Articles By Charlie Miller
On Tuesday night, Josh Hamilton hit four home runs off Baltimore pitching.
How rare is that feat?
It’s been accomplished only 14 times since 1900; 16 if you go back prior to the turn of the century when rules were different. That’s four fewer than the number of perfect games during that time.
The list of the 14 players to accomplish it spans from Pat Seerey, who had a nondescript seven-year career and finished with 86 career homers, to Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig, two of the greatest to ever put on a uniform.
Gil Hodges is on the list, Duke Snider is not.
Lou Gehrig did it, Babe did not.
Seattle’s Mike Cameron made the list; Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. didn’t.
The Cardinals’ Mark Whiten, yes; The Cardinals’ Mark McGwire, no.
Willie Mays, uh-huh; Hank Aaron, nope.
Before Tuesday night, it had been nine years since a four-homer game. While that seems like a long span, it’s just the fifth-longest between quadfectas. There were 15 years between Willie Mays’ four shots in 1961 and fellow Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt’s clouts in 1976. Another 10 years passed before Bob Horner put four in the seats for the Braves in 1986.
15 Miscellany Facts About Four-homer Games
1. Only once has a team lost when a player hit four home runs. That was Horner in 1986. The Braves forgot to keep the Expos from scoring and lost 11-8.
2. Shawn Green holds the record for most total bases. In addition to the 16 courtesy of the homers, he added a single and double for 19 total bases.
3. You must hit in the middle of the order to do this, evidently. Only Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 hitters have accomplished it. Spots 1-8 have hit three in a game, but table-setters and the bottom third have never gone deep four times.
4. Only twice has a team failed to score in double figures. The aforementioned Braves in’86 and Chuck Klein’s Phillies in 1936 defeated Pittsburgh 9-6.
5. Stereotypical offensive positions do this. Only outfielders and corner infielders have done it. Every position except pitcher has pulled off a trifecta.
6. The shortest time between four clouts is 21 days. Mike Cameron hit four on May 2, 2002 and Shawn Green followed that on May 23.
7. Three franchises have had two players pull it off. But only one franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies, called the same city home. Klein and Schmidt were the two Phillies to do it. Gil Hodges did it as a Brooklyn Dodger, Green as an L.A. Dodger. Joe Adcock was with the Milwaukee Braves, Horner was with Atlanta.
8. No one saw Horner’s four clouts on live TV, although Ted Turner’s Superstation TBS broadcast every game. But during the Goodwill Games — a brainchild of Turner’s — in 1986, TBS delayed Braves’ telecasts.
9. Adrian Beltre has the distinction of belting home runs in two games in which a teammate has hit four. He hit in front of Green (and Beltre laid down a sac bunt in the first inning to get the Dodgers’ offense rolling), and also hit a home run hitting behind Hamilton.
10. Fans rarely have gone home completely happy. While most fans are thrilled to see the rare event, only twice have the home fans witnessed their team accomplish it AND win the game. Gil Hodges thrilled the fans in Brooklyn and Carlos Delgado made the Jays’ fans happy with a come-from-behind win.
11. Eleven of the 14 times it has been accomplished by a visiting player.
12. Two stadiums have been the site of two feats. Shibe Park was the site of two of the first three occurrences. Gehrig did it there against Philadelphia in 1932, and Jim Seerey of the White Sox broke the Athletics’ spirit with four in 1948. It’s happened twice at Baltimore, Chicago and Milwaukee, but in different stadiums in each city.
13. Connie Mack, the long time owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, is the only manager to watch his pitchers allow an opponent to hit four home runs in a game twice.
14. No pitcher has ever given up four home runs to the same hitter in a game. Only three times on this list has one pitcher allowed three of the four.
15. Were there any close calls for a fifth? Only three times have hitters come to the plate with a chance for a fifth home run, twice by the same player. The first, Lou Gehrig hit a rocket to deep center field for an out in his sixth at-bat after hitting four home runs. The only other was Mike Cameron. He actually made it to the plate twice. The first ended in him being plunked by Mike Porzio (imagine that). It may or may not have been intentional —it was on a 1-1 count — as Porzio gave him one pitch to hit. Cameron came up again in the ninth and hit a liner that backed up right fielder Magglio Ordonez for an out.
The complete list (since 1900)
Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
June 3, 1932
New York 20, at Philadelphia 13
The Athletics’ George Earnshaw is one of only two starting pitchers to give up three of the four home runs. Yankees third baseman Tony Lazzeri also deserves some accolades for hitting for the cycles that day. Not to be too overshadowed, Babe Ruth also went deep, but only once.
Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies
July 10, 1936
Philadelphia 9, at Pittsburgh 6
The Pirates (with three Hall of Famers in the lineup) tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the ninth, which gave Klein an extra at-bat in the 10th.
Pat Seerey, Chicago White Sox
July 18, 1948
Chicago 12, at Philadelphia 11
Like Klein, Seerey also needed extra innings to hit his fourth. Seerey’s solo shot in the 11th provided the winning margin.
Gil Hodges, Brooklyn Dodgers
Aug. 31, 1950
Brooklyn 19, Boston Braves 3
Hodges’ first blast came off Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. The Dodgers’ first baseman had nine RBIs. Pitcher Carl Erskine had five hits and Hall of Famer Duke Snider also went deep.
Joe Adcock, Milwaukee Braves
July 31, 1954
Milwaukee 15, at Brooklyn 7
Lew Burdette was the winning pitcher with 6.1 innings of relief. It was a banner home run day for the Braves, as Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews hit two out and Andy Pafko hit one. Hank Aaron did not go deep, but had a double and a single. By the way, Gil Hodges hit one out for the home team.
Rocky Colavito, Cleveland Indians
June 10, 1959
Cleveland 11, at Baltimore 8
Colavito followed Tito Francona and hit in front of Minnie Minoso, who also homered. Indians pesky second baseman Billy Martin also went deep. Colavito is the only player to hit four home runs in a game and have a win as a pitcher. (Colavito was the winning pitcher in relief of for the Yankees against the Tigers in 1968.)
Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants
April 30, 1961
San Francisco 14, at Milwaukee 4
There were seven home runs hit by Hall of Famers that day. In addition to Mays, Hank Aaron hit two and Orlando Cepeda hit one. Giants Felipe Alou hit one and Jose Pagan hit two of his 52 career homers. The Giants’ ninth inning ended with Mays on deck as Jim Davenport grounded out to second.
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies
April 17, 1986
Philadelphia 18, at Chicago Cubs 16
In no doubt the wildest affair on the list, the Phillies were once down 12-1. Hall of Fame lefthander Steve Carlton lasted just 1.2 innings and allowed seven earned runs in the worst start of his career. The Phillies took a 15-13 lead into the bottom of the ninth before the Cubs sent it into extras. Schmidt hit number four in the 10th to break the tie. The game ended with the tying run at the plate. Schmidt is the only player on this list to hit home runs off brothers in the process. Rick Reuschel allowed the first two before his brother, Paul, gave up Schmidt’s fourth.
Bob Horner, Atlanta Braves
July 6, 1986
Montreal 11, at Atlanta 8
The Expos’ starter Andy McGaffigan gave up three blasts before closer Jeff Reardon, who recorded a save, yielded the fourth.
Mark Whiten, St. Louis Cardinals
Sept. 7, 1993
St. Louis 15, at Cincinnati 2
Whiten heads the list with 12 RBIs and is the only player to include a grand slam among his four round-trippers. First baseman Gerald Perry scored in front of Whiten on all four homers.
Mike Cameron, Seattle Mariners
May 2, 2002
Seattle 15, at Chicago White Sox 4
After Jon Rauch (yes, that Jon Rauch) gave up Cameron's first as the starting pitcher, reliever Jim Parque gave up his second, also in the first inning. Parque proceeded to give up Nos. 2, 3 and 4 as well, becoming the only reliever to give up three of the four. Hitting in front of Cameron was Bret Boone, who hit two homers of his own that day. That had something to do with the fact that all four of Cameron’s clouts were solo shots. Cameron had two chances for a fifth. He was hit by a pitch in his next plate appearance, then lined out to deep right.
Shawn Green, Los Angeles Dodgers
May 23, 2002
Los Angeles 16 at Milwaukee 3
In perhaps the greatest statistical day ever, Green had a double and single to go with his four dingers giving him 19 total bases. Adrian Beltre, Green and Dave Hansen went back-to-back-to-back in the ninth.
Carlos Delgado, Toronto Blue Jays
Sept. 25, 2003
Toronto 10, Tampa Bay 8
Delgado is the only player to hit four homers with just four plate appearances in the game. His fourth tied the game in the eighth before the Jays added two more for the comeback win. His final two clouts had a Republican slant coming off Joe Kennedy and Lance Carter.
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
May 8, 2012
Texas 10, at Baltimore 3
The former AL MVP hit four two-run shots surrounding a double, giving him eight RBIs. Hamilton ended the night with a .406 average, 14 home runs and 36 RBIs, leading the American League in all three categories.
Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez suffered through an 0-fer day against Baltimore in the Red Sox’ 9-6 loss in 17 innings. The first baseman struck out in the 17th representing the tying run against the Orioles’ Chris Davis, who
began the day simply as the DH and ended it with a win. Gonzalez was the first AL cleanup hitter to go 0-8 since Andre Thornton of the Indians in 1984.
The last time (before Sunday) that a position player picked up a win on the mound in the majors. Rocky Colavito of the last-place Yankees won a game in relief of Steve Barber against the first-place Tigers.
At the end of the weekend, the five AL Central teams were a combined 21 games below .500 at home. They were two games over .500 on the road. So much for playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Home runs from pitchers in April. It marks the first season since 1994 that no pitcher has gone deep in April. So, maybe Albert Pujols shouldn’t feel so bad.
Mariano Rivera’s age, uniform number and record for postseason saves.
Save in the minor leagues by Rivera prior to notching 608 in the major leagues.
We often hear baseball pundits talk about the value of hitters being surrounded by other feared hitters in the lineup. It’s easy to see the impact of not having protection behind hitters in the lineup. We learned the importance of that nearly a decade ago watching Barry Bonds walk 232 times in 2004, with 120 of those intentional.
But what about the table-setters hitting in front of the big guns? A clear example is happening right before our eyes in Cincinnati.
Shortstop Zack Cozart is hitting.196 batting leadoff and .354 batting No. 2. Similarly, when center fielder Drew Stubbs bats leadoff, he’s a paltry .107. But put him second in the order and his average jumps to .373. Stubbs also struggles in the seventh spot at .182.
That is what you call the Joey Votto Effect. Votto is the Reds’ No. 3 hitter, and this helps explain why Cincinnati has committed more than $200 million to their first baseman.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Mariano Rivera vows that he will come back next season, telling reporters last week, “I am coming back,” and to “write it down in big letters.” So…MARIANO RIVERA IS COMING BACK NEXT SEASON.
There. Mo obviously does not want his career to end this way.
But how else could we expect Rivera’s career to end? We don’t expect him to lose the effectiveness of his cutter. It doesn’t appear that he will ever wear out by pitching. So how else could baseball keep Rivera from answering the call to the bullpen?
A knee injury while shagging flies during BP. Yeah, that’s the only way to stop the Sandman — the best relief pitcher in the history of the game. Rivera may never be too old to pitch. He may never be too old to break bats with his devastating cutter. But maybe he is too old to shag flies during BP.
But Rivera resolves to come back and has no regrets.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen doing something I love to do,” explains Rivera. “And shagging I love to do. I’d do the same thing, without hesitation. The reasons why it happen, you have to take it as it is. You know, just have to fight.”
His illustrious Hall-of-Fame career began inconspicuously enough. There was no fanfare like we’ve seen recently with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. None of that, “he’ll be the next whomever.”
Very quietly, on May 23, 1995, Rivera took the mound as the starting pitcher — that’s right — starting pitcher for the Yankees at Anaheim against the Angels’ Chuck Finley. His manager was Buck Showalter and his catcher was Mike Stanley, the Yankees’ cleanup hitter that day.
Rivera didn’t last long. He struck out Tony Philips swinging, then caught Jim Edmonds looking. After that, the Angels began to catch up to the Sandman. The future New York closer gave up a three-run jack to Edmonds, then walked Tim Salmon on four straight and Showalter was out of the dugout with the hook. Bob Macdonald was summoned from the Yankees’ bullpen but the damage was done. Joe Ausanio and Scott Bankhead followed Macdonald, but Finley was too good.
In 3.1 innings, Rivera gave up eight hits, three walks, five runs and struck out five. Of his 89 pitches, 50 were strikes. There is no record of how many bats Mo may have broken that day.
He made seven more starts, winning three of them, before making his first relief appearance on Aug. 1. And even that beginning was nondescript. He gave up three runs over two innings, blowing a save in relief of Andy Pettitte before the Yankees scored three runs of their own to make Rivera the winner.
Rivera completed his rookie season with a 5.51 ERA and 1.507 WHIP and looked like anything but a Hall of Famer.
But in 1996, the idea of starting was scrapped for good. He was John Wetteland’s setup man for the world champs in 1996, appearing in 67 games and tossing 107.2 innings. He had five saves and 26 holds and blew just three save chances. He had a more Rivera-like ERA of 2.09 and 0.994 WHIP in his second season. He finished third in Cy Young voting and 12th in the MVP race. By the fall of 1996, everyone knew the name Mariano Rivera.
Rivera’s first save came at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1996. He induced the Angels’ Garret Anderson to ground into a double play turned by Derek Jeter in a game won by Andy Pettitte. His last — make that his most recent — came on April 30 of this season vs. Baltimore. That was save No. 608 for his career. His next save will come sometime in April of 2013 at the age of 43.
|1||May 17, 1996||Angels||Andy Pettitte|
|100||June 11, 1999||at Marlins||Orlando Hernandez|
|200||Aug. 1, 2001||Rangers||Sterling Hitchcock|
|300||May 28, 2004||at Devil Rays||Javier Vazquez|
|400||July 16, 2006||White Sox||Jaret Wright|
|500||June 28, 2009||at Mets||Chien-Ming Wang|
|600||Sept. 13, 2011||at Mariners||A.J. Burnett|
|608||April 30, 2012||Orioles||Hiroki Kuroda|
What they’re saying about Mo...
“Rivera has shagged entire pro career. In Single-A in ’91, his mgr Brian Butterfield watched, said, ‘This guy’s our best outfielder.’”
— Tweet by Joel Sherman of the New York Post
“I saw it all go down. It’s hard even to talk about it tonight. I mean, Mo has meant so much to us on a personal level, and his significance on the field, on the mound. But the bottom line is we’re the New York Yankees, and nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
— New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez
“You have freak injuries, and this is one of them. We had a guy carrying a box down the stairs that broke his foot. You can fall off a curb. You have to allow him to be an athlete and a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly, or seen Mo dive to try to rob a home run. It’s the way he exercises.”
— Yankees manager Joe Girardi
“I always argued he was the best pitcher of all-time. Not just the best reliever, but the best pitcher of all-time.”
— New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira
Runs scored by the St. Louis Cardinals while Adam Wainwright was in the game during his first four starts this season, spanning 20 innings.
ERA of the first-place Texas Rangers’ bullpen in April.
ERA of the last-place Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen in April.
Cumulative batting average in the major leagues this season, the lowest for a season in the DH Era. In 1972, the season prior to the DH rule, the majors’ average was .244. The league batting average has declined each year since 2006.
Home runs by the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in 163 at-bats. Their teammates have combined for just three homers in 545 at-bats.
Consecutive games with a hit by the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval to start this season. Before being held hitless by the Padres on Saturday, Sandoval established a new San Francisco mark for a hitting streak to start the season, beating the old mark of 16 set by Willie Mays in 1961.
Home runs for Albert Pujols in the month of April. The future Hall of Fame slugger also had just four RBIs for the month, easily the lowest totals of his illustrious career. For the first 11 seasons of his career, he averaged seven homers and 21 RBIs in April with lows of five and 15.
Last week we presented the best of the young guys — 25 and under. Now the old dudes. Needless to say this roster is one huge injury risk. As was the case with the 25-and-under list, I’m using Opening Day (April 4, 2012) as the cut-off. Players had to be at least age 35 on that day to qualify. I can’t tell how tempting it was to fudge on the age eligibility and include Carlos Beltran, who is 20 days too young, and Roy Halladay, who missed by 40 days. Doc immediately becomes this team’s ace next season.
A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
Last season was the first time A.J. spent any time on the DL in his career. Remarkable. So far this season, he’s batting better than .330. Easy to run on though.
Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
He has played close to 2,000 games for the White Sox after both the Dodgers and Reds traded him. This is likely to be his third straight .300-30-100 season.
Michael Young, Texas
Okay, crucify me now for taking some liberty here. But Placido Polanco? Jamey Carroll? Marco Scutaro? Jerry Hairston? Not much to choose from here. At least Young has played 433 games in his career at second base, and he can still hit like a 30-year-old. He made 14 starts there last season and three already in 2012.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Clearly A-Rod is in decline, but he's still a feared hitter in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball. And he's one of the guys on this team who isn't a liability on defense.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
There can be no argument here. Just when you think Jeter might be slowing down, he carries a .400 batting average into late April.
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
He’s turned himself into an horrific outfielder and has some horrific holes in his swing. Other than that, the Cubs should be excited about the $54 million they owe him for 2012-14. Just nudges Carlos Lee off the team.
Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels
Yes, I know he plays right field now, but I’m sure he can still handle himself quite well in center. No doubt he’s in decline though. He has yet to homer and has as many strikeouts as hits (19).
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
Ichiro is not the same player that arrived in the States in 2001, but he’s borderline All-Star quality still. Having Ichiro and Jeter hit 1-2 (in some order) makes for good table setting.
Tim Hudson, Atlanta
I know he’s been injured, but he appears to be healthy and ready to join the Braves’ rotation without a hitch. He can lead this staff.
Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s 2-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA and WHIP this season. While those trends won’t continue, he’s still a reliable No. 3 starter for the Dodgers.
Jamie Moyer, Colorado
Anyone who is older than me can have a spot on this roster. Sporting a 2.55 ERA can earn you a spot in the rotation.
Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati
Last season looked like the end for Arroyo as he struggled mightily. But 2012 has brought new life with just two walks in 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA in a hitter’s park.
Bartolo Colon, Oakland
We have no idea what to make of Colon’s unbelievable comeback. He won a Cy Young and 21 games in 2005, but has won just 25 games since. But he’s allowed less than one base runner per inning this season over 34 frames. We’ll ride him until his arm falls off, then turn to Hiroki Kuroda.
Scott Downs, Los Angeles Angels
Every bullpen needs two lefthanders. Downs limited left-handed hitters to a .179 average last season. I think that’s more indicative than his slow start this season.
Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox
Opponents are batting .216 so far this season as the White Sox are asking him to get tough outs every night it seems.
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey doesn’t get enough credit. From Soriano to Farnsworth and now Rodney, the Rays’ bullpen doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Not to mention Peralta and Benoit. So, we’re relying on Rodney in late innings in front of Mo.
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado
It was tempting to take Joe Nathan for this role, but Betancourt has proven to be consistent even in Colorado.
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
This may be the only position on the roster where the old guys have an advantage. We would rely on Rivera to save big games for us, no matter the age restrictions.
Chipper Jones, Atlanta
Chipper's knees just aren't responding well enough to keep him on the field. But he's a tremendous asset in selected spots off the bench.
Jose Molina, Tampa Bay
As tempting as it was to turn to the recently retired Ivan Rodriguez, we decided to include only active players. Molina would be familiar with the backup role and capable of making starts for an extended period. And since his name is Molina, he is tough to steal against.
David Ortiz, Boston
Since this writer still refuses to recognize the designated hitter in my lineups, Ortiz would be a serious weapon coming off the bench.
Todd Helton, Colorado
Helton loses out to Konerko due to durability issues, but Helton gives the team some punch off the bench and is a solid defensive replacement for Konerko.
Lance Berkman, St. Louis
Rife with nagging injuries (but who on this team isn’t?), Berkman is a switch-hitter who still believes he can play the outfield. Truth is, he probably can as well, or better, than Soriano. Great guy in the clubhouse, just trouble keeping him healthy.
John McDonald, Arizona
Edging out Alex Gonzalez and Marco Scutaro, McDonald provides some defensive help off the bench.
Jerry Hariston, Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers
No matter who he plays for or what position he plays, Hairston contributes with his bat, glove and on the bases.
Will be Eligible Next Season
Jose Valverde, Detroit
Rafael Furcal, St. Louis
Carlos Beltran, St. Louis
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
- 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 April 30, 2012.
1. Dodgers—Sweep of Nationals proved Dodgers are best — for now.
2. Rangers—Lost first series of the season over the weekend.
3. Rays—David Price making early Cy Young bid.
4. Cardinals—Of three NL pitchers with four wins, two are Cardinals.
5. Braves—Craig Kimbrel has saved four of last five wins.
6. Nationals—Respectable debut for Bryce Harper.
7. Yankees—Only four AL teams have allowed more runs.
8. Blue Jays—Edwin Encarnacion leading the offense.
9. Tigers—Recent slump has allowed Indians and White Sox in the race.
10. Diamondbacks—Joe Saunders emerging as D’backs’ ace.
11. Indians—Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez ERA: 2.40; other starters: 4.90.
12. Reds—Won seven of 10 with Cubs and Pirates on docket this week.
13. Orioles—Next 15 games will be tough stretch.
14. Phillies—Big games at Atlanta and Washington upcoming.
15. Giants—Won eight of 12 to get back on track.
16. Brewers—Corey Hart carrying the offensive load so far.
17. Rockies—Opponents are hitting .285, third-worst BAA in majors.
18. Mets—David Wright carrying a .506 on-base percentage.
19. Red Sox—Won six of seven against weaker teams.
20. White Sox—Next 15 games are within the division.
21. Angels—Scored 11 runs in last seven games, won only one.
22. A’s—Only AL team with fewer runs than Angels.
23. Mariners—Clean-up hitters are batting .194 with 22 Ks and 18 hits.
24. Pirates—Batters Nos. 6-9 hitting just .167.
25. Marlins—Scored 13 runs in last eight games, won one.
26. Astros—Outhomered 26-13 but outscoring competition.
27. Cubs—Won five of eight behind strong pitching.
28. Padres—4-1 when Cory Luebke starts, 3-15 when he doesn’t.
29. Twins—Four of last seven losses were by one run.
30. Royals—Jonathan Broxton settling in as closer.
If you were trying to win a championship this season, would you rather have youthful talent? Or seasoned experience? Consider a roster of players age 25 and younger vs. a roster of veterans age 35 and older. Here’s my 25-man roster of players who were age 25 or younger on Opening Day (April 4). Next week, I’ll showcase the veterans.
Buster Posey, San Francisco
The former Rookie of the Year is hitting .361 and has allowed just three stolen bases in 80 innings behind the plate.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City
Hosmer is the cornerstone of the Royals’ future offense. Although he’s struggling so far this season, Hosmer hit .293 with 19 homers after arriving in early May last season.
Jemile Weeks, Oakland
The rising star for the A’s hit better than .300 and stole 22 bases in less than 100 games as a rookie last season. He should be the offensive catalyst for the A’s for years to come.
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco
Records show that Kung Fu Panda won’t turn 26 until August, so he qualifies by a few months. Once he proved he could keep his weight down, he’s kept his batting average up.
Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ rising star may look lackadaisical at times, but he led the National League in hits last season, and he covers a lot of ground at short.
J.D. Martinez, Houston
Astros fans can look forward to Martinez hitting in the No. 3 hole for several more seasons. He was Houston’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 while at Double-A, and hasn’t been overmatched in the bigs.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
It seems like he’s been patrolling center field for the Bucs forever, but he won’t be 26 until October.
Justin Upton, Arizona
A thumb injury has derailed Upton this season. The right fielder missed just three games last season, hitting 31 bombs and stealing 21 bags.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s no surprise that the reigning National League Cy Young winner would lead this rotation.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington
It appears that he has completely recovered from Tommy John surgery. Now if the Nationals will just turn him loose, we could see just how good the flamethrower can be.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle
King Felix turned 26 just after this season started, although it seems like he’s been Seattle’s ace since Ken Griffey’s first tour with the Mariners.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
After the first three spots in our rotation, the choices get much tougher. Bumgarner pitched through tough luck last season, with just three runs or less of support in 16 of his 33 starts.
Jaime Garcia, St. Louis
In a razor-thin close call, Garcia is chosen over Yu Darvish of Texas and Ivan Nova of the Yankees. Garcia went 26-15 over 60 starts in 2010-11 and has postseason experience.
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
We’re going with a traditional 10-man pitching staff and we like having a lefthander who can eat innings and miss bats.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay
Moore’s teammate is the right-handed version of our long man.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
Officially, Chapman is only 24. He also throws 100-mph gas for multiple innings from the left side. Valuable asset.
Neftali Feliz, Texas
Developed as a starter in the minors, then converted to one of the best closers in the game, Feliz has returned to the rotation this season.
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Kimbrel was lights out last year until he ran out of gas late in the season. Manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to take it easy on Kimbrel this season.
Matt Wieters, Baltimore
We won’t lose much when one of the best catchers in the game subs for Posey.
Elvis Andrus, Texas
Due to his experience, Andrus gets the bench spot over Dee Gordon of the Dodgers.
Carlos Santana, Cleveland
With the same birthday as Hernandez, Santana barely makes it eligible. The switch-hitter can hit and gives us a third emergency catcher.
Billy Butler, Kansas City
The hitting machine really doesn’t have a position, but he can rake.
Austin Jackson, Detroit
Jackson is proving what a complete player he can be. We love his speed and defense off the bench.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
A quick glance at his split stats shows that he has much more power going by Mike than Giancarlo.
Brett Lawrie, Toronto
We need another infielder and Lawrie plays the game with the kind of gusto and confidence we like.
—By Charlie Miller, follow him on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.
Career complete game by Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox. The 29-year-old, who has been claimed off waivers twice in his career, had never pitched into the ninth inning before his perfect game against the Mariners on Saturday.
Run differential for the Texas Rangers, who are 13-3 on the season. Texas has three one-run losses to the White Sox, Mariners and Tigers.
Hits by Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway Park, the most of any player in the stadium’s 100-year history.
Games started at catcher by the trio of Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez, who all retired since last season. They combined to play in 228 postseason games, including 48 World Series games, winning seven championships.
Age of Colorado’s Jamie Moyer, who became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game with a victory over San Diego on April 17. Moyer tossed seven innings and allowed no earned runs to lower his ERA to 2.55. It was win No. 268 for the veteran lefthander.
Players who participated in Moyer’s historic win who were not born at the time the veteran pitcher made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1986. Cameron Maybin, the first batter Moyer faced in the game, Anthony Bass, the opposing pitcher, Wilin Rosario, Moyer’s catcher, Rex Brothers, who relieved him and Yonder Alonso, who later pinch-hit for the Padres, were all born after Moyer made it to the big leagues. Eric Young, Jr. pinch-hit for Moyer. Young’s father, Eric Young, Sr., a 15-year major league player himself, was just age 19 and still six years away from his major league debut with the Dodgers, when Moyer first pitched for the Cubs on June 16, 1986.
After three times through the rotation (and four starts for ace Stephen Strasburg), the Washington Nationals’ rotation has been dominant. Extremely dominant. All five starters boast a WHIP below 1.00, allowing less than one base runner per inning. While the numbers are staggering (1.82 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, two home runs in 98.2 innings, .186 batting average against), the success of the group isn’t that shocking. All five starters have, at some point in their careers, been projected as top-of-the-rotation aces.
Certainly, they will come down to earth and cough up a few bad outings, but the Nationals’ plan to build around starting pitching is coming together nicely.
Ace Strasburg has been hyped as a Hall of Famer since the Nats made him very rich as the first overall draft pick in 2009. After missing about 12 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, the fireballer is dominating again. Over 25 innings, he's allowed just three runs. The Nats have won all four of his starts, but he has two no-decisions, one after pitching six scoreless innings against Miami. Imagine how good this guy can be once the Nats decide to turn him loose. Strasburg has been allowed to pitch into the seventh inning just once this season.
Ross Detwiler, who leads the staff with a 0.56 ERA, was the team’s first round pick out of Missouri State in 2007. The organization thought enough of Detwiler to promote him to the big leagues three months after he was drafted.
Jordan Zimmermann was taken in the second round in 2007, and in four seasons of minor league pitching, he allowed just 182 hits in 235 innings. He was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and blossomed last season with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts for Washington.
Gio Gonzalez was a first-round pick by the White Sox in 2004 and was subsequently traded three times before Oakland dealt him to Washington this winter. In two full seasons with the A’s, Gonzalez was 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and gave up 346 hits in 402.2 innings with 368 Ks.
Edwin Jackson was once considered by Baseball America (2004) as the No. 4 prospect in baseball. The 2001 sixth-round pick of the Dodgers never turned the corner in the minor leagues, but his major league numbers have been much better. This season, he tossed a two-hit complete game against Cincinnati, then had a horrendous first inning against the Astros, before settling down. He tied James Shields for the team lead in wins for the Rays in their historic pennant-winning season in 2008, and was a part of the world champion Cardinals’ staff down the stretch last season.
This weekend, the best rotation in baseball will take on the senior circuit’s best offensive player in Matt Kemp as the Nationals visit the Dodgers. Detwiler will get the ball for the opener on Friday night against the reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Strasburg will be on the hill on Saturday against Chad Billingsley. Two lefties, Gonzalez and Chris Capuano, will take the stage for the finale on Sunday.
- 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 April 23, 2012.
1. Rangers—Josh Hamilton early MVP candidate.
2. Dodgers—Mark Ellis is proving to be a nice offseason acquisition.
3. Yankees—Yanks rained homers on Boston’s weekend parade.
4. Tigers—Justin Verlander was only answer for powerful Texas offense.
5. Cardinals—Won first five three-game series of the year.
6. Nationals—Rotation is best in baseball right now.
7. Blue Jays—Part of logjam in AL East.
8. Braves—Michael Bourn and Freddie Freeman getting it done.
9. Diamondbacks—Won’t face Dodgers until mid-May.
10. Rays—Pitchers prepping for vaunted Rangers offense this weekend.
11. Indians—Hafner and Hannahan hitting above .340; teammates, .221.
12. Phillies—Only the Pirates have scored fewer runs.
13. Reds—Team batting average mired at .223.
14. Brewers—Only team to take a series from the Dodgers.
15. Angels—Better batting average than opponents, but fewer runs.
16. Rockies—Won three series in a row.
17. Giants—Buster Posey hitting his way into MVP talk.
18. White Sox—Perseverance pays off for humble Humber.
19. Marlins—Last four losses by one or two runs.
20. Orioles—Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles trip yielded a 6-4 record.
21. Red Sox—On the outside looking in at four-team division race.
22. Mets—Of the four NLers hitting above .370, two play for the Mets.
23. A’s—Scored fewest runs in American League.
24. Mariners—Can M’s get Felix Hernandez any runs?
25. Pirates—A.J. Burnett gave Bucs huge lift on Saturday.
26. Astros—Closer Brett Myers becoming valuable trade bait.
27. Cubs—Cubs have just five homers through 16 games.
28. Padres—Opponents are slugging just .316 at Petco Park.
29. Twins—Only Boston has allowed more runs.
30. Royals—Lost first nine games at home.
After last night, 59 players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title are homerless so far this season. Some like infielders Daniel Descalso and Ruben Tejada may not hit one all season. And, yes, we know it’s less than a month into the season, but we like to have fun anyway.
Here are some notable players yet to go yard:
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
Forget the $79 million the Cubs have already sunk into this guy. But they still owe him $54 million to cover this season through 2014. I think there’s been a heist on the North Side.
Jayson Werth, Washington
We’re giving Werth a break because he’s hitting .347. But the Nats are paying him handsomely to produce runs. He has just six RBIs and four runs scored.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The poster boy for this list. How can King Albert not have any home runs two weeks into the season? Although this is the longest drought to start a season in his career, we’re betting on Pujols to finish north of 35.
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
We know. We know. He’s a notorious slow starter, so leave him alone, right? Why? He’s a .238 career hitter prior to May 1 and .289 after. He’s driven in just 10 percent of his runs in April. Maybe the Yankees should pay him only half his salary in April.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
Over the winter, the Nats gave Zim what is essentially a lifetime contract, which is guaranteed through 2019 with a team option for 2020. We’re not giving up on Zimmerman being a terrific player, just merely pointing out that hs hasn’t homered since inking a huge deal.
Mark Reynolds, Baltimore
The Orioles might be able to stomach the 15 whiffs in only 36 at-bats if they were just one home run to show for the big swings.
Justin Upton, Arizona
He now has a jammed thumb, which could land him on the DL. Prior to that, the D’backs’ No. 3 hitter had just two extra-base hits and no RBIs.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
We’re reverting to Mike until he hits at least one bomb.
Regardless what the standings look like now, with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox teetering near the bottom of the AL East, they are not likely to end the season there. The Baltimore Orioles are bad enough that they won’t let it happen this season, but just in case you’re wondering, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox finished last and next-to-last in their division/league was in 1966. The only other time was way back in 1925.
Now in 1966, the Red Sox were a year away from winning the pennant in 1967, and the Yankees were just two years removed from winning five straight from 1960-64. Boston had stars like Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott, Jim Lonborg and a young Tony Conigliaro. The Yankees had Elston Howard behind the plate, Bobby Richardson at second and an outfield of Roy White, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Howard, Mantle and Maris were all former MVPs. Mel Stottlemyre and Al Downing led the pitching staff that included an aging Whitey Ford.
But with all that star power, somehow the Red Sox managed to finish ninth, 26 games back of the Orioles (who swept the Dodgers in the World Series) and the Yankees a half game behind the Sox. I wonder how Mickey, Maris and Whitey felt about finishing last.
Back in 1925, the Red Sox were a collection of no-name players, so it’s understandable that they would finish last, 49.5 games out of first. The BoSox had the worst offense, pitching and defense — last in batting average, last in runs, last in ERA, last in fielding percentage and made the most errors. It takes a microscope to find anything positive about that team.
But there was no excuse in New York. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs led the Yankees’ lineup. You know, guys most fans have heard of. You would think that would be enough firepower to support a pitching staff of Herb Pennock, Urban Shocker, Waite Hoyt and Sad Sam Jones. And the Yankees were 21 games better than the Red Sox, but still finished seventh in the eight-team league. Must have been why Sam was so sad.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Active pitchers who have held opponents to a sub-.200 batting average over a full season: Justin Verlander 2011 (.192); Johan Santana 2004 (.192); Kerry Wood 1998 (.196) [min. 162 innings].
Times players have hit 40-plus home runs in a season over the past three years. Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols are the only players to accomplish it twice.
Teams that ended last weekend with a team batting average below .200. The Padres ended Sunday with a .191 average and the Pirates finished up at .188.
Pitching staffs that ended last weekend holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. Toronto’s pitchers are holding opponents to a .199 average, and the Nationals’ pitchers are even stingier at .186.
Players with enough plate appearances to qualify hitting below the Mendoza Line (.200).
Players with enough plate appearances to qualify not even on the interstate yet, hitting below .100. Marlon Byrd of the Cubs ranks at the bottom of the 193 players with a .065 average and .212 OPS.
Remember those cool little trophies that Topps has put on baseball cards of the previous year’s best rookies? The card company began the practice in 1960 honoring the best rookies from 1959 — a group that included the likes of Pumpsie Green and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
Since that time, Topps has forsaken the trophies in a few years, but has continued to select an All-Rookie Team. Topps usually honors eight position players and two pitchers, one right-handed, one lefty. We prefer four starters and a closer.
Here’s our lineup of the top 2012 rookies we believe will be honored by Topps at the end of the season. Some are still in the minors, but you will know their names by the end of the summer.
Hector Sanchez, San Francisco
Sanchez won’t get as many plate appearances as other catchers because of some guy named Buster Posey. But as the Giants get Posey more time at first base, Sanchez will continue to impress with his bat and arm.
Others: Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati; Wilin Rosario, Colorado
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is likely to make the scene by the end of May, and will immediately take his place in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. The Cubbies need his bat, for sure.
Other: Chris Parmelee, Minnesota
Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia
Given the full-time gig in Philadelphia until Chase Utley returns, Galvis’ bat has been slow starting this season, but he knows how to play the position — and there is little competition at the position.
Other: Kolten Wong, St. Louis
Nolan Arenado, Colorado
The third baseman has hit well at every stop, including spring training this season. The hot corner in Denver will be his later this summer. He is among the best long-term prospects on this list as well.
Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta
Clearly, the deepest position for rookies this season, there are shortstops galore. Pastornicky isn’t the best defender of this group, but he is expected to hit close to .300 and steal 20-plus bases.
Others: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati; Nick Franklin, Seattle; Marwin Gonzalez, Houston; Jose Iglesias, Boston
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—April 9-15—standouts.
National League Player of the Week
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
For the second week in a row, the most feared hitter in the NL is honored here. Kemp hit .455 for the week with an NL-leading four home runs and nine RBIs. He scored seven times.
National League Pitcher of the Week
Jake Westbrook, St. Louis
The Cardinals are getting strong starting pitching from unexpected sources, and Westbrook tossed two gems this week. He won at Cincinnati, then defeated the Cubs at home. In 14 innings he was 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
American League Player of the Week
Josh Willingham, Minnesota
The Twins are struggling to score runs, but Willingham showed why Minnesota signed the free agent over the winter. He hit an even .500 and slugged north of 1.000 with three home runs.
American League Pitcher of the Week
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles
It hasn’t been the kind of start to the 2012 season that the Angels expected, but Wilson was a lone bright spot last week. He won both his starts with a 1.38 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.
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 April 16, 2012.
1. Rangers—Joe Nathan gets first save, bullpen only potential problem.
2. Dodgers—Matt Kemp determined to have monster season.
3. Tigers—Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder latest version of Bash Bros.
4. Yankees—Derek Jeter off to hottest start of his career.
5. Cardinals—Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook are all 2-0.
6. Diamondbacks—Bullpen becoming strength of the team.
7. Nationals—Stephen Strasburg is officially dominant.
8. Blue Jays—Kyle Drabek finally pitching like an ace.
9. Phillies—Phils’ leader: 5 RBIs; Ryan Howard: 11 after 9 games in 2011.
10. Red Sox—Big Papi crushing the ball early.
11. Braves—Atlanta needs Jason Heyward and he’s producing.
12. Rays—Rays out of the gate slowly once again.
13. Brewers—Cleanup hitters are batting just .103 with no homers.
14. Angels—Offense is struggling and bullpen is terrible.
15. Reds—Aroldis Chapman dominant in relief role.
16. Indians—Derek Lowe settling in as Cleveland’s ace.
17. Giants—Tough blow losing Brian Wilson for the season.
18. Rockies—Rockies and opponents have identical .777 OPS.
19. Mariners—Outhomered 15-7, but outscored by only two, 42-40.
20. Marlins—Giancarlo Santon yet to go deep, Omar Infante has four.
21. Orioles—Four regulars hitting better than .285; four below .220.
22. Mets—Relievers Francisco, Byrdak, Rauch and Parnell 1 ER in 16.2 IP.
23. White Sox—Opponents batting .196 with runners in scoring position.
24. A’s—May have found another ace in lefty Tom Milone.
25. Pirates—Bucs have 2.57 ERA and .188 batting average.
26. Royals—Hitting .313 at home, .227 on the road.
27. Astros—J.D. Martinez becoming a big hit in Houston.
28. Cubs—Cubs have no home runs from their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters.
29. Padres—Hitting .219 on the road, .179 at Petco Park.
30. Twins—Josh Willingham brings big bat to Minneapolis.
1. St. Louis
The St. Louis Cardinals seemed to be riding a magic carpet for two months last season, turning a 10.5-game deficit in the wild card chase into a World Series win. At least some — if not all — of that magic left town with Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. But the Cardinals have enough talented veterans to win the division. Catcher Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of this team now, and the return of Adam Wainwright certainly helps. Due to Lance Berkman’s age and Carlos Beltran’s recent history and David Freese’s only history, the second, fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup are huge injury risks. If the Cardinals stay reasonably healthy, new manager Mike Matheny will enjoy his first ride at the helm.
NL MVP Ryan Braun will miss the presence of Prince Fielder in the Milwaukee lineup, no doubt. Having Aramis Ramirez on deck while you’re hitting just isn’t the same. But the Brewers have a solid rotation and proven bullpen and cannot be counted out.
The Reds signed closer Ryan Madson to a one-year deal, seemingly going all-in for 2012. But Madson needs Tommy John surgery and suddenly things don’t look so bright. Cincinnati made a huge ($225 million) commitment to keep Joey Votto in town for what could be his entire career. The Reds learned from the proceedings in St. Louis and Milwaukee this winter and were determined to keep their star first baseman.
Pittsburgh is still young and some of its hyped position players are beginning to blossom. But where are the pitchers? GM Theo Epstein has the huge task of rebuilding the Cubs in front of him. The Astros are young and building for their move to the AL West in 2013.
Best Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee
Best Hitter: Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Best Manager: Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Rising Star: Shelby Miller, St. Louis
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. St. Louis
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
2. Atlanta (wild card)
5. New York
With cracks appearing in the Philadelphia offense, the NL East has become the most competitive division in baseball. The Phillies have the most daunting rotation in the National League with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. But without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for much of the season, the Phillies will struggle to score runs. There will be tremendous pressure on Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to carry the offense. We may see the Phillies manufacturing runs with speed this season.
The door is open — or at least ajar — for the Braves, Nationals and Marlins to enter. Atlanta will have the pitching to compete, but the offense may struggle unless Jason Heyward can hit at 2010 levels, and not what we saw last season. You have to wonder how long catcher Brian McCann can continue to carry such a huge offensive load.
The Nats are up and coming, and fast. With Stephen Strasburg back and Bryce Harper on the way, the Nats are the team of the future. Expect Harper to show up as the team’s centerfielder by mid-May.
The Marlins’ spending spree and move into a new stadium made them winners over the offseason, but there are still a few parts needed in order to be winners during the season. Outfield defense could spell trouble in their spacious park. The Mets simply have no chance in this division.
Best Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
Best Hitter: Hanley Ramirez, Miami
Best Manager: Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
Rising Star: Bryce Harper, Washington
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
5. New York
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
1. San Francisco
2. Arizona (wild card)
3. Los Angeles
5. San Diego
The NL West is the home of some of the game’s brightest stars in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum of San Francisco and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. But the teams are not so great. San Francisco with its pitching, and Arizona with its grit, should fight it out for the division title. The loser will get one of the two wild cards.
The Giants will trot out Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner every five days. Add to that Ryan Vogelsong — if 2011 was too much of an aberration — and Barry Zito. The bullpen is stingy; led by closer Brian Wilson and setup man Sergio Romo. But who will generate the offense? Good question.
Manager Kirk Gibson did a masterful job in his first full season as skipper in Phoenix. He has two horses atop his rotation in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. The bullpen is a little iffy and other than Justin Upton, there is no fear in this lineup either.
The recent sale of the Dodgers should begin the transformation of one of the game’s most storied franchises. The Giants and D’backs need to win while they can before the big blue monster is unleashed. Kemp and Cy Young winner Kershaw are impressive cornerstones.
Colorado actually has a chance to compete this year, but will need better-than-expected seasons from its starting pitching. San Diego has no chance.
Best Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Best Hitter: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
Best Manager: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
Rising Star: Dee Gordon, Los Angeles
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco
5. San Diego
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
2. Los Angeles (wild card)
While the Los Angeles Angels upped the ante in the AL West by signing the ultimate free agent, Albert Pujols, and by signing away the Rangers’ best pitcher, C.J. Wilson, the Rangers didn’t blink. Texas remains the best team in the division with a lineup featuring Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, although the gap is narrowing. Texas invested $111.7 million to replace Wilson in the rotation with Yu Darvish from Japan. They also moved Neftali Feliz, their closer the past two seasons, into the rotation.
Pujols provides a huge presence in the Angels’ lineup, but with little support he may find himself trotting to first base, or chasing less desirable pitches this season. But the Angels won 86 games without King Albert and with a bullpen that blew 25 saves. Expect a much-improved bullpen this season. The rotation, of course, is one of the best if not the best in the American League. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson are all Cy Young candidates.
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s are miles behind their competitors.
Best Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren, Los Angeles
Best Hitter: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles
Best Manager: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles
Rising Star: Mike Trout, Los Angeles
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Los Angeles
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
3. Kansas City
There is very little debate about who is the best team in the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers have a healthier bullpen, a deeper rotation and a more potent lineup than they played with for most of last season, when they won the division by 15 games. Case closed. They replaced the injured Victor Martinez with slugger Prince Fielder, and will have the services of Delmon Young for a full season. What is lacking is defense. Pitchers like Justin Verlander may need to rely more on strikeouts and popups this season. Don’t be surprised if shortcomings on defense haunt this team in the postseason.
Cleveland surprised most fans last season and should continue to improve. The Tribe’s bullpen is terrific, but the rotation and lineup have serious questions. It will take a return to good health by Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore (expected back midseason) and steady improvement by young players for the Indians to chase down the Tigers.
Kansas City is still young and waiting for its uber prospects to break out. Injuries to catcher Sal Perez and closer Joakim Soria were tough blows.
The Twins found out last season just how bad they can be without playing sound baseball. The healthy return of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will help, but not nearly enough. The White Sox were a colossal flop last season — with little improvement expected in 2012.
Best Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
Best Manager: Jim Leyland, Detroit
Rising Star: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
2. Kansas City
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay (wild card)
It’s official. The Tampa Bay Rays are consistently competing with the rich boys up north. Make no mistake, the Yankees are clearly the team to beat in the AL East, but the Rays have a better rotation, play solid, fundamental defense and score just enough runs to win.
The Yankees’ lineup is stacked once again, even as New York’s stars are aging. Second baseman Robinson Cano of the Yankees is quickly becoming the game’s best all-around player. Curtis Granderson is a threat at the top of the lineup and Mark Teixeira shares duties with Cano the duties of anchoring the middle. At this point, the production the Yankees get from their older stars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter is almost a bonus.
With James Shields and David Price leading a strong rotation, the Rays pose a tough challenge every night. Carlos Peña is back to bolster the lineup and support Evan Longoria, but offense is not how the Rays win.
The Boston Red Sox have a new manager in Bobby Valentine, who has accepted the challenge of forging a new culture in Boston. There are still a few too many questions in the rotation, and with closer Andrew Bailey out for an extended period, the bullpen as well. When good health is on the Red Sox side, this lineup is dangerous. But even though Boston is younger than New York, the injury issues are about equal.
Poor Toronto. The Jays are capable of competing in any other division. The second wild card will at least give them a chance. The Orioles may be the worst organization in baseball right now.
Best Starting Pitcher: David Price, Tampa Bay
Best Hitter: Robinson Cano, New York
Best Manager: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
Rising Star: Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay
— Charlie Miller
Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are trying to get back into the postseason after a post-World Series season in which almost nothing went right. Once again, they will rely on their pitching, just as they did to win the World Series in 2010 and to win 86 games and stay in contention last year. Their 3.20 ERA was second in the NL in 2011, and they return every key pitcher except Jonathan Sanchez, who did not have a good year. The upgrades to an offense that was the worst in the league are mostly “incremental,” which is GM-speak for “moves that probably won’t make much difference.” The most significant newcomers are Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, neither of whom is an impact player. A bigger boost could come from Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez bouncing back from injuries, or from Aubrey Huff continuing the every-other-year pattern of his career.
It doesn’t get much better than the top two in this rotation, with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the quietly dominating Matt Cain. Lincecum was just as good as he’s ever been, except he was victimized by criminal run support. The Giants scored 2.8 runs per start for Lincecum. Cain is used to that sort of thing, as his career 69–73 record, with a 3.35 ERA, attests. Young Madison Bumgarner is certainly better than most No. 3s. The 22-year-old cracked the 200-innings barrier last year, despite worries that his workload in 2010 might cause him problems. Ryan Vogelsong was the surprise of the staff, making the All-Star team after coming back from a three-year detour to Japan and another year in the minors. One of the big questions for the Giants will be whether Vogelsong was a one-year wonder. Finally, the most expensive No. 5 starter in the majors: Barry Zito. He has teased the Giants with good work for three or four weeks at a time, but not much more over his disastrous five years in San Francisco. At this point the Giants would just be happy if he could soak up league average innings.
Traditionally it’s hard to put together back-to-back good years out of a bullpen without changing the personnel because relievers, by their nature, are so inconsistent year to year. The Giants bucked the trend last year, though. Despite All-Star closer Brian Wilson missing the start of the season with an injury and having a few more struggles than usual (he still saved 36 games with a 3.11 ERA), the Giants posted a relief ERA of 3.04, second-best in the league. Sergio Romo emerged as a lights-out setup man, at one stretch retiring 30 consecutive batters over 14 games. Lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt held lefties to a combined .154 average. Santiago Casilla, who seemed sure to come back to earth after a 2010 that was so much better than the rest of his career, posted a 1.74 ERA. Perhaps the Giants are pressing their luck, but they will essentially have the same bullpen for a third consecutive season.
The Giants acquired Sanchez in a 2009 deadline trade, but they still haven’t seen a full season from the former batting champ. He’s been injured every year. Last year’s separated shoulder was so severe that it’s no sure thing Sanchez will be fully recovered by midseason. When he has been out there, he’s been consistent at the plate, hitting between .284 and .292 in each season with the Giants. Shortstop will once again be an issue, as it has been every year since Omar Vizquel left after the 2008 season. Brandon Crawford is in line to get the first shot at the job, even though his résumé doesn’t show any reason to believe he can hit in the majors. He’s a career .266 hitter in the minors, and he hit .204 in the majors last year. The Giants couldn’t afford to get an upgrade, so they’ll take Crawford’s above-average defense and hope he can be a respectable No. 8 hitter.
Pablo Sandoval saved his career with his bounce-back season in 2011, hitting .315 with 23 homers and earning an All-Star berth. His defense went from abysmal to above average. Funny what the loss of 40 pounds can do for you. Now, the challenge for Sandoval is to keep it going. If he relaxes at all, the weight will surely come back. On the other side of the diamond, the Giants could use another revival from Huff. Like Sandoval, Huff fell victim to poor conditioning during his down season. The difference is that Huff is now 35, so he’s got that going against him, too. His career has been marked by alternating good and bad years, but no one is assuming a rebound for him because of his age. The Giants are still hopeful than Brandon Belt will blossom, which could push Huff to left field or to the bench.
None of the starters from the World Series team is back. There’s also not much depth, because the only true outfielders are the three starters, with converted infielders as the backups. Right and center figure to be manned by two newcomers, Cabrera and Pagan. The alignment is going to be determined in spring training, but Pagan will probably get the first crack at center. Both players are coming off years that may have been aberrations, and the Giants are hoping that’s the case for Pagan (.694 OPS with the Mets) and not Cabrera (.809 OPS with the Royals). If either is motivated by money, that will benefit the Giants, as both are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. If Nate Schierholtz proves he can hit big league pitching consistently, his glove will keep him in the lineup in right, switching Cabrera to left field. An excellent defender but not a prototypical corner outfield bat, Schierholtz has a career .727 OPS, and he’s never hit more than nine homers. The most likely scenario has Belt at first and Huff in left, Cabrera in right and Pagan in the middle.
Posey is going into his third year, but he’s played only one full season between his first two years in the majors. His sophomore year was cut short by a horrific ankle injury in May. Posey’s long rehab kept him mostly off the field until the fall, when he began doing some hitting and catching in Arizona. The Giants need Posey to be the offensive force he was in 2010, but that’s a lot to ask from a catcher. We’re still only assuming he can be that player over the long run, because he hasn’t done it yet.
Belt is the Giants’ most intriguing bench player, because ideally he won’t be on the bench at all. The Giants envision him as the long-term answer at first base. Belt or Huff could play in the outfield if the Giants want to get both bats in the lineup, but either would be a defensive liability. Ryan Theriot is a solid pro who can play multiple infield positions. He’s the primary fallback if Crawford can’t cut it. Emmanuel Burriss was rushed to the big leagues and never panned out as the middle infield starter the Giants had hoped, but now he’s become a valuable utilityman, able to play a few positions, switch-hit and run. He’ll likely fill in for Sanchez at second. Hector Sanchez has the potential to be an everyday catcher. That’s not necessarily good news since he’s blocked by Posey.
Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean are entering their sixth year working together. Both have ultimate respect for each other and a seemingly solid understanding of each other. There are always questions around both men about a perceived reluctance to let young players play, but the farm system hasn’t exactly churned out players who forced their way into the lineup. They will be challenged this year with how to handle youngsters like Crawford and Belt, and how to maximize Posey’s value without wearing him down.
You have to assume that the Giants are going to be better offensively than they were in 2011, simply because of the return of Posey and Sanchez. However, neither is a lock to be an impact player, Sanchez because of his injury history and Posey because he hasn’t proven himself over a full major league season. Most of the position players are journeymen, aging veterans or unproven youngsters, so it would be wrong to count on more than a couple of them being above average. That means it’s likely the pitchers who will have to carry this team again. They are good enough to keep the Giants in contention, but it will be up to the hitters to push them over the top.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
OPS declined two years in a row, but still hit better than Andres Torres in ’11.
RF Melky Cabrera (S)
Only 27, so there’s still reason to believe his ’11 breakout (.809 OPS) was for real.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Career back on track after 2010, now must string two good years together.
C Buster Posey (R)
Catch-22? His value is behind the plate, but greatest risk of injury there too.
LF Aubrey Huff (L)
He has never had back-to-back full seasons with an OPS below .800, so he’s due to bounce back. Maybe.
1B Brandon Belt (L)
Has to find a way to lay off the high fastballs to hit consistently.
2B Emmanuel Burriss (S)
Speed and plays multiple positions. Perfect sub at second until Freddy Sanchez is healthy.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Hey, Omar Vizquel was overmatched at the plate when he first got called up, too.
2B Freddy Sanchez (R)
Has hit .290 since coming to the Giants, but hasn’t stayed healthy for a full season.
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Only 21 years of age and owns a .295 average in 319 minor league games.
OF Gregor Blanco
Dependable extra outfielder.
OF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Giants love his D, but just doesn’t have the pop to be an everyday right fielder.
INF Ryan Theriot (R)
Proved to be better at second than short for St. Louis last season.
UT Brett Pill (R)
A late bloomer, the 27-year-old provides some pop off the bench.
RH Tim Lincecum
Two years in a row he’s overcome a rough stretch to remind you how good he is.
RH Matt Cain
One of the most underrated players in the majors, period. The Giants believe enough to make him $200 million richer.
LH Madison Bumgarner
First Giant pitcher since Mike McCormick (1960) to pitch 200+ innings in age 21 season.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
What does he do for an encore after being one of baseball’s best stories in ’11? Should be off the DL by mid-April.
LH Barry Zito
If he can just be average, the Giants come out well ahead of most teams in the No. 5 spot.
RH Brian Wilson (Closer)
Leads major league baseball with 163 saves since start of 2008 season.
RH Sergio Romo
Before his teammate stole his thunder, he had the most famous beard in the bullpen.
LH Javier Lopez
Five of the past six years, Lopez has had an ERA of 3.10 or better.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
Lefties hit .144 against him in ’11; also had career-best WHIP of 1.15.
RH Santiago Casilla
The hardest thrower in the Giants bullpen had a 1.74 ERA in ’11.
RH Guillermo Mota
Long reliever has 50 plate appearances in 13 years — and two home runs.
RH Clay Hensley
Provides some veteran depth in pen.
Los Angeles Dodgers
For Dodgers fans, the long nightmare is over. Last year was one of the darkest in the storied franchise’s long history. A Giants fan was brutally beaten in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium. The team’s owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, engaged in a tacky and embarrassing divorce battle. Frank also took the team into bankruptcy, battling with TV rights-holders and MLB hierarchy in the process. An organic boycott grew out of fans’ disgust with the franchise’s management, and attendance dipped below three million for only the second time in the past 16 years. McCourt eventually sold the team to a group headed by Magic Johnson and former Braves executive Stan Kasten, giving those fans hope for the future. The new owners inherit two very valuable assets in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp — two of the best young players in baseball. Unfortunately in the short term, though, GM Ned Colletti has been handcuffed by the franchise’s financial problems and surrounded those two stars with cheap spare parts. The Dodgers’ biggest offseason acquisition was starter Aaron Harang, signed as a free agent for two years and $12 million. But the sleeping giant has been awakened. The dark days are over and good times are coming.
The Dodgers had hoped by now to have one of the best 1-2 punches in the National League at the front of their rotation. They’re halfway there. Kershaw has blossomed into one of baseball’s best pitchers. He won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown in 2011, tying for the lead league in wins (21) and leading the NL in ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) while running away with the Cy Young Award. However, righthander Chad Billingsley has yet to take his next step forward. Since winning 16 games back in 2008, the 27-year-old Billingsley has been basically a .500 pitcher (35–33) with a rising ERA (a career-high 4.21 last year) and slipping K-rate. The rest of the Dodgers’ rotation is an uninspiring group of middling veterans, placeholders for a wave of young talent led by injured Rubby De La Rosa. Harang and lefthander Chris Capuano were signed as free agents (at half the cost of departed free agent Hiroki Kuroda) to join Ted Lilly.
Jonathan Broxton’s four-year roller-coaster ride as the Dodgers’ closer ended with elbow surgery and free agency last year. In his place, Javy Guerra has stepped in as the last link in a young bullpen featuring only two veterans (Matt Guerrier and Mike MacDougal). Guerra was a godsend, making his major league debut in May and quickly laying claim to the closer’s role. As a rookie, he converted 21 of 23 save opportunities with a 2.31 ERA. He’ll team with hard-throwing Kenley Jansen as the finishers in the Dodgers’ bullpen. After a dynamic debut in 2010, Jansen got off to a rough start in 2011 before righting himself in a big way. From mid-June until the end of the season, Jansen retired 97 of the 120 batters he faced — 61 by strikeout. Though inexperienced, the Guerra-Jansen combo is a formidable hammer for manager Don Mattingly to wield at the back end of games. He’ll sort through a passel of young arms (including Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert and Nathan Eovaldi) to build the rest of the pen.
Rookie shortstop Dee Gordon breathed some life into the Dodgers last season, batting .304 in 56 games after his big league debut in early June. Gordon was particularly dynamic in September, when he led all National Leaguers with 42 hits and stole 12 of his 24 bases (tied for the NL lead among rookies). The still-developing Gordon is a mixed bag (particularly defensively) at this point in his career. But the Dodgers will insert him at the leadoff spot and hope the spark he provides will outweigh the blunders. Alongside him at second base, meanwhile, will be a pair of veterans on the downside of their careers. Mark Ellis, 34, figures to get most of the playing time with Adam Kennedy in a utility role.
As he rose through their farm system, the Dodgers envisioned first baseman James Loney developing into a Mark Grace clone, providing defensive range at first with doubles power, high average and run production at the plate. Those visions have yet to be realized. Loney’s power has not emerged; he has driven in fewer runs each of the past two seasons, and his average seems stuck in the .280s. The Dodgers would like to see more punch from Loney to give them a complementary offensive piece behind Kemp. The other side of the infield was an even bigger disappointment in 2011. Casey Blake is gone, but Juan Uribe and his three-year, $21 million contract live on. Injured, out of shape and ineffective, Uribe hit just .204 in 77 games last season. With few alternatives, the Dodgers will give Uribe another chance to earn his salary at third in 2012.
Potential turned into reality with Kemp in 2011. The supremely gifted center fielder emerged as the best all-around player in the NL, just missing out on a 40-40 season and finishing second to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting while leading the league in home runs (39), RBIs (126) and runs scored (115), winning a Gold Glove, stealing 40 bases and batting .324. More of the same is expected after he signed an eight-year, $160 million contract extension. Simply more is expected from his outfield neighbors, particularly Andre Ethier in right. After a scorching start, Ethier finished the season with a .292 average, 11 home runs (matching a career-low) and 62 RBIs. If he rebounds, the Dodgers will have a robust 1-2 punch in the middle of their lineup. If not, the offense will continue to sag as it did in 2011. While Ethier and others were failing to support Kemp in the Dodgers’ 2011 lineup, Juan Rivera was a valuable midseason find, batting .274 with five home runs and 46 RBIs in 62 games with the Dodgers. That was enough to get him a new contract (one year with a club option for 2013). Tony Gwynn Jr. lurks, ready to take away playing time.
The Dodgers moved on from Russell Martin last season, trying to combine the talents of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro to fill the vacancy at catcher. That didn’t work out very well. A.J. Ellis gets the chance now to lay claim to the primary catcher’s job with veteran Matt Treanor backing him up. The best asset Ellis has shown in his career is an ability to get on base — he has a career OBP of .406 in the minors and .360 in 87 major league games.
Colletti’s spare-parts approach to team-building (necessitated by the team’s uncertain finances) will be most evident on the bench, where the Dodgers’ roster thins out rapidly. It may take a year or so for the effect of new ownership to show here, but at least there are resources to add necessary parts during the season. Hairston Jr., a veteran utility man, and Kennedy offer versatility but little else. Treanor is a reliable backup at catcher. Only Gwynn threatens to be more than minimal role players.
In his first year as manager, Mattingly proved that he was up to a challenging situation, getting his team to finish strong (45 wins in the final 73 games) despite being out of the race. He proved to be a more hands-on presence than predecessor Joe Torre, getting the most out of the Dodgers’ best player, Kemp, who chafed under Torre and did not mesh well with his old-school coaching staff. If the Dodgers overachieved by finishing with a winning record (82–79) in Mattingly’s first season, he’ll have to milk more of the same out of a limited roster once again in 2012.
The NL West has been a difficult division to get a handle on. Four of the five teams have made the playoffs at least once in the past three seasons (the Padres being the only ones left in the cold) with a different division winner each of those years. The Dodgers’ best hope in 2012 might be for a similar open casting call extending deep into the season. That would allow time for new ownership to free Colletti’s hands for some midseason moves that could prove the difference in a close division race. Perhaps now the Dodgers can start performing like the big-market team they really are.
SS Dee Gordon (L)
Had more hits in September (42) than any hitter in the National League.
2B Mark Ellis (R)
OPS of Dodgers second basemen in 2011 (.627) was lowest in NL, 28th of 30 MLB teams.
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Monster year could herald arrival of mega-talented Kemp as MLB’s best all-around player.
RF Andre Ethier (L)
30-game hitting streak in April-May was one short of franchise record set by Willie Davis in 1969.
LF Juan Rivera (R)
Hit only two homers in final 28 games but still had 22 RBIs in September.
1B James Loney (L)
With settled ownership, Dodgers might have bid for free agent Prince Fielder.
3B Juan Uribe (R)
Three-year, $21 million contract given to Uribe looks like another costly mistake.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
Emerges from last year’s Rod Barajas-Dioner Navarro muddle to get first shot at every-day job.
UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played five positions (second, third, shortstop, left field and center field) for Nats and Brewers in 2011.
INF Adam Kennedy (L)
Made 58 starts batting third, fourth or fifth for offense-starved Mariners last season.
C Matt Treanor (R)
Career .225 hitter better known for his defense — and his wife (beach volleyball star Misty May).
OF Tony Gwynn Jr. (L)
Could surface in left field again if Rivera reverts to 2010 form.
INF Justin Sellers (R)
Made 17 starts across three infield positions last season, but hit just .203.
LH Clayton Kershaw
Dodgers’ first 20-game winner since 1990 was 12–2 vs. NL West teams, 5–0 vs. rival Giants.
RH Chad Billingsley
Dodgers still waiting for Billingsley’s breakout season despite career 70–52 record.
LH Ted Lilly
Has averaged less than six innings per start — but WHIP is just 1.11 in season-and-a-half as Dodger. Will begin the season on the DL, but not expected to miss a start.
RH Aaron Harang
Cautionary note: ERA jumped from 3.05 to 4.70, WHIP from 1.21 to 1.65 away from Petco Park in 2011.
LH Chris Capuano
Went 11–12 with 4.55 ERA for Mets in 2011, his first full season after Tommy John surgery.
RH Javy Guerra (Closer)
Went from Double-A to Dodgers’ closer in 2011, but Jansen lurks as potential successor.
RH Kenley Jansen
Set major league record by averaging 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
RH Matt Guerrier
Lone veteran in young pen allowed 16 of final 28 inherited runners to score in 2011.
RH Blake Hawksworth
Had career-high 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year but let half his inherited runners score. He’ll miss at least two months nursing a sore elbow.
LH Scott Elbert
Held lefties to .191 average (13 for 68) with 18 strikeouts in 2011.
RH Josh Lindblom
23 strikeouts, 20 runners allowed in final 19 innings with Dodgers last year.
RH Mike MacDougal
Posted 2.05 ERA in first year wearing blue; re-signed to one-year deal with club option in offseason.
RH Jamey Wright
The 16-year vet is now playing for his ninth franchise.
RH Todd Coffey
Allowed only 55 hits in 59.2 innings with the Nationals last year.