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The 30, Week 17: The Big Red Ones

The quirky Dusty Baker leads the scorching-hot Cincinnati Reds

The hottest team in baseball is missing its best player, has the most maddening manager, and has a venerable broadcaster about to make good on an ill-advised bet. It’s Week 17 of The 30, and we’re on Red Alert.

Many of the stats and facts below are courtesy of the indispensable ESPN Stats & Info.

1. New York Yankees, 60-41 (488 RS, 404 RA) (last week: 1)

For one reason or another, Yankees fans don’t exactly have a love affair with Mark Teixeira. Maybe it’s his perennially ugly slow starts: He’s a career .238 hitter in March and April, .287 the rest of the year. Maybe it’s his lousy performance in clutch situations earlier this season. Maybe it’s his seemingly bland personality, with far fewer thrown bats and busted helmets than beloved Yankees past like Paul O’Neill. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that he hasn’t been worth the money they gave him: eight years, $180 million, and he’s posted relatively pedestrian OPS marks of .846, .835, and .836 in years two, three, and four of that monster contract.

Teixeira’s overcome that slow start again this season, going from a .244/.290/.365 opening month to a torrid .309/.398/.654 in July. He just became the first switch-hitter in major league history to launch 20 or more homers in each of his first 10 seasons. He’s also ramped up his clutch game, leading the majors in Win Probability Added this month. Check out these monthly RISP numbers:

April .238/.320/.476
May .226/.324/.387
June .150/.323/.350
July .429/.531/.952

Though it wasn’t a hit with runners in scoring position, Teixeira’s two-run bomb off Vicente Padilla did tie the game Saturday night in the bottom of the eighth. It also produced the rarest of sights: Teixeira styling after going deep. After the game, Teixeira claimed he wasn’t trying to show up Padilla, despite the long-standing rivalry between the two players that dates back to their days on the same Rangers team and includes multiple HBPs by Padilla and multiple homers by Teixeira. “I just wanted to make sure it was fair,” Teixiera said. “Balls have been hooking a lot tonight. Curtis hit a few that hooked, so I didn’t want to waste a lot of energy running out of the box if that ball goes foul. It’s been a long day.”

OK then.

2. Texas Rangers, 59-41 (497 RS, 413 RA) (last week: 2)

So what now? Colby Lewis is out for the year. Neftali Feliz suffered a setback in his rehab on Sunday. Most painful of all, Zack Greinke just got dealt to their archrivals. Should the Rangers raid the farm system to nab Josh Johnson from the Marlins or James Shields from the Rays?

You can see an argument either way. On the one hand, the Rangers might feel they don’t have a true, shutdown no. 1 starter, the way they did with Cliff Lee. They might also feel a sense of urgency to make an all-out run at it, having been to the World Series in each of the past two seasons without winning it. And if Dan Haren’s past couple starts are any indication, the Angels might be able to claim four aces in their starting rotation, something that should scare the hell out of Texas, whether now or in the postseason. On the other hand, the Rangers still have solid pitching depth, with six viable starters counting young lefty Martin Perez, plus Alexi Ogando if Ron Washington follows through on his tentative plan to start Ogando at some point. Moreover, they’re still a loaded team, with plenty of power, speed, defense, and bullpen depth to make a deep playoff run. Not to mention the randomness of the playoffs, where flawed teams end up winning it all anyway.

Maybe they just split the difference. The latest scuttlebutt has the Rangers going the cheaper route, keeping top third-base prospect Mike Olt and making a smaller trade for a reliever instead.

3. Cincinnati Reds, 61-40 (432 RS, 362 RA) (last week: 5)

It’s July 30, and the Reds are tied for the best record in baseball. How does this happen? Joey Votto’s been out two weeks and might miss two more. Opening Day third baseman Scott Rolen’s been terrible and/or injured. The starting rotation has Johnny Cueto and a bunch of mid-to-back-rotation types. Ryan Madson, the pricey offseason closer signing, never threw a single pitch in Cincinnati.

Several players have flown past expectations. Aroldis Chapman has faced 49 batters in July: He’s struck out 30 of them, and walked two. Ryan Ludwick has blasted 17 homers this year … 12 of those have come in his past 37 starts, and he has a higher OPS than All-Star Jay Bruce. And for all the hype over Bryce Harper, you could argue that Todd Frazier (.277/.323/.533) has been the National League’s best rookie position player.

So here’s the question that will really cook your noodle: Are the Reds and their emerging young players crushing their preseason projections because of Dusty Baker, or in spite of him? Baker makes personnel decisions that make your head spin. He’s benched Frazier for Rolen more than you’d like when Rolen was healthy and Votto wasn’t, or for veteran flotsam like Miguel Cairo when Rolen was hurt. With Ludwick absolutely killing the ball, he benched him twice in five days: once after a three-hit performance, the other after cracking two homers in a game. And of course there’s the eternal dilemma with Aroldis Chapman: If he could be even close to this dominant as a starter, isn’t he terribly wasted in short relief?

Could there be a method to Baker’s madness? Maybe he’s not opposed to fully trusting young talents like Frazier as much as he wants to keep everyone engaged with playing time, keeping the starters fresh at the same time. Maybe an erratic player like Ludwick needs time off to avoid becoming overexposed as an everyday player. Maybe Baker used his decades of baseball knowledge and decided that Chapman is best suited for relief work, the Reds’ need for starting pitching help be damned. Or maybe Baker’s simply a good leader of men, a trait that gets overlooked when evaluating managers, one that’s impossible to properly quantify but still matters. These are plausible scenarios, as is the possibility that the Reds would’ve won even more games with someone else in charge.

It’s more or less an impossible debate to resolve. In a season so wild that the Reds can rip off 10 wins in a row, storm to the best record in the league, and cause a 70-year-old Marty Brennaman to shave his head, it’s still a fun debate to have.

4. Washington Nationals, 61-40 (440 RS, 358 RA) (last week: 3)

Jordan Zimmermann is having one of the quietest great seasons in the majors. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez get most of the attention for their huge strikeout numbers. But Zimmermann has been incredibly consistent, and consistently good. He’s gone seven straight starts allowing no more than one earned run, and nine straight yielding no more than two. With a modest strikeout rate of just 6.4 per nine innings, he’s leaned on impeccable control instead: Zimmermann’s walk rate of 1.6 per nine ranks seventh among all MLB starters. Harper has hit just one homer since June 28, and the Nats are shorthanded without Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos. But their unimpeachable pitching keeps carrying them, and Zimmermann’s played a big role in that dominance.

5. Los Angeles Angels, 55-47 (454 RS, 406 RA) (last week: 4)

From the Angels’ perspective, Zack Greinke picked a lousy time to have his streak of 19 straight winning decisions at home (the second-longest streak since Lefty Grove’s 20 starts over the course of the 1938-1941 seasons) snapped, dropping a 2-0 decision to the Rays Sunday. Greinke’s addition to an already strong starting staff (and a very good roster) makes the Angels an even better bet for a World Series run, and gives them a higher ranking this week than their record might suggest.

Just one last hurdle to overcome: The Angels have been shut out in eight of Vernon Wells’s 38 starts, including the past two games. This after 36 consecutive Wells-less non-shutouts (hat-tip to Angels fan deluxe @mleewelch). Correlation doesn’t equal causation … but let’s just hope Mike Trout’s left knee contusion heals quickly. Like, really quickly.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates, 58-43 (414 RS, 377 RA) (last week: 6)

Remember when the Pirates threatened to sweep baseball back to the Dead Ball era earlier this season? So much for that. They’ve already blown by their total for all of last year. In fact, they lead all of baseball with 72 road home runs, one more than the mighty Yankees. We’ve lauded Andrew McCutchen to death in this space over the past few weeks, so here’s some recognition for other Pirates: Garrett Jones has mashed nine homers and slugged .589 in his past 32 games (including this gargantuan blast Sunday), and Neil Walker owns a 1.066 OPS in his past 30 games.

The latest Bashin’ Bucco? Rookie Starling Marte, who made his major league debut Thursday, stepped to the plate as the first batter of the game, and did this on his first pitch in the Show. It’s possible that the Pirates are showcasing him for a big trade. But for now, it’s a #MartePartay.

7. Atlanta Braves, 57-44 (464 RS, 424 RA) (last week: 9)

They’ve built a five-game winning streak, buttressed by two sweeps of the Phillies this month that have to feel good after a half-decade of Philly dominance in the NL East. Brian McCann’s mashing after a slow start, hitting .305/.364/.720 with eight homers in his past 17 games, and Chipper Jones is hitting like he’d be good for five more years, at .384/.449/.663 in his past 24 games. Still, the weirdest non–Vernon Wells streak in the game remains: The Braves are 0-12 on Mondays this season. It’s Tommy Hanson vs. Mark Buehrle tonight, with a chance to end Boomtown Rats references forever on the line.

8. Chicago White Sox, 55-46 (480 RS, 420 RA) (last week: 12)

The White Sox made yet another move Saturday, snagging Twins lefty Francisco Liriano for a couple of low-grade prospects. Liriano might be more Jekyll-and-Hyde than any other pitcher, with ERAs of 2.16, 3.91, 5.80, 3.62, 5.09, and 5.31 since his rookie season. Hell, forget the past three years and look at this season. In his first six starts, Liriano posted a 9.45 ERA, with 21 strikeouts and 19 walks in 26⅔ innings. Minnesota demoted him to the bullpen, where he showed some signs of breaking out of his slump. The Twins slotted him back in the rotation, and his next 10 starts were spectacular: 77 strikeouts and just 69 base runners allowed in 63⅓ innings with a 2.84 ERA, holding batters to a puny .171/.270/.252 line. But after fanning 25 batters in two starts, Liriano got strafed for seven runs by these same White Sox before Kenny Williams decided to take a shot and buy low. ESPN’s Stats & Info offers some encouraging numbers on Liriano’s bread-and-butter pitch, his slider:

Liriano’s slider this season in his first six starts (and past 11 starts)
Opp BA: .364 (.134)
K/PA percentage: 33.3 (55.3)
Miss percentage: 35.7 (47.5)
Line drive percentage: 19.0 (9.8)

In fact, the White Sox GM has been more active on the trade front than anyone other than Astros fire-sale orchestrator Jeff Luhnow, nabbing Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers, and Liriano, all at low prices, all while strapped with a farm system regarded by many as the worst there is. Maybe Don Cooper doesn’t do his magic with Liriano the way he has with other pitchers and the slider stops sliding. Maybe the White Sox fall short of the Tigers in the AL Central and don’t quite crack one of the league’s two wild cards. But if that happens, none of it will be because they didn’t try. Not with Dealin’ Kenny on the job.

9. Oakland A’s, 55-46 (410 RS, 373 RA) (last week: 10)

One trade down, and more to go if that be their will. The A’s took a shot at addressing their anemic production from the catching position, acquiring George Kottaras from the Brewers for hard-throwing reliever Fautino De Los Santos. It might sound funny to expect an offensive boost from a player hitting .209 (and just .221 for his career). But Kottaras has always been a big walks-and-pop guy: He owns a career 13.5 unintentional walk rate, with a .181 mark for Isolated Power. His walks have been off the charts this year, with Kottaras trotting to first in 25 percent of his 2012 plate appearances. Granted, Kottaras has frequently batted in the eighth spot this year, such that many of his walks have been unintentionally intentional. Still, as Grantland colleague Rany Jazayerli notes, since 1973, only one other player has walked as frequently as Kottaras has this year, with a minimum of 100 plate appearances: Barry Bonds, who did it five times. Given that incumbent A’s catchers Kurt Suzuki and Derek Norris are sitting on .247 and .262 OBPs, respectively, Kottaras can’t help but be an upgrade.

Even after that trade, though, a gaping hole remains at shortstop. Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and Dallas Braden could all exit the disabled list sometime in August, while righty prospect Dan Straily has struck out 67 batters and allowed just 41 base runners in 53 innings at Triple-A Sacramento. There’s more than enough starting pitching depth for the A’s to trade a starter for a shortstop, or trade a starter for prospects, then funnel prospects to a non-contender for a shortstop. With an 18-4 record in July, sole possession of the top wild-card spot, and some big series coming up, there’s a strong impetus here to swing another deal.

10. St. Louis Cardinals, 54-48 (498 RS, 404 RA) (last week: 13)

The Cardinals’ bullpen needed time, and a big trade, to come together last year. It’s following the same pattern this season. The closer spot’s been steady all year long this time. But the big boost has come from new setup man Mitchell Boggs. After tossing 1⅔ scoreless innings Sunday, Boggs now sports a 1.65 ERA for the season. He’s not a big strikeout hound (just 7 Ks per 9 innings), Boggs has succeeded by slicing his walk rate to a career-low 2.5/9 IP and keeping the ball on the ground like he always does (52.5 percent ground ball rate), with a little help from a high strand and relatively low (.266) batting average on balls in play. Still, the pen’s seen heavy turnover after a lousy start, with recently acquired Brian Fuentes and recent call-up Trevor Rosenthal being asked to soak up important innings. You have to figure the Cardinals make a move to bolster the pen between now and Tuesday’s deadline, or at the very least make a waiver trade or two come August.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers, 56-47 (406 RS, 384 RA) (last week: 11)

Shut out the Giants in San Francisco in two straight games for the first time ever; the last time they shut out the Giants on the road was in 1957, when both teams still played in New York. Clayton Kershaw’s five-hit gem Sunday lowered his ERA to a sparkling 2.95, fifth-best in the NL. Of course that just puts Kershaw on pace to ring up his fourth straight ERA under 3.00, reaffirming his status as one of the four or five best pitchers on earth. The fresher news comes from new third baseman Hanley Ramirez, who knocked in six runs in the Dodgers’ three-game sweep of the Giants. A packet of Fun Dip was likely to outperform Juan Uribe at third base. If Ramirez can hit at a level anywhere near where he was in 2009, the Dodgers’ buy-low gambit could turn into the trade of the year.

12. San Francisco Giants, 55-46 (401 RS, 397 RA) (last week: 8)

Melky Cabrera’s still doing Melky Cabrera things. But after the Giants being lauded for the shrewd acquisitions and hot starts of Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco, Cabrera’s become the only one of the three who hits enough to play every day. Blanco’s hitting just .204/.283/.263 in his past 38 games, as he crashes back toward his lackluster offensive norms. Ditto for Pagan, who’s at .202/.264/.270 with no homers in his past 37 games. Both come with good defensive reputations and solid baserunning skills. Still, the Giants sorely need an influx of right-handed power, and unless Troy Tulowitzki suddenly gets healthy and mysteriously lands in San Francisco along with former double-play partner Marco Scutaro, outfield would seem the logical source for that power. Brian Sabean has claimed publicly that no such right-handed bat with pop exists on the trade market. But assuming Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t expect the Phillies to rip off a 42-game winning streak, logic would dictate that Shane Victorino, and maybe Hunter Pence, could be had for the right offer. Pablo Sandoval hitting the DL, and the weekend’s charge by the Dodgers, raises the ante even further.

… aaaaand just as I finished typing the Giants section, San Francisco’s KPIX-TV reports there’s a deal in place with Philly for Pence, pending ownership approval. Let’s see how this shakes out.

13. Detroit Tigers, 54-48 (459 RS, 445 RA) (last week: 7)

Anibal Sanchez is onboard following a five-player trade with the Marlins, but his Tigers debut didn’t wow anyone: five runs on eight hits and three walks in six-plus innings against the Blue Jays, including three homers allowed. Sanchez figured to bolster the Tigers rotation, but that was already a pretty deep staff with Max Scherzer back to being a strikeout terror and Doug Fister starting to round back into form after missing time with an injury. Plus, Sanchez hits the open market at the end of this season. Meanwhile, the supposedly lesser piece in the trade, Omar Infante, replaces a collection of replacement-level players at second base, and comes with a very cheap 2013 price tag of $4 million.

14. Tampa Bay Rays, 53-49 (417 RS, 405 RA) (last week: 17)

For a team teetering on the edge of the wild-card race, with its no. 2 starter’s name coming up constantly in trade rumors, last weekend’s performance in Anaheim was impressive: two out of three against a stacked Angels club, including shutout wins over C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke. The Rays’ offense is still lousy, scoring three runs or fewer in seven of the team’s past eight games. But the bullpen has grown into one of the game’s best, with J.P. Howell, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, & Co. supporting how-can-this-be-happening elite closer Fernando Rodney. Now the young starters behind David Price are starting to get into the act. Jeremy Hellickson fired six shutout innings Sunday despite … ummm … refunding on the field and in the clubhouse five or six times during his start. And Matt Moore is showing flashes of the pitcher who was unhittable in a September callup and in an LDS start against the Rangers. In his past two starts, he’s thrown 70 percent strikes, with an impressive 32 whiffs out of his 207 pitches thrown.

Four out of six so far on this crucial road trip, with three more at Oakland to come, and James Shields (and maybe others) potentially hanging in the balance. You never want to say this is the season for the Rays, not after what happened last year. But a third straight winning series to end the roadie would make the picture a lot brighter than it looked a week ago.

15. Boston Red Sox, 51-51 (499 RS, 469 RA) (last week: 15)

Josh Beckett’s rumored to be on the block, even with his value at its lowest point … possibly ever. Carl Crawford has said he’d like to have his inevitable Tommy John surgery to fully repair his ailing elbow as soon as possible. “If we’re still in [the playoff race], I want to do that. If not, we probably have to look into [surgery],” he told reporters, without specifying how far out the Red Sox need to be for him to go ahead with TJ. The Sox took two out of three at Yankee Stadium over the weekend, winning both a slugfest and a tooth-and-nail extra-inning squeaker, offering a glimpse of the winning team they can be when things break right. There are lots of teams in limbo right now, wondering whether they have a chance, and thus whether to buy, sell, hold, or a little of all three. The names involved, and the nature of those decisions, are simply bigger for the $173 million Red Sox.

16. Toronto Blue Jays, 51-50 (502 RS, 482 RA) (last week: 16)

Add the lowest strikeout rate (6.2 K/9 IP), the highest walk rate (5 BB/9 IP), and the highest home-run rate (1.2 HR/9 IP) of Ricky Romero’s career, and you get a disastrous season, with the Jays would-be ace carrying an abysmal 5.75 ERA and 5.30 FIP. Romero’s woes have made Toronto’s rash of pitching injuries worse. And now J.P. Arencibia’s broken hand and resulting six-week DL stint have subtracted 16 homers and a .466 slugging average from a potent offense, with no suitable substitutes waiting in the wings.1 There’s an itch in Toronto to make a big move in the next 24 hours, with the Jays hanging in there above .500 and the rest of the AL East down this year. The Raptors stink, and the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the Mesozoic Era. But no one move would be enough to make this team a playoff front-runner, not even strip-mining the farm system for a hypothetical get–Roy Halladay–back trade — one that obviously won’t happen anyway.

17. Baltimore Orioles, 53-49 (420 RS, 478 RA) (last week: 14)

Finally, a sign of life for Matt Wieters. The All-Star catcher had one hit in his past 30 at-bats before blasting a three-run home run off Oakland’s Travis Blackley to salvage one out of three against the A’s over the weekend. Still, all that did was bring Baltimore’s record to 2-5 for the week. The O’s have now lost 22 of their past 36 games, and their pitching remains paper-thin. There’s talk of possibly acquiring Joe Blanton, his best-in-the-league strikeout-to-walk rate, and his second-worst-in-the-league home-run rate. But with that massive -58 run differential staring them in the face, you wonder if the Orioles are simply settling in to their true talent level now, leaving playoff contention to more qualified suitors.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks, 51-51 (462 RS, 433 RA) (last week: 18)

Despite their mediocre record, the D-backs only had one major weakness, and they might’ve just addressed it in acquiring third baseman Chris Johnson from the Astros. The Diamondbacks had flipped Ryan Roberts to Tampa Bay for next to nothing, leaving a big hole at the hot corner. Johnson’s .279/.329/.428 line this season for Houston made him a slightly above-average hitter by Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). The cost was hardly prohibitive, too: two top-64 overall picks, but both said to have fallen out of favor with Kevin Towers’s new(ish) regime. That’s the kind of move you make when you own the best run differential in your division, you’ve got a sleeping giant in Justin Upton, but you’re still 4½ games back. You look for little edges, keep your best prospects, and hope to get lucky.

19. Cleveland Indians, 50-52 (436 RS, 502 RA) (last week: 20)

With the Indians fading fast, Chris Perez’s name has been linked to multiple suitors, offering an excellent potential sell-high opportunity on a closer enjoying a career year. But Shin-Soo Choo could fetch much more bountiful booty. After a 2011 season rife with on- and off-field problems, the 30-year-old Choo has reclaimed his status as one of the best and most underrated right fielders in the game, hitting .295/.382/.489. He’d be owed the rest of this year’s $4.9 million salary, with one more arbitration-eligible year of team control in 2013. The Pirates are said to be one of the teams expressing interest; would the Indians settle for less than a #MartePartay to consummate a deal?

20. New York Mets, 49-53 (459 RS, 469 RA) (last week: 19)

Well, that was fun while it lasted. With the Mets unable to keep winning the way other NL upstarts Washington, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh have, it’s time to start letting the kids play. And man, was it ever a great week for those kids. Ike Davis isn’t quite as toddlerly, being 25 years old and in his third season. But there were still plenty of questions about his future, after a 2011 season wrecked by injuries and a terrible start to this season that had him below the Mendoza line and had few people other than his family and crazy Canadians touting him as a big rebound candidate. Davis finally had his breakout game Saturday, launching three homers in his first three at-bats against Arizona, giving him six bombs in six games all told.

Matt Harvey’s coming-out party was even more exciting. Making his major league debut against those same D-backs Thursday, Harvey hurled 5⅓ shutout innings, fanning 11 batters and even collecting two hits of his own. The same guy whose name the Mets misspelled in their press release after drafting him became the first pitcher in the modern era to debut with at least 10 strikeouts plus two hits at the plate, and also the pitcher with the most strikeouts in a debut of less than six innings (tying Tim Hudson, who clocked 11 strikeouts in five innings in his MLB opener). Harvey and 2011 trade deadline pickup Zack Wheeler could form an excellent one-two punch atop the Mets rotation sometime soon — maybe as soon as next year.

21. Philadelphia Phillies, 45-57 (428 RS, 465 RA) (last week: 22)

Cole Hamels is signed, Hunter Pence might be gone if KPIX-TV’s report is to be believed, and a bunch more trade opportunities could be out there, depending on how aggressive Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to be. With the Phils all but dead and buried, everyone from Shane Victorino to Ty Wigginton, Joe Blanton to Juan Pierre could be a trade candidate. Philly burned through its farm system in making big trades for the likes of Pence and Roy Halladay, as well as relinquishing picks to sign big-ticket free agents. And that’s not counting the way some prospects, like Domonic Brown, have disappointed to date. The Phillies could easily keep their nucleus of pitching stars along with past-prime Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, trade most other notable names, and head into the offseason with at least a little wiggle room to spend on free agents. With the Braves and especially the Nationals looking like they’re built to last, cashing in second-tier veterans for prospects and payroll flexibility makes a whole lot of sense.

22. Seattle Mariners, 47-57 (384 RS, 397 RA) (last week: 24)

Justin Smoak got sent to Triple-A. Should Dustin Ackley join him? After starting his MLB career on the right foot with a .273/.348/.417 line in 90 games last season, Ackley’s plunged to .224/.306/.322 this season. His strikeout and walk numbers are virtually identical, and a lot of his struggles can be explained by a 64-point drop in his BABIP. But there are more serious problems, too, such as a sharp drop in Ackley’s line drive rate (to 19.3 percent from 22.3 last year), as well as his ISO (.099 this year, versus .144 in 2011). Simply put, Ackley isn’t hitting the ball with nearly as much authority as he did last year. He did find his stroke a bit against lowly Kansas City, going 5-for-15 with two doubles and three walks in the four-game series; maybe that’s enough to stave off a trip to Tacoma, at least for now.

23. Milwaukee Brewers, 45-56 (452 RS, 470 RA) (last week: 21)

The Triangle’s got the scoop on the big Zack Greinke trade. But the Brewers might’ve found themselves a keeper in the much smaller George Kottaras deal, too. As pitching-savvy fantasy analyst @sporer tells us, Fautino De Los Santos, whom the Brewers acquired in the trade, owned an 11.4 K/9 rate in his 36 major league innings, but also a big 11.6 K/9 IP minor league strikeout rate, with 10.2 K/9 or more in nine of his 10 minor league stops. If you’re sick of watching Francisco Rodriguez blow games and you’re not sure if John Axford can regain his 2011 form, De Los Santos offers some intriguing upside as a potential future closer, or at least in high-leverage relief somewhere.

24. Miami Marlins, 47-54 (375 RS, 454 RA) (last week: 23)

Whether or not Hanley Ramirez pans out in L.A., the trade that sent him there could pan out for the Marlins if Nathan Eovaldi fulfills his potential. The 22-year-old righty made a great first impression in Miami, tossing 5⅓ innings of one-run ball against the Padres Saturday, striking out five and walking two in collecting his second win of the season in 11 starts. PITCHf/x guru and Brooks Baseball analyst Harry Pavlidis notes that Eovaldi never threw many cutters … until his first Marlins start, when he threw more than he ever had before. If the Marlins end up with six years of team control on a starter with a mid-90s fastball and an effective cutter, they won’t complain, Hanley renaissance or not.

25. San Diego Padres, 43-60 (377 RS, 438 RA) (last week: 25)

Productive and oft-injured closer Huston Street signed a two-year, $14 million contract extension, which could make him more attractive to potential suitors, either by Tuesday’s deadline or this offseason. As for Mark Kotsay batting cleanup in an actual major league game, in 2012 … we’ll just chalk that up to a sudden spurt of paranormal activity, and hope it never, ever happens again, lest the nightmares take over and destroy our souls.

26. Minnesota Twins, 43-58 (443 RS, 527 RA) (last week: 27)

Pedro Hernandez is a 23-year-old lefty starter with a low-90s fastball. He owns a 360-to-78 strikeout-to-walk rate in 428⅓ minor league innings, but also with 453 hits allowed. Eduardo Escobar is a tiny (5-foot-10, 165) Venezuelan middle infielder who hit .270/.315/.351 in 577 minor league games, then hit .207 with five extra-base hits in 87 major league at-bats this year before getting dealt. Neither player projects to have much of a future in the big leagues; if Francisco Liriano straightens himself in Chicago, this trade is a big loss. But you have to figure much of the trade came down to getting something for Liriano before he hit free agency and pocketing a couple million bucks in the process. After all, if Liriano had ever fulfilled the vast potential he showed six years ago, he’d almost certainly have been signed to a long-term deal by now, whether with the Twins or somewhere else.

27. Kansas City Royals, 41-60 (415 RS, 481 RA) (last week: 26)

Alcides Escobar’s two-hit game Sunday raised his season line to .305/.343/.420, and Escobar’s four-year, $10.5 million contract with two club options for $5.25 million (2016) and $6.5 million (2017) now looks like one of the best in baseball. In a season that has the Royals pointed to a last-place or second-to-last-place finish for the ninth straight year, with more Tommy John surgeries for top Royals arms than plus seasons for members of the starting nine … that’s about all the good news we can muster right now.

28. Chicago Cubs, 42-58 (369 RS, 441 RA) (last week: 28)

If you’re one of the three people on earth who figured Paul Maholm would reel off a 5-0 record, 32 strikeouts, nine walks, and a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts before the trade deadline, thus becoming the first left-handed starting pitcher in modern Cubs history to have six consecutive starts, going at least six innings and giving up one or fewer runs each time, take a bow. A triceps injury has Matt Garza out past the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and Ryan Dempster vetoing a trade to the Braves and leveraging his 10/5 rights suddenly makes Maholm the most marketable Cubs pitcher. He might also be the most marketable Cub, period, if Bryan LaHair hasn’t won any believers and if Alfonso Soriano’s contract is too bloated to even open a serious trade conversation. Go figure.

29. Colorado Rockies, 37-63 (471 RS, 564 RA) (last week: 29)

Were the trades of Jeremy Guthrie for washout starter Jonathan Sanchez and Marco Scutaro for light-hitting minor league infielder Charlie Culberson the only deals the Rockies have made to date because there isn’t much else to trade, or because management’s too stubborn to shop more marketable commodities such as Michael Cuddyer? Bad sign for the Rockies, either way.

30. Houston Astros, 35-68 (398 RS, 514 RA) (last week: 30)

Behold the Astros’ July, courtesy of the excellent website MLBDepthCharts.com:

7/29/12
Traded: Chris Johnson to Diamondbacks

Acquired:

  • 1B/OF Marc Krauss BA#16 (AA)
  • OF Bobby Borchering BA#10 BP#8 (AA)

7/24/12
Traded: Wandy Rodriguez and cash to Pirates

Acquired:

  • LHP Rudy Owens BA#16 BP#15 (AAA)
  • OF Robbie Grossman BA#8 BP#6 (AA)
  • LHP Colton Cain BA#13 BP#9 (A+)

7/21/12
Traded: Brett Myers and cash to White Sox

Acquired:

  • RHP Matt Heidenreich (AA)
  • LHP Blair Walters BA#27 (A+)
  • PTBNL

7/20/12
Traded: David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon to Blue Jays

Acquired:

  • OF Ben Francisco (MLB)
  • RHP Francisco Cordero (MLB)
  • RHP Asher Wojciechowski BA#10 BP#18 (AA)
  • C Carlos Perez BA#14 BP#19 (HiA)
  • LHP David Rollins (LoA)
  • RHP Joe Musgrove BA#20 BP#14 (Rk)
  • PTBNL

7/04/12
Traded: Carlos Lee to Marlins

Acquired:

  • 3B Matt Dominguez BA#4 BP#6 (AAA)
  • LHP Rob Rasmussen BA#7 BP#10 (AA)

You might only end up hearing about one or two of these prospects making an impact in the big leagues. But hell, if you’re the Astros and you want to expedite your rebuilding process, go hard or go home.

jonah_keri

Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

Archive @ jonahkeri