extra-base hits. McCutchen scored 45 runs and rapped out 33 extra-base hits.
So, maybe it’s not quite DiMaggio-esque, but it is curious that DiMaggio wasn’t walked intentionally a single time during his streak. American League pitchers never shied away from DiMaggio, presumably one of the hottest of any major leaguer ever. McCutchen was passed intentionally six times during his 56-game stretch, a sign of respect, or possibly disrespect for the Pirates’ lineup.
No one will remember McCutchen’s 56-game streak from May 9 to July 13, 2012, but it’s worth mentioning when talking about hot hitting stretches since McCutchen came in the league in 2009.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Trading baseball players between teams has been part of the charm of the game since the 1800s. Ornery players traded after disputes with managers, struggling players traded for one another in hopes that a change of scenery will bring life back to their game, aging stars traded for young prospects, pitching traded for hitting, difficult contract negotiations avoided by trades, financially embarrassed teams trading players for cash — the game has seen all kinds of reasons for swapping players.
As we enter the annual trading season that is July, I am reminded of three trades over the winter that teams would love to have back.
Giants receive Melky Cabrera from Royals for Ryan Verdugo and Jonathan Sanchez
Back in November, this deal seemed to make sense for both clubs. Sanchez was a young pitcher with enormous talent yet to completely harness it. Cabrera, very much the same, just hadn’t quite figured everything out. Or had he? Perhaps careful observers in Kansas City would have thought Cabrera had indeed turned the corner in his career, not merely put together a career year, never to be matched again.
This trade clearly made sense from San Francisco’s perspective. The pitching-rich Giants have starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner leading their rotation and all three are still very much affordable. The Giants were starved for some kind of offense, and Cabrera looked the part.
Cabrera, a .270 hitter who averaged nine homers and 57 RBIs in four full seasons with the Yankees, never quite seemed to unlock his potential. A year of the same with the Braves landed him in Kansas City for 2011. Rededicating himself to the game, Cabrera figured a few things out and hit a career-best .305 with 18 home runs and 44 doubles. What to Kansas City may have appeared to be a career year, was Cabrera, at age 26, just hitting his prime.
Sanchez had shown vast potential alongside Lincecum and Cain in San Francisco for a few seasons. In 2010, the lefthander held hitters to an NL-best 6.6 hits per nine innings. The downside was that he led the league in walks with 96 even though he pitched just 193.1 innings, 30th in the NL. While the Royals thought a change of scenery might be just what the pitching doctor ordered for Sanchez, he has struggled mightily this season, looking lost on the mound at times.
And last Tuesday night Cabrera sprinkled a little salt in the Royals wound as he accepted the MVP award for the All-Star Game in the Royals stadium.
Astros receive Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland from Red Sox for Mark Melancon
In December the Red Sox saw a need for help in the starting rotation and saw former setup man Daniel Bard as the solution. In order for that experiment to work, the Sox needed a suitable substitute for Bard in the bullpen. Enter Mark Melancon from Houston. And somehow Boston brass felt like Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles were sufficient for shortstop. Then in January, Boston decided that there wasn’t enough pitching and that perhaps Jose Iglesias was ready at short, so the Sox traded Scutaro for pitcher Clayton Mortensen. The net effect was that Boston created a hole at short that Aviles has filled.
Melancon was a disaster to begin the season. In his first four appearances in April, he recorded just six outs and allowed 10 earned runs earning a quick demotion to the minors for almost eight weeks. But since his return, the righthander once traded from the Yankees with Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman, has pitched 13.2 innings with a 0.66 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. And the much-traveled Mortensen has been sufficient in a long-relief role, averaging more than two innings per appearance with a sub-2.00 ERA.
Meanwhile, Lowrie has been one of the top offensive shortstops in the National League, leading the Astros with 14 home runs. A recent ankle injury has shelved Lowrie for what could be six weeks, but he has proven he can be a productive player.
This trade is not exactly a debacle in Boston history, but once Iglesias didn’t prove himself at short, and with Bard’s shuttling in and out of the rotation, the dominoes have not fallen Boston’s way.
Yankees receive Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi
Maybe the Mariners fleeced the Yankees by trading damaged goods in Pineda, but New York has gotten zilch to this point for their once-prized prospect Montero. Many observers felt that Montero alone should have been enough to pry Pineda from Seattle.
The 19-year-old Jose Campos is pitching in Single-A for the Yankees while Pineda is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be available until May 2013 at the earliest. Montero and Noesi haven’t been as good as advertised for the Mariners, but the M’s are willing to allow the two to learn the game at the big league level, something the Yankees really couldn’t afford to do.
A strong recovery by Pineda in 2013 will take the sting out of this trade, but for now, the Yankees might like to have this one back.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 16, 2012.
1. Rangers—All-Star Matt Harrison pitching like Cy Young Matt Harrison.
2. Yankees—Odds-on favorite to be first team to clinch.
3. Nationals—Pine tar flap with Ozzie didn’t faze Bryce Harper.
4. Braves—Hottest team in the National League putting heat on Nats.
5. White Sox—Two more one-run wins over the weekend.
6. Angels—Continue tough stretch, four at Detroit, three vs. Texas.
7. Giants—Will Giants trade for a hitter again this season?
8. Reds—Fans enjoyed flashing the brooms over the weekend.
9. Dodgers—Defense gave away a game — can’t afford many of those.
10. Pirates—Stay in first place was brief, but upcoming schedule is friendly.
11. Tigers—Beginning to look like a team deserving of division title.
12. Rays—Offense still nowhere to be found.
13. Orioles—Wheels beginning to come off at Camden Yards.
14. Blue Jays—Chance to make a statement this week at N.Y. and Boston.
15. Red Sox—Return of Jacoby Ellsbury should spark offense.
16. Cardinals—Bullpen wasn’t up to challenge at Cincinnati.
17. A’s—Creeping into the wild card discussion.
18. Mets—Falling out of contention fast.
19. Indians—Slipped into third in AL Central.
20. Brewers—Playing nine in a row vs. top three teams in NL Central.
21. Diamondbacks—Mustered only three runs over the weekend at Wrigley Field.
22. Marlins—Offense will struggle without Giancarlo Stanton.
23. Phillies—Time to see just how much pride this team has.
24. Royals—11 of next 14 games are against Twins and Mariners.
25. Twins—Trying to avoid worst record in the league two years in a row.
26. Mariners—Just can’t generate any offense.
27. Cubs—Hottest team in the majors over last three weeks.
28. Padres—Will San Diego begin the trading frenzy?
29. Rockies—Wasting away Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez primes.
30. Astros—Last season in National League turning into a disaster.
In the 17 seasons that have concluded with a postseason since baseball expanded to the three-division format in 1994, 66 of the 102 teams that were in first place at the All-Star break went on to win their division (64.7%). Of the 136 teams in line for a playoff spot, 87 of them actually made the playoffs (64.0%). So, there’s a pretty good chance that four of the six division leaders will hang on to their leads. So which teams are most likely to see their leads vanish?
Here’s a look at how the races might shape up in the second half.
While the Orioles and Rays toyed with fans earlier this season, no one really believed that the Yankees and Red Sox would finish near the bottom of the division. Baltimore is hanging around longer than expected, but the wheels are beginning to come off. Three members of their opening week rotation are now working in the minors. The Rays may have a late charge in them if a healthy Evan Longoria can lift the struggling offense, and the Red Sox are too talented not to find their way into the race. But this is New York’s division to lose, and the Yankees won’t let it slip away in September.
The Detroit Tigers are the most disappointing team in the American League. And Chicago may be the most surprising. Playing with as many as 10 rookies and a rookie manager (at any level), the Sox are beginning to build a little cushion. But Detroit started to put some wins together at the end of the first half and will find a way to win this division. The lineup is potent, the bullpen is sound, and the rotation is good enough. It’s the defense that must improve, and expect manager Jim Leyland to see that it does.
Most fans thought when the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson that this would be a dogfight to the finish. The Rangers are just too good for the Angels this season. Texas has a deeper lineup and a much better bullpen than their adversaries on the West Coast. Los Angeles had a terrific June but gained no ground on Texas. This could be a runaway for the Rangers.
AL Wild Card
The Angels will secure the first wild card spot, but the second will be up for grabs through the final weekend of the season. Both Boston and Tampa Bay from the East will be in the race, while Chicago or Cleveland could take advantage of a softer division schedule in the Central. Tampa Bay finishes the season with trips to Boston and Chicago before hosting the Orioles in the three series that could determine the final wild card spot. Expect the Rays’ starting pitching to be the deciding factor and give Tampa Bay the final playoff spot.
The Marlins are streaky enough to put together at least one more run. The Mets have provided a great story this season, especially when R.A. Dickey is on the mound. But this isn’t the Mets’ year. Atlanta will hang with Washington behind the Braves’ solid pitching and deep bullpen. The Nationals, who own the best record in the NL, have the best pitching and a talented, energetic lineup. However, the Nats don’t exactly have pennant race experience on the field. But their manager Davey Johnson knows how to navigate pennant races. It will get tense down the stretch, but Washington will hang on and bring postseason baseball to our nation’s capital for the first time since 1933.
This may prove to be the most exciting, free-for-all race in the majors this season. With the division-leading Pirates, the second-place Reds and defending world champion Cardinals, the NL Central could go any of three ways. The Reds, who finish the season with a road trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis, don’t seem to have enough pitching to win this division, and the Pirates may not have enough offense. Will that open the way for the Cardinals? This race will stay tight, and the two factors that will likely determine the outcome will be health and acquisitions. The Cardinals are the deepest team that can withstand injuries, but also have a roster full of injury-prone players. One or two minor injuries in Pittsburgh could easily derail that team. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak has shown the moxie to make shrewd deals during the season. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates are willing to part with some young talent and swing a major trade of their own. While we can’t expect magic dust to settle in St. Louis again this season, I’ll still give a slight edge to the experienced Cardinals at the wire.
Over the past few weeks, the Dodgers and Giants have exchanged blows and swapped a little time in first place. Somehow the Dodgers continued to win without Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who provide the bulk of the Los Angeles offense. With Kemp coming back after the break and strong pitching, the Dodgers will finish in first place.
NL Wild Card
Talk about a real free-for-all that could see lead changes multiple times over the last couple of weeks of the season. The Braves, Giants, Marlins, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and maybe even the Diamondbacks, Mets or Phillies could be a factor. When it all shakes out, it will be the Giants hosting the second-place team in the Central division. And we’re going with the Pirates, who will make their first postseason appearance since 1992.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
This is the 11th season that the All-Star Game has “counted.” If you recall, way back in 2001, both teams ran out of pitchers and the game ended in a tie after 11 exciting innings, leaving fans at the stadium and TV viewers disappointed, to put it mildly.
So, in all his wisdom, Commissioner Bud Selig — along with TV executives — led efforts to bring some meaning back to the All-Star Game. The result is that the All-Star Game determines home-field advantage for the World Series.
I don’t understand how players and teams accept determining home-field advantage by teams elected by the fans in a popularity vote. No disrespect to Pablo Sandoval, but the National League will play the game with one of its best players, David Wright of the Mets, starting on the bench. Dan Uggla, maybe not even the third-best second baseman in the NL, will start the game, leaving Brandon Phillips of the Reds out of the game completely.
(And before you start going all Dusty Baker on me, it’s clear to most everyone outside of Cincinnati that Jose Altuve is the most deserving second baseman in the NL, and it doesn’t make sense to take three second baseman, so Phillips must be left out.)
And even the players aren’t above the whole popularity thing. How else do you explain why A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t selected by his peers to represent his league? He’s having as good a season as any catcher in the American League, but he’ll be watching from home as the AL tries to secure home-field advantage.
With the starters voted in by the fans, some players elected by a survey of players, and other reserves selected by the manager, how can we expect the best of each team to be there?
And without the best vs. the best, how can we use this game to determine home-field advantage?
While there are so many things wrong with that, it isn’t the only problem MLB has with its midsummer showcase.
In case you missed it over the winter, there was a clear directive from MLB requiring players selected for the game to be there. No more begging off with slight or phantom injuries. So, how’s that working out?
The Nationals’ Ian Desmond, selected as a reserve for the National League, has already begged out of the game due to an injury involving his side. Okay. However, over the weekend he seemed healthy enough to get four hits in seven at-bats with two home runs and two stolen bases — and that was just Saturday and Sunday. How does that make sense? Even with the Nationals in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981 when the franchise was in Montreal, Desmond doesn’t seem too concerned with helping his NL mates secure home-field advantage for the World Series.
The game no longer reflects the way the game is played on a daily basis. Only in the All-Star Game do we see pitchers throwing no more than two innings. Since that’s the way the game is played, if you really wanted to win, wouldn’t you stock your team with relief pitchers who have mastered the one-inning appearance?
And rarely do we see All-Star managers attempt to get favorable matchups. There’s no lefty vs. lefty strategizing like you would see during a pennant race. In case you haven’t noticed, there are no setup men on either roster. Not only are there some deserving candidates, but those pitchers are perfectly suited for this type of game.
And managers take great pains to get everyone in the game. If they were really trying to win, would you see Matt Joyce replacing Josh Hamilton or Howie Kendrick subbing for Robinson Cano? Those are just two of the moves made in last year’s game.
And I know that this year’s situation is rare, but we have a manager (Tony La Russa) selecting a good portion of the team for the National League and actually running the game, but with no stake in it whatsoever.
Here are a couple of suggestions to improve the All-Star Game for the fans.
1) Forget home-field advantage for the World Series
I know that players treating this game as meaningless is what caused MLB to overreact in the first place. But here’s a thought: Tie players’ foundations to the game. Most players have a cause they support, and if they don’t already, being selected to play in the All-Star Game would give them a reason to find a cause. Only foundations and charities of players who participate will benefit. Winning players’ foundations will benefit more than the losers. How many players will beg out of an opportunity to boost their charitable work? No more than are begging out now.
2) Keep player selection as is
Keep the fans involved in selecting players. Keep the players vote. Allow managers to select reserves. And, by all means, keep the rule that all teams must be represented. No group of fans should be left out of this classic.
3) Make it a complete All-Star week
I really like the idea of the Futures Game. It’s a terrific way to reward prospects and give the fans a glimpse into the future. The Futures Game should be played at the site of the All-Star Game on Monday night, prime time, when there’s no other baseball. After the All-Star Game on Tuesday, honor the past with an Old-timers All-Star Night. Rather than having the recently retired Randy Johnson face the aging Yogi Berra, have a three-inning game with older players from the 1950s and ’60s. Then have a seven-inning version with more recently retired players like Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. You think fans wouldn’t flock to see those guys in uniform one more time? After an off-day on Thursday, it’s back to the regular season on Friday.
Oh, and the solution for home-field for four games in the World Series? How about taking the most wins in interleague play? After all, that seems to be a more fair and accurate way to judge the better league anyway.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
I don’t care much for the Home Run Derby. Never really have. I usually watch parts of it, but I can’t stay in front of a TV and watch the entire spectacle. And what little time I will spend watching, I’ll have the mute button handy to avoid as many “Back-back-back..blah-blah-blah” home run calls as possible. I’m sure it’s better in person, but I would be much more interested in reactions from other players than actually watching guys swinging for the fences.
If you knew that I was such a fan of small-ball, speed and defense, it really wouldn’t surprise you that I’m not crazy about the homerfest that prefaces the annual All-Star Game.
But my apathy for this event won’t prevent me from making a few suggestions that would help the affair.
First, I would create second and third levels in the stands in the outfield that would offer bonus points for hitting longer home runs. In some stadiums, this could simply be the upper decks. But the hitters should be rewarded for longer, more prodigious clouts. After all, the longer the home run, the more fans seem to get excited. I would make the third level almost impossible to reach. The scoring would be simple and easy for fans to grasp. A point for a home run in the first level, reaching the second level would be three points and the third level even more.
Secondly, I would divide the home run area into nine sections from foul pole to foul pole. Hitters would receive bonus points for each section reached with home runs. That rewards hitters who have power to all fields. Again, simple scoring, would reward hitters a bonus point for hitting a home run into a second section. Then maybe even two bonus points for the third section. Seeing guys trying to go oppo could be fun.
But the biggest change would be to make this a bracket competition. Have each of the four AL hitters go head-to-head with a counterpart from the NL. Follow that with semifinals and finals. I understand that means the players hitting the second- and third- most home runs may not continue, but it would create some drama throughout the night. I would suggest three innings for each match, and allow only three “outs” per inning.
Those three changes just might be enough to pique my interest for the entire night.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 9, 2012.
1. Rangers—Scored fewest runs so far in July.
2. Yankees—Largest lead in the majors — and growing.
3. Nationals—Success seems to follow Davey Johnson everywhere.
4. Angels—Lead majors with 13 shutouts.
5. White Sox—Robin Ventura deserves tremendous credit for team’s success.
6. Braves—Finished first half with sweep at Philadelphia.
7. Dodgers—Last in majors with 107 fewer extra-base hits than Red Sox.
8. Giants—Given up 55 runs in nine games since four straight shutouts.
9. Pirates—Won six of last seven series to end first half.
10. Reds—6-9 vs. St. Louis and Pittsburgh so far this season.
11. Rays—Tampa Bay is 37-7 when scoring four runs or more.
12. Orioles—Terrific managing job by Buck Showalter.
13. Mets—R.A. Dickey should be starting the All-Star Game.
14. Cardinals—World champs had identical 46-40 mark last year.
15. Tigers—Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in top four in RBIs in AL.
16. Blue Jays—Only team with two teammates combined for 50 homers.
17. Indians—Forgotten team in AL Central race.
18. A’s—Bad time for All-Star break, won 17 of last 25.
19. Diamondbacks—Trevor Bauer could be huge boost in second half.
20. Red Sox—Lead majors with 314 extra-base hits.
21. Marlins—How much can Carlos Lee boost offense?
22. Brewers—Trade bait Zack Greinke will make three consecutive starts.
23. Twins—6-13 vs. division leaders; 30-36 against all other teams.
24. Mariners—Only team in AL with as many as 50 losses (51).
25. Royals—All-Star Game hosts are 34-33 after horrific start.
26. Phillies—Entering the break in disarray.
27. Rockies—Rox are 9-22 since early June.
28. Padres—Ended first half with downer thanks to Cincinnati.
29. Cubs—Finally, a break from the cellar, thanks to the Astros.
30. Astros—Rebuilding continues; growing pains may intensify.
Every season just before the Fourth of July, I put together my two All-Star teams and marvel at how my rosters differ from the fan vote, and to some degree the players’ and managers’ choices. But it’s usually the fans that are most off base. But I get it. This is a popularity vote. No matter how much MLB tries to convince fans that “This Time it Counts,” or some similar slogan, fans vote for their favorite players.
But I must say, the fans did a much better job this year. As usual, the Yankees showed well at the ballot box, as did the Giants in the National League with Buster Posey leading with more than 7 million votes. More votes were cast than ever as Josh Hamilton shattered the record by topping 11 million votes.
My rosters have 34 players, at least one representative from each team, a starter and backup at each position, and I didn’t ignore setup men like the managers did. Oh, just for fun, the starters appear below in my suggested batting order as well.
So, without further setup, here are my two 2012 MLB All-Star rosters.
CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
Quickly, and awfully quietly, becoming one of the best all-around players in the NL, McCutchen has been clutch with the bat, his legs and with the glove for the surprising Pirates this season.
RF Carlos Beltran, St. Louis
The newest member of the 300-300 and 2,000-hit clubs leads the NL with 60 RBIs and is second to Ryan Braun with 20 home runs.
1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati
This may be the easiest selection of both leagues. Best pure hitter in the National League and best first baseman in baseball right now.
LF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
The Dodgers’ center fielder was having too good a season to leave off this team even though a balky hamstring has robbed him of more than a month.
3B David Wright, New York
The fans really blew this one. Wright, hitting .354, is leading all third basemen with 50 runs and 53 RBIs.
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
The 2011 NL MVP had a rough offseason, but on the field picked up right where he left off last season.
2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
A handful of second sackers could start for the NL this season, but Phillips gets the nod because of his awesome defense.
SS Rafael Furcal, St. Louis
No one at the position especially stands out in the NL, but Furcal leads shortstops with 52 runs and has driven in 31 from his leadoff spot.
C Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
Anytime a catcher is leading the league in batting average, you have to allow him to start. Ruiz is batting .356, handles pitchers well and is tough to steal on.
SP R.A. Dickey, New York
Forget about Dickey being the best feel-good story this season; he’s the best starting pitcher in the NL this year. The Mets are 13-3 when he starts, 30-34 when he doesn’t.
C Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Molina has more home runs and RBIs than Ruiz, but his batting average is 44 points lower. A close call at backstop in the National League. Any of the three (with Ruiz and Posey) could start. All three can hit, handle pitchers and throw. But no catcher throws like Yadi.
C Buster Posey, San Francisco
I like having three catchers, but Posey offers some pop and is a tough out off the bench.
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
After a slow start, Goldschmidt is batting .327 with 19 doubles and 10 homers since May 1.
2B Jose Altuve, Houston
Don’t think this is a token appearance by an Astro, because Altuve can really play. He leads second basemen with a .308 average, but only half as many homers and RBIs as Phillips.
2B Aaron Hill, Arizona
I guess hitting for the cycle twice in 12 days earns an All-Star spot.
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco
Even though the Panda missed 35 games with a wrist injury, he’s proven to be the second-best third sacker this year, keeping his average above .300 all season.
SS Ian Desmond, Washington
Desmond has the most pop at the position with 39 extra-base hits and 43 ribbies.
SS Starlin Castro, Chicago
Still learning nuances of the game, but he’s proving that his league-leading total of 207 hits last season was no fluke.
OF Melky Cabrera, San Francisco
With a .352 average, Cabrera deserves to start, but unfortunately, so do three other guys.
OF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado
Fans got to know CarGo in 2010 as he chased the triple crown. After an injury-plagued 2011, he’s resumed the chase this season and resides among the top six in each of the three categories.
OF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
It took a while for Stanton to get going, but his .915 OPS is eighth in the league and his 38 total bases rank fifth.
OF Dexter Fowler, Colorado
I know he was awful the first six weeks, but since May 27 he’s hit .348 with a 1.055 OPS to bring his average up to .289 and his season OPS to .926.
SP Matt Cain, San Francisco
Tossing the first perfect game in Giants history is enough to get Cain on the team, but he also has two shutouts and a 0.950 WHIP.
SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington
The Nationals have the best rotation in the NL and Gonzalez has been at the top of the rotation all season.
SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington
Even though the Nats are trying to limit his innings, Strasburg deserves an inning in K.C. on Tuesday.
SP James McDonald Pittsburgh
The Dodgers probably regret trading this rising star for a month of Octavio Dotel back in 2010.
SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
With Roy Halladay on the shelf and Cliff Lee still winless, the Phillies have relied on Hamels to stay afloat during the first half.
SP Wade Miley, Arizona
The Diamondbacks are 9-4 in his starts. They supported him with two, one, zero and two runs in those losses.
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
The reigning Cy Young just edges teammate Chris Capuano.
RP Sergio Romo, San Francisco
Called on for a few save opportunities, Romo has a sub-1.00 WHIP and ERA.
RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
He may be the most feared pitcher in the game on Tuesday.
CL Tyler Clippard, Washington
Originally a setup man, Clippard is 13-for-13 in saves since taking over as closer in late May.
CL Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Kimbrel has followed his tremendous rookie season with another dandy so far this season.
CL Huston Street, San Diego
He’s a perfect 12-for-12 in save opps and in 11 of those saves he’s faced no more than four batters. In 21 innings he has 28 Ks and given up only eight hits and six walks.
CF Adam Jones, Baltimore
The Gold Glover in center is batting .302, has scored 52 runs and is now on the very short list for best player in the AL. Hamilton is the lone AL outfielder with more extra-base hits.
2B Robinson Cano, New York
The Yankees’ second baseman is arguably the best player in the league.
LF Josh Hamilton, Texas
Slowed some by injuries (surprise), Hamilton is having another MVP season.
3B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
Perhaps the closest call in either lineup, Cabrera just edges Adrian Beltre in runs, homers and RBIs.
1B Paul Konerko, Chicago
Two of the best first basemen in the NL last season — Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder — now play in the AL, but Konerko has been the best this season.
DH David Ortiz, Boston
Certainly Edgar Martinez has an argument, but Big Papi may be the best DH ever.
RF Jose Bautista, Toronto
Hitting only .239, but improving, Joey Bats still leads the league in bombs.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland
One of the best defensive players in baseball, Cabrera owns the highest OPS among AL shortstops.
C A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago
Evidently the White Sox veteran is not the most popular among fans or players given that he wasn’t even selected to the squad. He’s our starter.
SP David Price, Tampa Bay
The hard-throwing lefty is tied for the AL lead with 11 wins.
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota
Working on another batting title, Mauer is still among the elite catchers in the game.
C Matt Wieters, Baltimore
A defensive whiz, the switch-hitting Wieters can provide some punch at the plate. He’s batting .403 vs. lefthanders.
1B Prince Fielder, Detroit
The Tigers have been disappointing this season, but Fielder has not.
1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles
First of all, how can you keep one of the game’s biggest stars out of this game? And secondly, he’s hitting .324 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs in 48 games since May 9.
2B Jason Kipnis, Cleveland
Leading the Tribe in hits, RBIs and steals, Kipnis is also one of the best defenders at his position.
3B Adrian Beltre, Texas
The reigning Gold Glove winner is a beast with the bat as well.
SS Elvis Andrus, Texas
The best team in the AL is full of All-Stars.
OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles
He’s batting .339 with a .938 OPS and leads AL outfielders with 22 stolen bases even though he spent the first month of the season in the minors.
OF Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles
Manager Mike Scioscia has had trouble finding a position for Trumbo, but with a .981 OPS and 20 jacks, he must be in the lineup everyday.
OF Austin Jackson, Detroit
Buoyed by a .404 OBP, the rising star is fifth among AL outfielder in OPS.
OF Curtis Granderson, New York
He doesn’t consider himself a power hitter, but he’s followed his 41-homer season with 23 by the break.
DH Billy Butler, Kansas City
It’s a shame that there aren’t more stars for the hometown fans.
SP Justin Verlander, Detroit
The reigning Cy Young, MVP dude is having an “off” year with a 0.98 WHIP and 2.69 ERA.
SP Matt Harrison, Texas
He wasn’t selected merely as a favor from his manager. Harrison has a 1.42 ERA over his last eight starts — all Texas wins.
SP Jake Peavy, Chicago
One of four pitchers with a sub-1.00 WHIP in the AL.
SP Jered Weaver, Los Angeles
A stint on the DL didn’t keep Weaver, who leads the AL with a 0.92 WHIP, off the team.
SP Chris Sale, Chicago
Drafted in 2010, Sale leagues the league with a 2.27 ERA.
SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle
King Felix is having a fine season, but honestly he is the only All-Star on either roster who made it solely because every team must be represented.
RP Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles
Traded from San Diego in early May, he’s tossed 24.1 scoreless frames for the Halos.
RP Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland
He has 19 holds and only one blown chance.
RP Scott Downs, Los Angeles
If Ron Washington needs a lefty for a key out, Downs is one of the best.
CL Jim Johnson, Baltimore
He has been versatile throughout his career, but this season he’s proven he can close effectively.
CL Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay
After an awful 2011 season, the lights-out closer isn’t the first pitcher to re-establish himself with the Rays.
CL Ryan Cook, Oakland
Leads the A’s with 11 holds and is tied for team lead with seven saves. Didn’t allow a run in his first 21 appearances covering 23 innings.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 2, 2012.
1. Rangers—First team to win 50 games.
2. Yankees—Can they withstand injuries to CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte?
3. Nationals—Best team in the National League? No one is arguing.
4. Angels—Terrific June, but gained no ground on Rangers.
5. Giants—Run of four shutouts propelled Giants into first place.
6. Reds—Brandon Phillips not an All-Star? He would start on our team.
7. Dodgers—Should have Matt Kemp back in lineup after All-Star break.
8. Orioles—Traded for Jim Thome to boost offense.
9. Rays—Team is batting just .232; desperately need Evan Longoria back.
10. Blue Jays—Best last-place team in baseball.
11. Braves—Mike Minor over Stephen Strasburg in only win of series.
12. White Sox—Pitching staff led by rookies.
13. Mets—Fans really blew the third base voting. #DavidWright
14. Pirates—Bullpen is tied with Reds for NL’s best ERA at 2.73.
15. Cardinals—No bridge between starters and late-inning relievers.
16. Red Sox—Best they could do was a split at Seattle?
17. Diamondbacks—Wade Miley pitching like an ace.
18. Indians—Hosting Angels and Rays in key series to finish first half.
19. Tigers—Should make some hay vs. Twins and Royals before break.
20. A’s—Closer Ryan Cook is well-kept secret.
21. Marlins—No team happier to see calendar turn from June than Marlins.
22. Brewers—Potential Zack Greinke trade in the making?
23. Twins—At .324, Joe Mauer is chasing another batting title.
24. Mariners—Scored nine runs in their last eight games.
25. Phillies—Sweep at Miami was painful.
26. Royals—Testing six-man rotation.
27. Astros—Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie impressive middle infield.
28. Padres—Yasmani Grandal switch-hits bombs for first two hits of career.
29. Rockies—Pitching staff performing at “worst ever” levels.
30. Cubs—Youngster Brett Jackson may be on way to join Anthony Rizzo.
Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National Leagues and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's — June 18-24 — standouts.
AL Player of the Week
Will Middlebrooks, Boston
The Red Sox are confident enough in rookie Middlebrooks that they were willing to part with long-time fan favorite Kevin Youkilis last weekend. The young third sacker hasn’t disappointed and seems to be getting better. Last week he hit .625 with a 2.007 OPS with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Justin Verlander, Detroit
Verlander still hasn’t pitched a perfect game, but he defeated both the Cardinals and Pirates last week, holding the two teams to 10 hits over 16 innings. The righthander walked only five and struck out 10 in winning both his starts for the Tigers. Verlander’s last four starts (all wins) have come against National League teams.
NL Player of the Week
Jason Heyward, Atlanta
The streaky Braves rightfielder has been on-again off-again this season, but was definitely on last week during a road trip to Boston and New York to visit the Yankees. He led the National League with nine runs and had seven extra-base hits. He batted .522 with three homers and five RBIs.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Wade Miley, Arizona
The Southeastern Louisiana alum may be the best-kept secret in the big leagues. The Diamondbacks have won seven of his last 10 starts, and scored a total of three runs in the three losses. Last week, Miley defeated the Mariners and Cubs, tossing a total of 15 innings and giving up just 12 hits and one walk. He whiffed 15. He is now 9-3 with a 2.19 ERA for the season.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for June 25, 2012.
1. Rangers—Three players on pace to drive in more than 100 runs.
2. Yankees—Bronx Bombers bashing way toward top of AL.
3. Dodgers—Only six homers so far in June; eight players have more.
4. Rays—Only team hitting below .200 (.196) in seventh inning and later.
5. Reds—Upcoming West Coast trip should be good for pitching stats.
6. Orioles—Scored 10 runs in last seven games.
7. Angels—Won seven of 10 but lost ground to Rangers.
8. Nationals—Lost four of six to Baltimore this season, but still in first place.
9. Giants—12 saves by five different pitchers in June (13 wins).
10. Blue Jays—Jose Bautista finding his power stroke.
11. Braves—NL East shaping up to be fun battle.
12. White Sox—Trade for Kevin Youkilis should improve offense and defense.
13. Diamondbacks—Shortstops are batting .301 this season without Stephen Drew.
14. Cardinals—Much better result vs. Royals this weekend.
15. Pirates—Won 18 of 27 over last 30 days.
16. Mets—Major League-worst 4.84 ERA from seventh inning on.
17. Red Sox—Scored 68 runs in last nine wins.
18. Indians—Batting .266 vs. righthanders, just .215 against lefties.
19. Tigers—Where’s the offense? Scored eight runs in last five games.
20. A’s—Who would have guessed? Lead majors in runs during June.
21. Phillies—Season is slipping away but Ryan Howard to return soon.
22. Brewers—Played five extra-inning games already in June (won two).
23. Marlins—Majors’ worst record and ERA in June.
24. Mariners—Tom Wilhelmsen has been terrific answer as closer.
25. Royals—Unfriendly Kaufman; eight more road wins than at home.
26. Twins—Trevor Plouffe hitting .351 with 10 homers in June.
27. Astros—5.80 ERA in June has been a killer.
28. Rockies—Sure, Troy Tulowitzki is missed, but starters have 6.40 ERA.
29. Padres—Batting just .153 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
30. Cubs—Bright side: Took two of three from Southsiders last week.
Was B.J. Upton’s chopper off R.A. Dickey down the third-base line a hit or an error? By my standards, it was an error. By most official scorer’s decisions on a nightly basis, it was a hit.
It doesn’t carry the same weight as a block/charge in basketball or pass interference/no call in football — those decisions affect the outcome of the game — but every night in every baseball game the official scorer decides hit or error at least once. And while it doesn’t affect the outcome, it does play havoc with batting averages, ERAs and, as we saw last night, even history.
Wednesday night in St. Pete, this is not just your garden variety hit/error decision where the Mets' Dickey might call the press box during the game to have the scorer make a change, only to have Upton make a subsequent call to have it changed back. No. There’s much more import here.
You see, this was the only play in which the scorer ruled a hit for the Rays.
Dickey faced just two batters over the minimum during his sterling effort. Third baseman David Wright made an error on a ground ball by Elliot Johnson leading off the ninth inning. Had the no-hitter still been in effect, this would have been a defining moment. Instead, it was just another error.
The deeper issue I have is that official scorers have become much too hitter-friendly over the years. A quick glance at error totals through the years supports this. I understand that fielders are better, gloves are better, fields are immaculate eliminating most weird bounces, but it seems that in order to be charged with an error these days, the ball must bounce out of a glove, a throw sail wide or a ground ball must squirt through a fielder’s legs.
Wright should have made that play on Upton, in my opinion. From a pitcher’s perspective, an out should have been recorded. It wasn’t, so charge an error. However, by most scoring standards, this was a hit.
Last night, as the Cardinals were nursing a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, a ground ball up the middle just eludes shortstop Rafael Furcal, allowing a runner to reach. My call: Error, no question. Official Scorer: Hit. In this instance, other than Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox having another hit in his column this morning, there was no impact whatsoever. No ERA effect, no game-changer, no history re-writing.
Questionable scoring decisions occur every night in every game. Most have no lasting effect, and most even would be considered “correct” by experts. And there are review processes in place under certain circumstances. But let’s not start changing calls just because a no-hitter is in play.
Upton was the third batter Dickey faced in the first inning, so no one is thinking no-hitter at that time. And with a 1 in the column under H on the scoreboard, no one is thinking no-hitter for the remainder of the game. So the suspense, the tension, the superstitions, the excitement of watching history unfold — all of that is gone.
The Mets are appealing to MLB to have the scoring changed to an error, giving Dickey a no-hitter. I’m sure the Mets would love to celebrate two no-hitters in one season after playing 50 years without one, but the moment is gone.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National leagues, and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's—June 4-10—standouts.
AL Player of the Week
Mike Trout, Los Angeles—Following teammate Mark Trumbo, who received this honor last week, Trout posted a .520 batting average for the week, leading the American League with 13 hits and 10 runs, which tied teammate Torii Hunter. The 20-year-old outfielder began the week with a 4-for-4 performance against Seattle and ended with eight hits and eight runs in the Angels’ three-game sweep at Colorado.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Andy Pettitte, New York—The Yankees thought Pettitte could help the team by logging quality innings and mentoring young pitchers along the way. However, the veteran, who will turn 40 on June 15, has been one of the team’s best starting pitchers since signing earlier this season. Last week the lefthander threw 7.1 shutout innings in a win over the first-place Rays, and he turned in six innings in a win over the crosstown Mets.
NL Player of the Week
Jason Kubel, Arizona—Kubel was signed over the winter to bring offense to a suspect lineup, and the leftfielder hasn’t disappointed. Last week Kubel batted .409 and slugged .818 with two home runs. He had 12 RBIs, all coming over a four-game stretch, which included a weekend sweep of the Oakland A’s. Kubel had three RBIs in the Diamondbacks’ one-run win on Friday and added two more in the one-run win on Sunday.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Ryan Dempster, Chicago—After a string of 18 consecutive starts without a win (dating to last August), Dempster finally broke through with two wins last week. The Cubs’ righthander tossed 15 shutout innings in his two starts, beating the Brewers on three hits over seven innings and the Twins on four hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out nine and allowed just eight baserunners en route to posting a 0.53 WHIP and 0.00 ERA.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for June 11, 2012.
1. Dodgers—Won last six games in which they have at least one hit.
2. Rangers—Won only three of last 10 vs. AL West.
3. Rays—Convincing sweep over the Marlins.
4. Nationals—Waltzed out of Fenway with a sweep.
5. Yankees—May be old, but still team to beat in AL East.
6. Orioles—Lost 12 of last 19 with three wins in extra innings.
7. Braves—Followed eight-game losing streak by winning eight of nine.
8. Reds—Chapman finally appears human in loss to Tigers.
9. Marlins—Streaky Fish back on the skids.
10. Angels—Only one loss since May 18 by more than two runs.
11. Giants—What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum?
12. White Sox—Paul Konerko making case for MVP.
13. Mets—Lost six of seven since Cardinals left town.
14. Blue Jays—Jose Bautista beginning to heat up a bit.
15. Pirates—Ended the week tied for first place.
16. Diamondbacks—Making a charge to defend their title.
17. Indians—Brash Chris Perez keeps saving games.
18. Cardinals—Redbirds need starting pitching and bullpen help.
19. Red Sox—Lost six of seven.
20. Phillies—Dropped two nail-biters at Baltimore over the weekend.
21. Tigers—Ended the weekend at Cincinnati on high note.
22. Brewers—Road trip to Kansas City and Minnesota this week.
23. Mariners—No-hit the best team in the National League.
24. Royals—Still bullish on future, but present not too bright.
25. Twins—Won nine of 12, won 15 of 17 in June 2011.
26. Astros—Won four of Lucas Harrell’s last five starts.
27. Rockies—Outscored by 27 over last five games — all losses.
28. A’s—Lost 14 of 18, now facing NL West.
29. Padres—One positive: Closer Huston Street is back and healthy.
30. Cubs—On pace to lose 108.
With the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft underway this evening, we decided to take a look back through history at the top picks at each slot, from 1 to 50. There are some Hall of Famers on the list, but some had to be left out. And there are a few slots that will probably make you scratch your head and ask, “Who’s that guy?”
50—Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland, 1972
Became a Hall of Fame closer with Oakland after a 150-win career as a starter. The Indians received Bo Diaz and Rick Wise from Boston among others for Eck in a 1978 trade.
49—Carlos Beltran, Kansas City, 1995
Rookie of the Year for the Royals; too bad they couldn’t afford to keep him.
48—Cal Ripken, Baltimore, 1978
Seven shortstops were drafted ahead of Cal in 1978, including Buddy Biancalana, Lenny Faedo and Rex Hudler. Evidently, the Orioles thought more of Robert Boyce, Larry Sheets and Edwin Hook, who were drafted ahead of the Iron Man.
47—Tom Glavine, Atlanta, 1984
Five high school hurlers were selected ahead of Glavine, including Greg Maddux. Glavine wore his draft slot number on his back for 305 major league wins with the Braves and Mets. An Atlanta legend.
46—Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, 1995
Two years before taking Rollins at No. 46, the Phillies grabbed Scott Rolen with the same number. Give Rollins the edge here due to loyalty to the franchise. He has meant more to the Phillies than Rolen. The Brewers nabbed Yovani Gallardo here in 2004. He may replace Rollins on this list someday.
45—Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh, 2003
So, what did you expect? Gerald Laird? Jed Lowrie? You find a better guy.
44—Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 2002
There were no good options at No. 44 until Votto showed up in 2002. He rewarded the Reds with an MVP in 2010 and likely will win another.
43—Bob Knepper, San Francisco, 1972
Knepper won 47 games for the Giants before being traded to Houston for Enos Cabell. I guess the Giants wish they had taken Eckersley with this pick, you think?
42—Dennis Leonard, Kansas City, 1972
As tempting as it was to put Mookie Wilson here, we just couldn’t ignore Leonard’s 144 wins for the Royals during their glory years in 1970s. The three-time 20-game winner played his entire career in Kansas City.
41—Fred Lynn, Boston, 1973
Two years later, the former USC star would be named Rookie of the Year and MVP for the AL champion Red Sox. Oddly enough, every season from 1980 until his retirement after 1990, Lynn hit below his career average.
40—Huston Street, Oakland, 2004
Street earned the 2005 Rookie of the Year award. He was traded with Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holliday after the 2008 season. How’d that work out for ya, Oakland?.
39—Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967
Baylor played 511 games over six seasons with Baltimore, getting some MVP votes in 1975. He was then a part of six-player deal just prior to the start of the 1976 season that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Baylor was named MVP in 1979 with the Angels.
38—David Wright, New York Mets, 2001
Of the 37 players drafted ahead of Wright, 14 have yet to see time in the big leagues. His 175 home runs and 682 RBIs are second to Mark Teixeira’s 293-947 among players drafted in ’01.
37—Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981
Sweet music won a Cy Young in 1987, helping the Twins to the World Series championship. Mike Scott won a Cy Young in 1986 helping the Astros to the playoffs. Adam Jones of Baltimore may trump both in a few years.
36—Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965
In the first draft ever, the Reds called Bench’s name in the second round. Bench holds the distinction of being the first Hall of Famer drafted. Among the seven catchers selected ahead of Bench were Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont and Ken Rudolph. Twenty years later the Montreal Expos would call Randy Johnson’s name at No. 36.
35—Johnny Damon, Kansas City, 1992
Economics lesson: In six seasons with the Royals, Damon played in 803 games, scored 504 runs and racked up 894 hits and made a total of $7,089,000. In one season with Oakland he played in 155 games, scored 108 runs, with 165 hits, and made $7,100,000.
34—Mark Gubicza, Kansas City, 1981
Gubicza won 14 games for the 1985 champion Royals and won 20 in 1988. After making 327 starts for Kansas City he ended his career with two forgettable starts for the Anaheim Angels in 1997.
33—Dave Burba, Seattle, 1987
Somehow Burba managed to win 115 and lose only 87. That seems better than Milt Wilcox’s 119-113 career record. Those were the best choices.
32—Dave Magadan, New York Mets, 1983
Magadan made history with eight consecutive hits to begin the College World Series. Actually received some MVP votes in 1990 after hitting .328 for the Mets.
31—Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984
Perhaps the best pitcher of his generation, the Professor won 355 games and logged more than 5,000 innings. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992-95, and finished in the top five another five times.
30—Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971
The Hall of Famer hit 548 home runs for the Phillies with three MVP awards over an 18-year career. He anchored a lineup that won five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series.
29—George Brett, Kansas City, 1971
Two Hall of Fame third basemen were drafted back-to-back in 1971. Brett is Mr. Royal — with three batting titles, 3,154 hits and a .305 lifetime average. He was the heart and soul of the best teams in franchise history.
28—Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975
Smith made closing look excruciating and painful, but he mastered it to the tune of 478 career saves. He had just 180 saves for the Cubs before a trade to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
27—Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967
Of his 209 career wins, 124 of them came with the A’s. He was named MVP and Cy Young winner in 1971 and was a mainstay in the rotation that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74.
26—Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976
Two shortstops were selected ahead of Trammell in 1976. Neither reached the major leagues. Trammell played 2,293 games, all for the Tigers. He hit .419 in the 1984 postseason with three home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs in eight games.
25—Bill Buckner, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1968
Forget about the error and remember the 2,715 hits over a stellar 22-year career. Buckner had 837 hits in 773 games for the Dodgers prior to being traded to the Cubs in a deal that brought the Dodgers Rick Monday, the first player ever drafted in 1965. Buckner was then dealt to the Red Sox in a trade for Dennis Eckersley.
24—Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984
Mulholland played for 11 different teams in a 20-year career that lasted until he was 43. He went from front-line starter to lefty specialist. I suspect Chad Billingsley will make this list here by 2015.
23—Mo Vaughn, Boston, 1989
Mo was one of the most feared hitters in the American League for a short period of time. Owns an MVP and was a member of three All-Star teams. Jacoby Ellsbury is right on his heels.
22—Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987
Two years earlier the Cubs drafted Rafael Palmeiro in this slot, and although Palmeiro has huge numbers, he wasn’t half the gamer that Biggio was. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and second baseman, and owns 3,060 hits, 668 of them doubles.
21—Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974
After winning Rookie of the Year with a 17-10 mark for the Dodgers in 1979, two years later Sutcliffe was dealt to the Indians for Jack Fimple, Jorge Orta and Larry White. Oops. He later won a Cy Young with the 1984 Cubs.
20—Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990
Mussina narrowly missed winning 20 games five times before accomplishing that feat in his 18th and final season. He rewarded the Orioles with a 147-81 mark over 10 seasons, then dissed them by signing a huge deal with the Yankees. He made 21 postseason starts, but never won a ring.
19—Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983
However tainted you may believe Clemens’ record is, he won seven Cy Young awards, an MVP, finished third in Cy Young voting another three times. He retired with 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, 46 shutouts and a 3.12 ERA. In 34 postseason starts, he was 12-8, including 3-0 in eight World Series starts.
18—Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974
The New York Mets are certainly rooting for Ike Davis to take over this slot one day, but for now it’s Wilson. The speedy center fielder stole 521 bases from 1978-87. He owns a batting title and finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980. At age 36, he stole seven bags in a six-game ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
17—Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995
Drafted in the same slot as Phillies teammate Cole Hamels, Halladay is among the career leaders for active pitchers in several categories. He owns two Cy Young awards and has finished in the top 5 another four times. His average season since 2002 is 16-7 with a 3.02 ERA.
16—Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997
A Texan through and through, Houston made the former Rice star the No. 16 pick in 1997 and promoted him to the big leagues in July 1999. Enjoying a resurgence with St. Louis this season, the five-time All-Star has a lifetime .410 on-base percentage.
15—Jim Rice, Boston, 1971
Between 1975-86, the consistent Rice averaged .307-31-110 with 95 runs (excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season). He won just one MVP, but was in the top 5 six times. In 1978 he had 406 total bases.
14—Don Gullet, Cincinnati, 1969
For whatever reason, the No. 14 slot isn’t very strong. Lots of above average candidates, but no Hall of Famers. Tino Martinez, Tom Brunansky, Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Jeff Weaver and Jason Heyward made the short list. But Gullet enjoyed the most success with his original team. He was the ace of the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 before signing with the Yankees as part of the first-ever free agent class in 1977. He appeared in four World Series with the Reds, the first at age 19 in 1970.
13—Manny Ramirez, Cleveland, 1991
Before “Manny Being Manny” became popular, Ramirez played eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians, hitting 236 home runs with 804 RBIs. He never won an MVP, but finished in the top 10 for eight consecutive seasons.
12—Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978
The former Michigan State star receiver was drafted into baseball by his home-state team. In 12 seasons with the Tigers, he hit 195 home runs and batted .273. But stats don’t show the impact that Gibson had on his teams. He won the 1988 NL MVP with modest numbers (.290-25-76). Billy Wagner, Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Bruce received consideration here as well.
11—Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005
Until McCutchen was drafted, Greg Luzinski (aka The Bull) was the best here. McCutchen is the centerpiece around which the Pirates are rebuilding.
10—Mark McGwire, Oakland, 1984
Although it’s unfortunate that Big Mac has become synonymous with the Steroid Era, it’s difficult to ignore his 583 homers, 363 of which came in an Oakland uniform.
9—Kevin Appier, Kansas City, 1987
The righthander spent 13 of his 16 seasons with the Royals, with whom he earned 115 of his 169 wins. He logged more than 200 innings eight times, and had 10 seasons of double-digit wins.
8—Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995
The former backup to Peyton Manning and closer at the University of Tennessee, Helton has become the face of the Colorado franchise. He is Mr. Rocky.
7—Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989
The Big Hurt terrorized American League pitchers for 16 seasons in a White Sox uniform. He made his major league debut 14 months after being drafted, then played eight seasons before posting his first sub-.300 batting average. He had back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and ’94, and finished his career with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs and 1,494 runs.
6—Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh, 1985
Two of the greatest stars of this generation (Bonds and Derek Jeter) share this slot. Bonds’ numbers are absolutely off the charts (as is his hat size). Seven MVPs — four consecutive — 2,558 walks, 762 home runs and 2,227 runs. He was walked intentionally 120 times in one season. And in his pre-bulked-up days, he won eight Gold Gloves and stole more than 500 bases.
5—Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 2005
Mark Teixeira, Dale Murphy and Dwight Gooden all have strong cases, but Braun has become the face of a franchise and is committed to Milwaukee through 2020.
4—Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973
Winfield made his major league debut a few weeks after the draft and 3,110 hits, 465 home runs and 1,833 RBIs later he’s in the Hall of Fame. In seven full seasons in San Diego prior to bolting for New York via free agency (when have we heard that before), he averaged .284-22-88 with 19 stolen bases.
3—Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973
Four years later the Brewers drafted another shortstop in the third slot, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor became a teammate of Yount’s for 15 years in Milwaukee. During their time together, the two combined for 4,736 hits. Yount gets the nod with two MVPs and spending his entire career with the team that drafted him.
2—Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966
Jackson owns four home run titles and five strikeout titles, but Mr. October electrified crowds in Oakland, New York and L.A. He was at his best when the lights were the brightest. In 27 World Series games, he batted .357 with 10 home runs. Just what were the Mets thinking with Steve Chilcott at No. 1?
1—Alex Rodriguez, Seattle, 1993
As tempting as it was to go with Ken Griffey Jr., who energized baseball fans in Seattle; or Chipper Jones, who has spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves, and most of those seasons in the postseason; the best overall player is Rodriguez. And there is no argument here. A-Rod is among the best to ever play the game.
Well, there you have the best players drafted at each lot, 1-50. In case you’re wondering which team seemed to be the best at spotting talent over the last 47 years, the Kansas City Royals placed seven players on this list. But of course, that is far from a reliable evaluation given that the Giants get credit for drafting Bob Knepper and the Brewers get no credit for Paul Molitor when counting from this list.
For what it’s worth, the Yankees, Cardinals, Angels and Rangers — franchises that participated in all 47 drafts — did not show up at all. Thurman Munson at No. 4 (Yankees), Ted Simmons at No. 10 (Cardinals), Frank Tanana at No. 13 (Angels) and Mark Teixeira at No. 5 (Rangers) were close calls.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for June 4, 2012.
1. Rangers—Roy Oswalt signing makes the best even better.
2. Dodgers—Catcher A.J. Ellis quietly covering for the injured Matt Kemp.
3. Rays—Weekend showdown with Orioles avg. att.: 20,200. Sad.
4. Marlins—23-9 since a tough 8-14 April has Marlins at top of division.
5. Braves—Five upcoming Interleague series take Braves through AL East.
6. Nationals—Gio Gonzalez won all five starts in May.
7. Orioles—Adam Jones second in the majors in total bases.
8. Yankees—Fewest blown saves in the majors.
9. Mets—Johan Santana makes Mets history with no-hitter.
10. Angels—Angels closer to first place than Cardinals #Pujolseffect.
11. Reds—Bolted into first place.
12. White Sox—White-hot Sox on blistering pace, leave Tigers, Indians in dust.
13. Blue Jays—Jays have won six of Drew Hutchison’s nine starts.
14. Giants—Streaky Barry Zito wins another two starts.
15. Phillies—Cole Hamels having huge season in contract year.
16. Indians—Lost seven of nine and grip on first place.
17. Cardinals—Best run differential in NL, but have dropped to .500.
18. Red Sox—Rookies Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks breath of fresh air.
19. Pirates—James McDonald had an 0.89 WHIP and 1.54 ERA in May.
20. Tigers—Revolving doors at second base and right field.
21. Diamondbacks—Last three-game winning streak ended May 1.
22. Brewers—Sweet four-game sweep at Dodger Stadium.
23. Royals—Only starter with wins in back-to-back starts is Bruce Chen.
24. Mariners—Suffered four losing streaks of four-plus games.
25. Rockies—Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez carrying the offense.
26. Astros—Won seven of nine, then lost eight in a row.
27. A’s—Scored 21 runs in last 11 games — nine came in one game.
28. Twins—Former Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond has 1.86 ERA in six starts.
29. Padres—Only franchise without no-hitter.
30. Cubs—Trade talks heating up in Chicago.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for May 29, 2012.
1. Dodgers—Scored six or more runs in seven of last 10 games.
2. Rangers—25-2 when allowing three runs or less; 5-16 otherwise.
3. Orioles—Outscored Royals and Red Sox on homestand, but lost 4 of 6.
4. Rays—Fernando Rodney finally blew a save.
5. Yankees—Andy Pettitte has found the fountain of youth.
6. Nationals—Sweep at Atlanta has Nats cruising.
7. Reds—Won eight of nine and next nine vs. Pirates and Astros.
8. Braves—Tough week drops Braves to fourth, but still squarely in hunt.
9. Marlins—Can gain ground in East this week.
10. Blue Jays—Lost five straight and Baltimore and Boston visit this week.
11. Cardinals—Losing record outside the division.
12. Indians—Majors best at 10-2 in one-run games.
13. Mets—8-2 when R.A. Dickey starts.
14. Angels—Lookout! Pujols and Angels hitting their stride.
15. Phillies—Roy Halladay’s shoulder is balking.
16. Giants—Melky Cabrera (.369) having a terrific season.
17. White Sox—June schedule lines up well for Sox.
18. Tigers—Must improve defensively to climb in standings.
19. Red Sox—4-8 at Fenway Park vs. AL East.
20. Diamondbacks—Offense better; pitching worse in May.
21. A’s—Bullpen has 2.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP.
22. Pirates—Third-best ERA (3.23) in majors.
23. Mariners—Starters allowed just 33 homers in 49 starts.
24. Astros—Won seven of nine prior to losing last two at Los Angeles.
25. Brewers—Opponents batting .185 off Zack Greinke at home; .369 on road.
26. Royals—Jonathan Broxton doing nice job as fill-in closer.
27. Padres—Get to play Cubs next.
28. Rockies—Cubs only team in NL playing worse right now.
29. Twins—On pace to have worst two-season stretch in franchise history.
30. Cubs—Scored 18 runs in last nine games — all losses.
Mike Trout or Bryce Harper?
Proposing the question to most casual fans as to who the top rookie in baseball is this season, most answers will include Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, either at the top or near the top of their lists.
If you watch the baseball highlight shows, you know Harper has a cannon arm, swings a powerful bat from the left side, has tremendous speed and is daring on the basepaths, enough so his first major league stolen base was a steal of home off the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, as the lefthander was throwing to first. Whether it’s throwing or running (or even losing a fly ball in the lights), the 19-year-old phenom has been a lead part of the highlights many nights. The media throng for his major league debut in Los Angeles against the Dodgers was unreal.
But there’s a 20-year-old outfielder on the other coast who is upstaging the Nats’ rising star. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels made his debut last season as a teenager and didn’t have great success, but wasn’t exactly overmatched either. And after a strong start at Triple-A this season, Trout was recalled the day before Harper made his ballyhooed debut. But Trout’s recall was quickly and easily buried by Harper’s debut.
Sometimes the substance of a good steak gets lost in the sizzle on another plate. Trout’s substantive exploits on the West Coast have been overshadowed by Harper’s sizzle on the East Coast. And it’s understandable given fans’ thirst for the spectacular. A Bryce Harper pop out in his debut somehow seems more exciting than an RBI double off the wall by a 20-year-old in his second season.