Tag Archive | "Rbi"

Triple Play: Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Todd Helton

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the best all-around player in baseball, the best rookie in baseball, a retiring Rockie, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Let’s dive in:

MikeTrout

Who’s Hot?

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

It’s become a popular theme this month, how well Trout continues to hit while Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera struggles (mostly due to injury). Specifically, Trout has hit .356/.540/.489 in September; Cabrera has hit just .179/.343/.214. However, that narrow-minded view completely ignores just how good Trout has been throughout the whole season. Trout’s 1.029 OPS in September is only his fourth highest mark this season. After leading the American League in stolen bases, runs scored and OPS+ as a rookie in 2012, Trout has been even better this year. He again leads the AL in runs scored (103 entering Sunday), walks (99) and his OPS+ is 181. He already has exceeded 2012’s RBI total and is all but certain to better the 315 total bases from last year.

In a year that has seen most everything go wrong for the Angels (horrible pitching, career-worst season for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton’s awful first year in LA), Trout has been the only thing to go right. For the second straight year, Trout is worth 10 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the only player to do that since Barry Bonds. He might not win the MVP this year, but he probably should. The Angels have been so bad this year, Trout is about the only thing separating the Angels from being the Milwaukee Brewers or the Minnesota Twins.

Who’s Not?

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Speaking of the Twins, they were officially eliminated from the postseason over the weekend. Unofficially, they were eliminated on Easter. Mauer certainly did his part, compiling a .324/.404/.476 slash line. So why is he in this section? Because of the concussion symptoms from which he continues to suffer. The injury supposedly occurred on August 19, when he took several foul tips off his catcher’s mask. But when you’re a catcher, absorbing foul tips and assorted other punishment is all part of a day’s work. Who really knows when the injury happened? He started light workouts several days ago, only to have the symptoms return and he was sent home on September 11. Is there any benefit to have their homegrown star rush back to the field this season? Absolutely not. Further, if there is any team in the majors that should be extra careful when it comes to a superstar with a concussion, it’s the Twins. Justin Morneau’s concussion issues were such that he has never returned to his MVP-caliber level once he sustained his. Here’s hoping that he is able to recover during the offseason and return to Target Field fully healthy for the 2014 season.

Playing the Name Numbers Game

Here are some interesting numbers from the 2013 season (entering Sunday’s games):

Random Thoughts

  • Todd Helton told Troy Renck of The Denver Post on Saturday that he intends to retire after the 2013. “It just seems like it’s time,” Helton said. He is right. Although he reached the 2,500 hit mark, it has become clear that Father Time has caught up to the 40-year-old lifetime Rockie. The power is mostly gone, as is the bat speed that helped produce ten straight seasons with a park-adjusted OPS+ of at least 118. Helton’s slash line this year is just .244/.315/.408, with 13 homers, 52 RBI and 34 runs scored.
  • In his career, Helton sports a lifetime .317 average, .415 on-base percentage, .539 slugging percentage, 367 home runs, 1,397 RBI, and 1,394 runs scored.
  • According to the Post, those 1,394 runs scored represent eight percent of all the runs scored in Rockies franchise history.
  • Think about that for a moment.
  • Although he tarnished his name with the cement-headed decision to drive drunk earlier this year, Helton’s career will be defined by two iconic moments: 1) Sept. 18, 2007, a walkoff home run off Dodgers closer Takashi Saito that jumpstarted the improbable “Rocktober” run of 21 wins in 22 games, culminating in the team’s only World Series appearance; 2) the image of Helton exulting, fists and head lifted toward the sky as he caught the final out of the 2007 NLCS.
  • Helton probably could elect to continue his career as a reserve/DH, much in the way Jason Giambi has, but the Post story indicates that such an idea never seriously crossed his mind. Helton seems weary and ready to step away from the game. He is fortunate that he gets to do so on his own terms.
  • Five years from now, his Hall of Fame case will be a compelling one to watch.
  • In the short term, this is the best thing for the Rockies. His big salary comes off the books, they can shift Michael Cuddyer to first base and use those funds to bolster the ghastly middle relief.
  • Earlier this year, I wrote that the NL Rookie of the Year award was Yasiel Puig’s to lose. I was wrong. That award should go to Miami’s Jose Fernandez.
  • In his final start of the season last Wednesday, Fernandez shackled the division-leading Braves for seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.19, with the 0.98 WHIP. His 5.8 H/9 and 9.7 K/9 are tops in the National League. Since his electric appearance at the All-Star Game, Fernandez seemed to get better each start. In his final 10 starts, he averaged seven innings per starts with 1.32 ERA, 84 whiffs, three homers allowed. A whopping 68% of his pitches were strikes and opposing hitters slugged a paltry .239. Here are some other numbers to chew on from his inaugural season in the big leagues:
  1. Surrendered more than five runs just twice in 27 starts
  2. 20 quality starts (at least 6 IP and less than 3 ER allowed)
  3. 10 home runs allowed in 172 2/3 innings pitched
  4. 187/58 strikeout-to-walk ratio
  5. Four starts in which he gave up two hits or less
  •  With apologies to Puig, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (all of whom would be strong contenders in any other year), this is a no-brainer. Fernandez is the Rookie of the Year. In fact, you could make a reasonable argument for him to win the Cy Young Award ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Last Friday, Wainwright spun another gem, an eight-inning, six-hit, one-run performance against Seattle (he did not factor in the decision). The outing lowered his ERA back below 3.00 (2.96), and his WHIP is down to 1.069. He has a 16-9 record, with 201 strikeouts and 33 walks. Although his K/BB ratio remains sterling at 6.09-to-1, he no longer leads the majors in that category. That honor now belongs to Matt Harvey (6.16). Wainwright likely has three more starts this season to raise that ratio and a favorable schedule in which to do so.
  • Which is more surprising, that the Kansas City Royals remain in the wild-card hunt on September 16, or that the Washington Nationals have crept to within four games of the Cincinnati Reds for the 2nd wild-card spot in the NL?
  • Texas’ Yu Darvish became the fourth pitcher in modern era to strike out at least 250 batters in his first two major-league seasons. The others: Herb Score, Dwight Gooden and Tim Lincecum. He has 12 starts this year in which he has fanned 10 or more batters.
  • Darvish has four 1-0 losses this year, including his past two decisions. Three of those losses have been at home, which is mind-boggling, given the hitters’ paradise in which the Rangers play.
  • Last Monday (Sept. 9), Darvish lost to Pittsburgh’s 23-year-old Gerrit Cole. Saturday, he lost to 40-year-old Bartolo Colon.
  • Saturday was the sixth time Colon did not allow a run in one of his starts.
  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has done that eight times this season.
  • Raise your hand if you foresaw Ubaldo Jimenez stepping up to become the Indians’ stopper with Justin Masterson on the disabled list.
  • I wonder if Jimenez would be this effective if he were still pitching for the Rockies.
  • News: Dodgers allow 19 runs to the archrival Giants, the most the team has ever surrendered ever at Dodger Stadium. Views: San Francisco can celebrate that feat while watching Los Angeles play October baseball.
  • In news sure to enrage Crazy Brian Kenny: Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wins his 25th straight start. He has won all 21 starts this season, plus his last four in 2012. Obviously, Japanese statistics do not count in the US, but 25 consecutive wins beats the major-league record of 24 straight starts without a loss set by Carl Hubbell in 1936-37.
  • At 24, Tanaka is a prime candidate to pitch in the majors in the next couple years.
  • Hopefully, Kenny will have to address this news on air.
  • We end this week with a feat achieved only once in baseball history: on September 14, 1990, the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the only father-son duo to club home runs in the same game (off Kirk McCaskill of the then California Angels). Not only that, they did it back-to-back. The elder Griffey was 40, Junior was 20. Both teams finished below .500, out of the playoff picture. But, as is the greatest thing about baseball, history can happen at any time.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Moustakas and Hosmer giving hope to Kansas City Royals’ nation

Mike Moustakas blasted a walk-off homer in the 13th inning to give the Kansas City Royals a 7-6 win over the Mariners on Thursday. In the same game, Eric Hosmer had two hits, bringing his season average up to .300. The standout performance by the duo was more of the same in a post All-Star break campaign that has been marked by a vast improvement for the sluggers.

MooseAndHos

While a playoff spot this season is improbable for the Royals, a strong second half by Moustakas and Hosmer should have Royals fans feeling good about the future.

The start of the season was rough for the two young cornerstones for Kansas City. In 80 games before the All-Star break, Moustakas floundered to a slash line of .215/.271/.327, with six home runs and an embarrassing 17 RBI.

In just 36 second half games, the talented third-baseman is hitting .287/.333/.465 and the power has come around to the tune of five home runs and 19 RBI.

Hosmer didn’t even hit a home run until May 9 and in 344 first half at-bats only notched nine long-balls.

In just 193 at-bats after the All-Star break, Hosmer has six home runs and 30 RBI. His slash line is extremely impressive at .326/.391/.477.

These corner infielders should be fixtures in the Kansas City lineup for years to come. It was widely assumed that this would be a breakout year for the duo, but the slow start had Royals’ fans concerned about where these two would lead the team in the future. After trading Wil Myers to Tampa Bay, the Royals’ offense is counting on Moustakas and Hosmer to deliver in a big way.

The strong second half by Moustakas and Hosmer has been mirrored by the team as a whole. In the first half, the Royals were 24th in the MLB in runs and 14th in batting average. In the second half, the team is up to 6th in the majors in scoring and in batting average.

The Kansas City offense is often viewed as a weak point of the team. The rotation, led by James Shields and Ervin Santana, has been great the whole year. Greg Holland has been lights out as the closer and the bullpen as a whole has been dominant.

If Moustakas and Hosmer can lead a turnaround of the offense, the Royals should finish this year strong and have a lot to look forward to next season.

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Jay Reignites Cardinals While Quieting Critics

It was not too long ago that the mere mention of Jon Jay’s name sparked a conversation about every way that he could be replaced. But within the last few weeks, nobody has been more responsible for the turnaround of the Cardinals than him. And now, with the Cardinals back to a comfortable 20 games over .500 and firmly on the heels of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jay continues to be the most unlikely, occasionally most undesirable, catalyst of the year.

Jay_

From the beginning, Jay has been a bit of a stepbrother. He slid into becoming a full-time part of the lineup two years after Colby Rasmus was hastily escorted out of Busch Stadium boundaries. And starting then and since, he’s proved his worth as a stabilizer of sorts for the team. Whether it has been as a leadoff or bottom of the order bat, or making the quick transition from plug in corner outfielder, to major landowner in an outfield devoid of much range otherwise, Jay has been a glue stick for the Cardinals over the past three years.

But despite all of this, there has been no player that has been outwardly yearned to be replaced more than Jay has over the past two years. He’s the most pedestrian of the regular Cardinals, and an era of Trouts, McCutchens and Harpers, the public opinion search for more in middle of the outfield has singled out Jay as the odd man out. Whether it is idea that Carlos Beltran could have something left in the tank to take to centerfield, a trade needs to be made or that Oscar Taveras is already much better suited for the team already, there are no shortage of reasons of somebody, anybody, else should be in his place.

But in the month of August, there’s been no more impactful of a player on the roster. For the month, his 26 hits are tied for the most in the National League, and he leads the Cardinals with a .377 average and 15 RBI in 18 games. The bottom-line: when Jay got going, the team started looking like it had a clue again. July was the worst month of the season for the team, and it wasn’t until their season-worst losing streak hit seven games, that an understated two hit game by Jay got at least one part of the lineup moving.

It was the first of what are now nine multi-hit games Jay has accumulated over the past 20 days. And it seems that the multitude of hits have all come at just the right time. He scored three runs and drove in two more in the 13-0 win in Pittsburgh which ended the club’s slide on August 1st. Then next night he turned in his second three RBI night of the season, contributing to second straight 13 run night for an offense that had scored just 10 runs over the previous week. The next week, he turned in three, three-hit games before plating a career-best four hit effort versus the Pirates back at Busch, which included him scoring the game winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning in a tight slide continued the club’s recent run of tough wins over their immediate superiors in the Central. In the last two days, he’s even added power to his recent show, notching home runs in back-to-back games for the second time in his career.

It’s been a tedious process, but Jay is quieting the bad-tempered mob against him. While has had a year that’s mostly been below the standard he’s set at the plate, his timing has once again been impeccable. He’s now at a career-best 54 RBI, and his on-pace for new high marks in runs scored, doubles and hits. And in a season where on average, four All-Stars are in the daily mix, it’s been the ultimate role player that’s stepped up the highest when nobody else could answer the call.

Sometimes, less truly is more.

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Triple Play: Jayson Werth, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro

In our latest installment of the Triple Play, we look at an outfielder who’s been worth every penny the past few weeks, a new Yankee who has made himself at home (again) and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Let’s dive in:

JaysonWerth

Who’s Hot?

Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

The 2013 season has mostly been a season gone wrong for the Nationals, but you can’t say that outfielder Jayson Werth hasn’t been pulling his weight – and then some. He has hit safely in 10 consecutive games and racked up 10 multi-hit games so far this month. He is hitting a scorching .500/.574/.692 (26-for-52) with an OPS of 1.266 and two homers, four doubles, 10 RBI, and three steals in 15 August games. Actually, the Werewolf has been raking since July, when he posted a batting line of .367/.450/.622 with seven home runs, 22 RBI and 17 runs scored. He has posted an OPS of .850 or better each month since returning from the disabled list in early June. For the season, Werth has compiled a slash line of .334/.407/.531, along with 17 HR, 53 RBI, 7 stolen bases and 61 runs scored. Despite his performance, Washington has been unable to gain any ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves, as the Nationals have tumbled to 15½ games behind Atlanta and are scuffling to reach .500.

Who’s Not?

Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics

Colon, one of the best pitchers in the AL for most of the season, has hit a rough patch this month. It started out well enough, with him not facing any additional discipline due to his involvement in the Biogenesis issue. But his fortunes changed against Cincinnati on August 7, where he was knocked around for seven hits, three walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. It marked his shortest outing of the season and dropped the A’s into a first-place tie with Texas. His most recent start, against Houston on August 13, wasn’t much better, as the offensively-challenged Astros touched him up for seven hits and five runs in just four innings. Colon’s month got even worse this past Friday, though, as he injured his groin during a flat-ground workout session and was placed on the 15-day DL Saturday. A’s manager Bob Melvin tried to look on the bright side, saying that the time off might be good for the 40-year-old Colon. The A’s (and fantasy owners) certainly hope so, because losing Colon would be a blow for the collective hopes of each.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .254/.287/.467, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 10 SB, 103 OPS+

Player B: .329/.361/.658, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, 173 OPS+

Player A is Alfonso Soriano while with the Cubs this season. Player B is Soriano after being traded to the New York Yankees. It’s clear that being dealt back to where he started his career – and a team trying to reach the postseason – has energized him. The Yankees were seeking production from a right-handed hitter; Soriano has delivered an excellent month’s worth in three weeks. During a four-game stretch last week, he tied a major-league record with 18 RBI in four games. While he obviously won’t continue to put up these video-game numbers, he is showing plenty of life remains in his bat.

Name that player

This pitcher has been the picture of durability in his career, starting at least 30 games each of the past eight years. In seven of those, he threw at least 200 innings and tallied no fewer than 12 wins. In 2009, he led his league in WHIP (1.003) and K/BB ratio (5.87-to-1). He has never finished higher than fifth in Cy Young balloting. Need more info?

This pitcher has been traded multiple times, often with some big names going the other way in the deal. He has bounced back and forth between leagues and had equal amounts of success in both. He made his first trip to the disabled list in 2012, but still made 30 starts. After not being re-signed by his previous team, he signed a one-year deal with a new team. This signing was somewhat of a surprise because most analysts thought they already had a fine pitching staff.

How about now? Know who it is?

This pitcher is in the midst of a career-worst season; he leads the league in home runs allowed and has the worst WHIP since his rookie season in 2003. Although he has pitched much better recently, it is probably too little, too late for his team. Did I mention some of the players for whom he was traded? They include Mark Mulder and Carlos Gonzalez. Finally, he recently cleared waivers, meaning he can be traded to any team in need of a starter. Got him yet? Sure you do: it’s Dan Haren.

Haren was pounded for six runs in his initial start of the season – including four home runs – and things hadn’t improved much until the past month. In his first 18 starts, opponents battered him to the tune of a .297 average and 5.79 ERA. However, starting with his July 27 start versus the New York Mets, Haren has been more like his old self, tossing four consecutive quality starts and a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Opposing batters have hit just .158 off him in those games (and only one solo home run). Haren has had a history of wearing down after the All-Star break, but in 2013, he appears to be improving instead of declining. Then again, after the first half of his season, it HAD to get better.

Given his recent success, it is somewhat surprising that he cleared waivers. His contract isn’t exorbitant – he’s owed somewhere around $2-3 million for the remainder of the season. There are teams in the playoff hunt who could use another solid starter (Baltimore, Cleveland, Arizona, Texas, St. Louis). If one of those teams is willing to take on the balance of the salary, one would think they could bolster their rotation without sacrificing a top prospect. Just something to ponder with the August 31 trade deadline less than two weeks away.

Random Thoughts

  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, at age 39, is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). Last week was a slow week for Ichiro, as he only batted .167 (4 for 24) with a walk, including a two-hit night Sunday against Boston. He sits at 3,997 hits with the Yankees hosting Toronto for four games starting Monday, followed by three-game visits to Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In a perfect world, Ichiro would be facing his old team (Seattle) as he notched hit number 4,000. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t face the Mariners again this season.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Wainwright started twice in the past week. In the first game, he lasted seven innings, but walked a season-high three batters and allowed two solo home runs in a no-decision against the Pirates (a game St. Louis eventually won 4-3). Sunday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, Wainwright turned in one of his most dominant outings of the season, spinning seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts and only one walk. This season, Wainwright has walked just 25 hitters and still tops the majors with a 6.92-to-1 K/BB ratio and leads the NL with an average of 1.1 walks per nine innings. His next start comes this Friday when the Cardinals host the Braves.
  • While Pittsburgh fans have embraced the 2013 Pirates (witness the sellout crowd on national TV Saturday), many fans still fear another epic collapse like the past two seasons. Who can blame them? It has been 21 years since the Pirates last finished above .500, let alone reached the postseason. One day after being humiliated by the Diamondbacks at home 15-5, the Pirates lost a 16-inning marathon 4-2, trimming their division lead over the Cardinals to one game. However, this team has a different feel than the 2011-12 versions. We’ll find out if this is truly the case as the Pittsburgh heads west to face the Padres and Giants. This is a perfect opportunity for the Pirates to right the ship and stay in first place.
  • Speaking of teams that have not qualified for the postseason in a generation, the Kansas City Royals may be starting to cool off following that 17-3 run from July 23-August 12. After taking three of four from Boston, the Royals dropped two of three to Miami and three of five to division-leading Detroit. They remain well out of the playoff picture, but the fact that they are even discussing October baseball in Kansas City is progess, no?
  • Don’t look now, but Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly put together a respectable season for Cleveland (9-7, 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 123 Ks). While he clearly is not the ace the Indians thought they were getting when they dealt away top prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, it’s become clear that the Tribe got the better end of the deal. White was traded to Houston and hurt his arm, while Pomeranz has won only four games total with the Rockies and has spent most of 2013 in Triple-A. Jimenez still walks too many batters (less than a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio) and his prone to unraveling in tough situations, but he has become a serviceable starter for a Cleveland team on the fringe of the wild-card race.
  • So, Ryan Braun plans to “distance himself” from Alex Rodriguez in an effort to improve his own public image. Yeah, good luck with that, fella.
  • Thanks to Miguel Tejada for getting suspended for 105 games for testing positive for a banned substance for the third time. Because we haven’t had enough performance-enhancing drug news in baseball this month.
  • Random Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: After winning Sunday to push his record to 18-1, Detroit’s Max Scherzer became the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win 18 of his first 19 decisions in a season. The others are Roger Clemens (2001), Roy Face (1959), Don Newcombe (1955), and Rube Marquard (1912).
  • Good thing the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel a few days ago, or else they never would have been able to take advantage of Hanley Ramirez’s errors Sunday and rally for the win. Clearly, that was all due to the managerial change.
  • News: With the bases loaded against the Cardinals on Saturday, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro caught a fly ball in shallow left field and then sort of stood there. Meanwhile, it was only the second out of the inning and the Cards’ Jon Jay took advantage of Castro’s brainlock to race home to score. By the time Castro realized what was happening, Jay was halfway to the plate. Cubs manager Dale Sveum was not amused by this latest knucklehead move by his shortstop and yanked him from the game. Views: After the game, to his credit, Castro stood at his locker and owned his latest blunder, apologized and offered no excuses. Still, how much more can Sveum be expected to take? I envision him eventually having the same kind of meltdown that Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan had that classic scene in A League of Their Own where Evelyn keeps missing the cut-off man.
  • This past Saturday, August 17, marked the 40-year anniversary of Willie Mays’ final home run – No. 660 – in his career. There are many players I wish I could have seen play in person; Mays is in the top five.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Triple Play: Justin Upton, Jonathan Papelbon, Alex Rios

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the hottest of several scorching Braves hitters, a closer who can’t put nor shut up, the man tasked with replacing Nelson Cruz, and plus more items like our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Off we go:

JustinUpton

Who’s Hot?

Justin Upton, Atlanta

Welcome back, Justin. It’s been quite a while. Remember in April, when the younger Upton was mashing everything in sight, single-handedly carrying the Braves’ offense (and fantasy teams everywhere)? That was the month he blasted 12 home runs with 19 RBI, scored 22 runs and posted an OPS of 1.136. Fans and analysts nationwide praised the Braves for “stealing” Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the following three months, however, Upton only hit four homers and drove in 29. All the “what was Arizona thinking???” noise quieted. Fantasy owners stopped even trying to deal Upton because he wouldn’t bring back equal value. Well, the April version of Upton is back. Thus far in August, Upton is batting a sizzling .395/.452/1.373 with six homers, 13 RBI, and 10 runs scored. The big difference this time, though, is that Upton has a LOT of support around him in the Braves’ lineup right now (more on that below).

Who’s Not?

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia

Oh, it hasn’t been a pretty season in Philadelphia, has it? They lost Roy Halladay to injury and just never seemed to recover. They have strugged to find competent everyday outfielders and enough starting pitchers. Very little has worked. The motor-mouthed Papelbon has grown frustrated and said “he didn’t come here for this.” Well, after watching Pap’s performance the past two months, it seems safe to say the feeling is mutual – the team certainly didn’t bring the former Red Sox closer to town and pay him $13 million a year to watch him blow saves on a regular basis. In fact, Papelbon has Papelblown six of his past 13 save opportunities. Some of them have been spectacularly bad – take August 1, for example: on a night the Phillies honored Brad Lidge for his blown-save-free 2008 season, Papelbon entered the game after Cole Hamels threw eight shutout innings and immediately surrendered four hits and a walk. What had been a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 loss that left a sour taste in the mouths of players and fans alike.

Never one to bite his tongue, Papelbon said after the game, “Obviously I want to go in and preserve wins for these starters, man, because that’s what I take pride in. But some nights, you just go back in the dugout and you kind of scratch your head (and think), what just happened?”

Well, here’s what has happened: Papelbon’s fastball velocity has dropped a mile per hour each season since he left Boston (93.8 in 2012, 92.2 in 2013), making him far more hittable. His strikeout percentage has also fallen off a cliff: 34% in 2012, 23% in 2013. On a team with such poor defense as the Phillies, a “power” closer who can’t strike out opposing hitters the way he once could is just asking for trouble. There were rumors that Papelbon was being shopped around before the trade deadline, but there were no takers. Even the Tigers, desperate for a big-name closer to appease manager Jim Leyland, had no interest. For now – and the foreseeable future – it looks like Papelbon and the Phillies are stuck with each other.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .269/.330/.511, 27 HR, 76 RBI, 5 SB, 49 runs, 123 OPS+

Player B: .279/.331/.427, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 26 SB, 58 runs, 102 OPS+

Player A is the Rangers’ now-suspended right fielder Nelson Cruz. Player B is his replacement, Alex Rios. After failing to make any deals to boost their lineup before the non-waiver deadline, the Rangers finally got their man last Friday, acquiring Alex Rios from Chicago via a waiver claim deal. Two games in, it has looked like a brilliant move. Rios started his Rangers career by going 4-for-7 with a walk, double, triple, three runs scored and two RBI. While Rios doesn’t offer the same power as Cruz, he brings another speed threat to the lineup to complement Elvis Andrus (30 steals) and Leonys Martin (27). With Cruz sidelined for 50 games, the only Rangers hitter with more than 16 home runs is third baseman Adrian Beltre. Don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a Rangers team had such a dearth of power. I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t done searching for offense.

Team A: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.83 ERA, 14 QS, 5.2 runs scored/game

Team B: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.56 ERA, 17 QS, 4.4 runs scored/game

Team A is the Atlanta Braves. Since the All-Star break, the Braves have turned the National League East division race into a laugher, winning 14 straight games to open a 14½-game lead and turning the Nationals into overly-hyped also-rans. As noted above, Justin Upton has been red hot, but Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have also been crushing the ball over the past couple of weeks. All four players have driven in at least 10 runs, scored 10 runs and have an on-base percentage over .400 over the past two weeks. After Tim Hudson’s horrific ankle injury, it was widely assumed that the Braves would trade for another starter. It hasn’t happened. Brandon Beachy was activated off the disabled list and stepped right into the void. The results have been mixed, as it typical for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, but each start so far has been better than the last. Atlanta also has relied on prized rookie Alex Wood, and he hasn’t disappointed (2-2, 2.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, three consecutive quality starts entering Sunday).

Team B is…..are you ready for this?….the Kansas City Royals. Lost amidst all the Braves hubbub is that Missouri’s other team has been every bit as good as Atlanta since the break. All the Royals have done is: 1) reel off an eight-game winning streak (their longest since 2003); 2) twirl their way through the most successful road trip in franchise history (8-1); 3) take three of four from Boston, generally considered the best team in the AL; and 4) win seven straight series, the longest such streak since 1991.

Since the All-Star break, the Royals’ rotation has been the backbone of their success, with 17 quality starts in 23 games. Ace James Shields has spun five quality starts in that time, while Ervin Santana has four and Jeremy Guthrie three. The unexpected surprise, though, has been 36-year-old Bruce Chen; he has given the Royals five consecutive quality starts since being restored to the rotation on July 12. Kansas City also recently recalled fireballing lefty Danny Duffy to fill a rotation spot as well. Suddenly, Kansas City has one of the deeper rotations in the AL. And don’t forget closer Greg Holland (32 saves, 74 strikeouts in 46 innings, 1.57 ERA, 0.91 WHIP).

First baseman Eric Hosmer also has been terrific, sporting a .362/.392/.489 slash line since Aug. 1. After starting slowly the first two months, he has combined with left fielder Alex Gordon and designated hitter Billy Butler to give the Royals an imposing middle of the order. The competition on that July 26-August 4 road trip (White Sox, Twins, Mets) was surely sub-par, but the result perhaps should be taken with a small grain of salt, but one thing is certain: the team is giving its fans reason for serious optimism for the rest of this season and next.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. In his most recent start, Wainwright lasted seven innings against the Dodgers, allowing seven hits, three runs and two walks while striking out five. For the season, Wainwright has walked only 21 hitters versus 156 punchouts, good for a 7.4-to-1 K/BB ratio (still the best in baseball). His next start is scheduled for Tuesday against Pittsburgh. In his last start against the Pirates on July 31, Wainwright pitched seven innings, allowing four runs and one walk. Given the Cardinals’ recent struggles, this start takes on even more importance than usual.
  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: as noted in last week’s column, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). As you probably know, only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have reached 4,000 in their careers. Following Sunday’s game against Detroit, in which he went hitless, Ichiro sits at 3,993 hits. Next up for Ichiro and the Yankees: four games at home against the pitching-challenged Angels, followed by a three-game set in Boston.
  • If it does happen this coming weekend, here’s hoping that the achievement is appropriately noted by Fox Sports and/or ESPN.
  • I, however, am NOT holding my breath.
  • Pittsburgh entered Coors Field last Friday with the best record in baseball, facing a Rockies team that crawled home following a terrible 1-9 road trip that essentially ended their hopes of contending for a wild-card spot.
  • Naturally, the Rockies broomed the Pirates. Because, baseball.
  • Next up for the Pirates: another showdown with St. Louis, which might miss Yadier Molina more than even they expected. Since he went on the DL July 31, the Cardinals are 5-7 and have fallen into second place, three games behind the Pirates.
  • Chris Davis is on pace to belt 59 homers and knock in 153 runs.
  • Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit “only” 49 homers and drive in 153. He is not 100% and may not be for the rest of the season. Detroit currently has a seven-game lead in the AL Central – nice lead, but certainly not safe. After all, Oakland had a six-game lead on July 29 and watched it fizzle away by Aug. 7. If the Tigers are able to open a division lead as large as Atlanta’s, you have to wonder if they would consider putting Cabrera on the DL  in an effort to get his abdominal injury healed in time for the playoffs.
  • Apropos of nothing, the only other major leaguer with at least 90 RBI entering Sunday was Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (91).
  • News: Stephen Strasburg notched his first career shutout Sunday against the fading Phillies. Views: I half expected the Nationals to shut him down in the 7th to preserve his arm.
  • Random Baseball Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: on August 11, 1970, Jim Bunning became the first pitcher to win 100 games in both leagues.
  • Alex Rodriguez popped his first home run of the season Sunday and represented career home run No. 648 (or, 12 shy of Willie Mays). The two runs he drove in give him 1,952 in his career, passing Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time RBI list.
  • That means that A-Rod now has 648 career homers, which is 12 shy of Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list. He also added an RBI single later in the game, giving him 1,952, which means he’s passed Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time list.
  • In perhaps the ultimate testament to his greatness, Mariano Rivera has blown three consecutive saves for the first time in his career. It took 19 seasons and 937 appearances for it to happen.
  • Still, I expect some dimwitted New York media member to suggest that it’s time to remove the Sandman from the closer role. Mike Francesa, maybe?

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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The Red Hot Royals

The Kansas City Royals have caught fire after the All-Star break, winning 11 of 13 games and nine in a row after a 7-2 victory over the Twins on Thursday afternoon. The only problem is that their AL Central foes, the Tigers and Indians, are also red hot. The Indians have won eight straight games and sit 2 games behind the division-leading Tigers. Kansas City is now 6.5 games back.

Mike_Moustakas

Royals fans now have a sense of excitement after the way the team has opened the second half. Keys to the Royals’ second half surge have included:

Stellar starting pitching

Jeremy Guthrie leads the Kansas City rotation with a 3-0 record in the second half. James Shields and Ervin Santana each have two wins. Wade Davis and Bruce Chen both have one win in two starts. Santana has a sparkling 1.21 ERA while Davis isn’t far behind at 1.80. Chen and Shields both have a 2.25 ERA and Jeremy Guthrie’s is the highest of the starters at 4.00. Chen has solidified his spot in the rotation for now and Davis has improved on what was a rough first half of the year.

A lights out bullpen

Four Royals’ relievers have yet to give up an earned run after appearing in at least four games. Luke Hochevar leads the group with 8.1 innings of scoreless relief. Tim Collins and Aaron Crow have 4+ innings without allowing a run and Louis Coleman has 3.2 innings without a run to his name. Not only has the bullpen been great, but they have also excelled in pressure situations, protecting six one-run wins for the Royals. When you combine the starters and the bullpen, Royals’ pitching sports an incredible 2.25 ERA since the break, good for second in the majors, ahead of the Tigers and behind only the Indians.

Mike Moustakas is heating up

Moustakas has struggled for most of the season, but he has recently found his swing. He has a team-leading three home runs and eight RBI in 12 games played in the second half. He even has a .325 batting average, bringing his season average up to .229. Moustakas had the big two-homer game against the Twins on July 30.

Royals batters are hitting for average

Jarrod Dyson is setting the pace for the Royals with a .389 average in 18 at-bats. Four other players are hitting above .300. Billy Butler is at .327, Moustakas and David Lough are in at .325 and Miguel Tejada owns a .313 average. As a team, the Royals are hitting .266, tied for fifth in the American League (up from .256 pre-All Star break).

Greg Holland is shutting the door

Holland has been great all year and has only continued his dominance after the break. He has converted all six of his save opportunities and has allowed only one earned run. Opponents are hitting .280 against the hard-throwing right-hander. If the Royals continue their amazing run, Holland should only have more opportunities to close out tight ball games.

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Second half story lines for the Royals

The Royals needed the All-Star break to refresh and regroup after losing five straight games. Kansas City now has a record of 43-49 and sits eight games behind the first place Tigers. The second half of the season should offer up many story lines for the Royals. Here are a few worth highlighting:

Eric Hosmer Savior

Can Eric Hosmer continue his hot hitting?
After a very slow start, especially in the power department, Hosmer has turned around his season in a big way. Over the past month, Hosmer is swinging a hot bat. He is hitting .317 with 7 home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs. The 7 home runs are significant because Hosmer didn’t hit his second homer until June 13. The Royals are currently a below average offensive team (24th in runs scored and 29th in home runs) and they will count on Hosmer to provide a resurgence in the second half.

Will Billy Butler rediscover his power stroke?
Butler had a breakout year in 2012, clubbing a career-high 29 homers and driving in 107 runs. The big DH has only 8 home runs and 49 RBI before the All-Star break and his batting average is down to .271. Butler has three seasons with a batting average over .300 and is a .297 lifetime hitter, so his average should see a boost in the second half. But the question is whether his power will return or if 2012 was just an anomaly. Before last season Butler was known as more of a doubles hitter than a home run masher. His previous high in home runs was 21 in 2009. As mentioned previously, the Royals are second to last overall in home runs. If they want to move up in this category, their clean up hitter will need to pick up his pace.

Will Danny Duffy join the starting rotation?
Duffy is currently rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in June of 2012. On Wednesday, Duffy fanned 13 batters in 5.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Duffy is clearly talented enough to earn back a spot in the rotation, and there is an opportunity with Bruce Chen now in the fifth spot. The question is really whether Duffy will make a complete comeback from the surgery and become the promising pitcher he was before the operation.

Is Wade Davis better off in the bullpen?
It’s no secret that Davis has struggled as a starting pitcher this year. After coming over from Tampa Bay in the off-season, the Royals had high expectations for the right-hander. So far he has disappointed. His ERA is approaching 6.00 and he is 4-8 in the first half. Davis had a career year with Tampa Bay in his 2012 role as a reliever. He appeared in 54 games, all in relief, and pitched to a 2.43 ERA and posted a career-high 11.1 K/9. He clearly has the skills to be effective pitching out of the bullpen. If the Royals want to make the move, it could be a major shot in the arm for what is already a very good bullpen.

Will anyone emerge at second base?
The Royals just optioned Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha after what was basically a 10-game audition. Giavotella was not impressive in his limited time with the Royals, posting a line of .210/.289/.265. The choices now at second base include Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and Miguel Tejada. Johnson has flashed good speed this season, with 12 stolen bases in the first half. He stole 18 last year in limited action with the Rays. His batting average is not good (.210), however, so he will need to improve in that regard. Getz isn’t hitting much better at .214 for the year. Tejada has only started seven games at second base this year, but is the best hitter of the three, sporting a .278 batting average. Three of his last six starts have come at second base though, so he might be settling in as the top option.

Will the group of Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough be enough in the outfield?
Alex Gordon is locked in to the job in left field, but the other two outfield spots are going to be split between Cain, Dyson and Lough. With Jeff Francoeur no longer on the roster, this outfield trio will be counted on in the second half. Cain is an intriguing source of speed with some power, while Dyson is an even better source of speed with virtually no power. Lough is more of a pure hitter with some speed and power. One, or even two, of these three will need to have a strong second half if the Royals want to be competitive this year.

Will the Royals be buyers or sellers?
The Royals should be active at the deadline one way or the other. If they can hold their ground or move up in the standings, they could become buyers. Because they were so aggressive in the off-season, it may be tough to sell assets at the break. There are plenty of players that could fetch good returns, but the Royals saw themselves as contenders after a busy off-season and might be reluctant to give up on the season. The schedule leading up to the July 31 trade deadline includes a three game set with the Tigers, four home games against the Orioles, three road games against the White Sox and two road games against the Twins. The first seven games will be tough and could be key in determining the Royals’ course of action. One option if they do become sellers would be to target a big return for current closer Greg Holland. Holland could return the Royals a package of top-tier prospects and they have depth in the back-end of the bullpen with Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera. If things go well after the break, the Royals could look for an upgrade at second base (there have been some Chase Utley rumors) or to add another arm for the starting rotation.

Can the Royals make a move in the AL Central?
The Royals have a big opportunity to quickly make up some ground in the division. They open the second half with a three games series with the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. If they want to contend in the Central, the Royals will have to catch up to the Indians as well, who currently sit 1.5 games behind the Tigers. In order to climb the standings over two very good teams, the Royals will need to make some savvy moves (whether buying or selling). They will also need many of the previously mentioned story lines to end up in their favor. It should be an exciting second half of the season and the Royals will play a role in deciding the outcome of the AL Central. Whether it is as a contender or as a spoiler remains to be determined.

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New lineup has Royals streaking

The Royals are suddenly red hot, winners of seven of their last eight games.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals rounds first as he celebrates his game-winning single in the 10th inning during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on June 12, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 3-2. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eric Hosmer

Kansas City just completed a six-game winning streak and a change in the lineup may have been a catalyst for the recent surge.

Frustrated by a lack of success on offense and in the standings, manager Ned Yost reportedly sought help from the Royals front office in putting together an optimal lineup. After crunching the numbers, it turned out that Salvador Perez, an excellent contact hitter, was the choice for the three-spot.

“We sit down every day and talk about it,” Yost said. “I get a lineup from the stat guys every day. I have never used it in its entirety but I use some of it. I consult with the coaches and we look at matchups and a few other things to construct our lineup.”

Yost tried out the new lineup, which also included moving Eric Hosmer into the second spot, and the Royals achieved immediate success.

After a June 4th loss to the Twins, in which Perez hit seventh, Yost decided it was time to make the switch.

Alex Gordon would lead off, followed by Hosmer and Perez. Alcides Escobar, who spent much of the season at the top of the lineup would be slotted in the ninth spot, providing the bottom of the order with more speed.

The Royals proceeded to win their next six. In his first game in the three-hole, Perez went 2-3 with two runs and an RBI, leading the Royals to a 4-1 win over Minnesota.

After eight games in the three-spot, Perez is hitting .367 with 11 hits, 1 HR and 7 RBI in 30 at-bats. He has at least one hit in each of those eight games.

Hosmer, meanwhile, has four multi-hit games over the past eight, with two hits on Wednesday including the game-winning single in the bottom of the tenth to beat the Tigers.

On May 25, Perez, dealing with the passing of his grandmother, was placed on the bereavement list. The talented catcher missed nine games and the Royals dropped seven of those nine.

Upon his return, Perez and the new-look lineup helped produce the longest win streak of the season for the Royals.

The offense, however, is not without its faults. There is still a glaring lack of power, ranking dead last in baseball in home runs.

While Perez and Hosmer may not be an answer in the power department (only 3 combined HR on the year), they both have been hitting for average and are clearly thriving in the reshuffled batting order.

How long Yost will stick with his new lineup may depend on whether the Royals stay hot but, so far, the results have been too good to mess with.

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Making a case for the young corners

“(He) should hit for power and average because he has a sweet left-handed swing, strength, exceptional strike zone discipline and the ability to make adjustments. He uses the entire field and can drive the ball where it’s pitched.”

That was a scouting report by Baseball America of a Royals’ player before he was drafted.

MooseAndHos

The sweet lefty swing would probably lead you to believe that the player in question is one of the team’s up and coming stars, Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer. Both were first round draft picks, who joined the Royals with plenty of acclaim. Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and Hosmer was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft.

But the player reviewed above is neither Hosmer nor Moustakas, but rather Alex Gordon, the second overall pick of the 2005 draft.

After Gordon was drafted in 2005, he quickly made a name for himself in the minor leagues and Baseball America named Gordon its 2006 Minor League Player of the Year.

All the praise, all the numbers and all the awards for Gordon didn’t immediately translate into success at the big league level. Gordon did have a solid rookie season, hitting .247 with 15 homers, 60 RBI and 14 steals. But after that year (2007), his batting average steadily declined over the next few years until it reached .215 in 2010. Injuries limited Gordon to 164 at-bats in 2009 and 242 at-bats in 2010.

After four seasons in the big leagues, many Royals fans and baseball experts wondered if Gordon would live up to the promise he showed in college at Nebraska and in the minor leagues.

The situation was very similar to what Moustakas and Hosmer are facing right now. Plenty of hype, but limited results early on.

Here are some early scouting reports on Hosmer and Moustakas from Baseball America.

“Hosmer’s approach is very advanced for his age, and one scout likened it to Joey Votto‘s. He already likes to use the opposite field and has the strength to drive the ball out of the park while going the other way.”

“With his (Moustakas’) excellent bat speed, he can drive the ball out of the park to any field. He may never walk a lot, but he also has an uncanny ability to make contact.”

Gordon’s early reviews as well as his numbers from his first two seasons, closely resemble those of Hosmer and Moustakas.

These are two young lefty’s career stats with the Royals compared to Gordon’s first two seasons:

Moustakas: 1040 AB, 107 runs, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 8 SB, .240/.294/.384.
Hosmer: 1202 AB, 149 runs, 34 HR, 150 RBI, 30 SB, .263/.321/.403
Gordon: 1036 AB, 132 runs, 31 HR, 119 RBI, 23 SB, .253/.332/.421

Gordon switched from third base to left field in 2011 and his numbers quickly transformed. For the 2011 season, Gordon scored 101 runs, hit 23 homers, drove in 87 runs, stole 17 bases and boasted a .303 batting average. After a solid 2012 season, Gordon has great numbers early in the 2013 season.

While Gordon is flourishing, Hosmer and Moustakas are struggling out of the gate in 2013.

Moustakas is hitting just .176 this year with an OPS of .550 and Hosmer only has one home run on the year and has .264 batting average. To his credit, Hosmer had a good rookie year, with 19 homers and a .293 batting average in 523 at-bats. But he took a step back in his second year (2012), with his average dropping all the way down to .232.

Because they were praised and looked upon so highly by scouts and analysts, many Royals fans expected the early numbers would be better. But not every player progresses the same way. Not every young player is Mike Trout or Bryce Harper or even Manny Machado. Struggles at the highest level are not uncommon.

While Royals fans may be frustrated with the progress that Hosmer and Moustakas have made, they have to look no further than left field for an example of what the talented duo can become.

Gordon is proof that talent can take time to develop. So if Royals fans can take a patient approach while critiquing Hosmer and Moustakas, in a few years the results may match the hype. And that could be scary for Royals’ opponents.

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Kansas City Royals Power Rankings

It’s week two of the I70 Baseball Royals Power Rankings, and to say this week didn’t go well would be an understatement.  The Royals defense was atrocious and their hitting and pitching weren’t too far behind. Let’s take a look at the power rankings through May 12.

JeremyGuthrie

#5 Ervin Santana- (Previously: #2) Santana saw his ERA “balloon” to 2.79 with a couple of mediocre starts this week. The right hander gave up seven runs on 15 hits in 12 1/3 innings of work against the Orioles and Yankees. On the positive side he only walked one in the two starts and now sports a 39-6 K-BB ratio.

#4 Lorenzo Cain- (Previously: #1) Cain was due for a cold streak, and boy did he find one. He was just 4/20 on the week with two walks and five strikeouts. Cain is still amongst the team leaders in most every offensive category, but he only has one RBI in his last seven games.

#3 James Shields- (Previously: #5) Shields moves up in the rankings after allowing two runs over 16 innings in two fantastic starts. The week started off in controversy for Shields when he was pulled after 8 shutout innings against the White Sox. Of course, the bullpen lost that game and set the tone for a treacherous week. Shields now sits at 2-3 with a 2.48 ERA and 53 Ks in 58 innings.

#2 Jeremy Guthrie- (Previously: #3) Guthrie didn’t have his best stuff against his former team, but still managed six innings with only one run allowed. He’s now gone 18 starts without a loss and leads the team with a 2.28 ERA. One concern for Guthrie moving forward is his recent control issues. He’s averaged nearly three walks per outing in his last four starts.

#1 Alex Gordon- (Previously: #4) Alex Gordon responded to being moved to the three-hole with a bang and a hot week rose his average from .306 to .320. The 29 year-old right fielder now leads the team in doubles (8), home runs (6), RBI (28), average (.320), and slugging % (.548). Gordon has been the lone bright spot in an increasingly bad offense.

Honorable mention: Luke Hochevar- Before you throw anything at me, yes Hochevar has been terrible at letting inherited runners score BUT he’s been outstanding outside of that. In 12 1/3 innings, Hochevar has allowed 10 baserunners and struck out 13 batters. He has an ERA of 0.73 and a WHIP of 0.81. If we could simply convince Ned Yost not to bring him in with runners on, Hochevar may actually be an asset.

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