We’ve finally reached the All-Star break! Despite Bud Selig–fueled claims that this game matters, too, it’s time to sit back and watch two managers do all the things they would never do in a real game they were actually trying to win.
While we wait for these four days of agony joyful exhibition to reach completion, it’s time to take stock of the real ballclubs that get a temporary break from playing real baseball. This week, we’re eschewing the usual four-squad format and taking a look at what the rest of the season could have in store for all 30 teams.
Pray for some color in your Midsummer Classic. It’s Week 14 of The 30.
Best In-Game Teleportation of the Week
Billy Hamilton stole 56 bases last year, the second-highest total in the National League. Given the reckless abandon with which he’s tearing up the basepaths this year, 56 might be in the rearview mirror by the trade deadline.
The latest example of Hamilton’s derring-do came Saturday against the Marlins. The Reds outfielder cracked a single to start the third, and after a Brandon Phillips foulout, Hamilton stole second. Then, Marlins left-hander Adam Conley and catcher J.T. Realmuto committed a cardinal sin: They assumed Hamilton was a normal human being. After a pitch to Joey Votto, Realmuto lobbed the ball back to the mound. Conley casually turned his head toward second base. Only, there was no one there. By the time the lefty located his baserunner, Hamilton was already sliding into third.
The scariest thing for opposing pitchers is that Hamilton is not only swiping bases at a much faster clip than last year; he’s been far more efficient, too. His two steals Saturday gave him 44 for the season, and he’s been caught only six times. That 88 percent success rate blows away the MLB average (a tick below 70 percent) and his own success rate last year (71 percent, with 23 times caught stealing).
It’s a shame Hamilton has been one of the worst hitters in the league this season, managing a line of just .220/.269/.287. If he can prop up his on-base ability to even a league-average level one day, we could see the first player to steal 100 in a season since Vince Coleman hit triple digits way back in 1987.
30. Philadelphia Phillies (29-62 record, minus-160 run differential, no. 30 last week)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Things You’d Rather Not Have Happen While You’re Pondering a Blockbuster Trade for Your Staff Ace, Exhibit A:
• On Friday, Cole Hamels became only the fourth pitcher in Phillies history to allow at least nine earned runs and 12 hits in 3.1 innings or fewer.
Then again, given that the decision not to officially make Andy MacPhail the team president1 until season’s end has effectively turned every front-office decision into a complicated three-man mess that is scuttling even smaller, simpler deals, maybe none of this matters. If you’re looking for a bright spot in what’s been a terrible season, Phillies fans, here are two: (1) MacPhail’s eventual promotion likely means the end of Ruben Amaro Jr. as GM, and (2) while MacPhail is known to be extremely deliberate in how he makes deals, his patience has paid off in the past, and that might save the Phillies’ bacon if a Hamels deal doesn’t happen before the trade deadline.
29. Milwaukee Brewers (38-52, minus-49, LW: 29)
His current title is special assistant to president Pat Gillick, who will step down from that position after the season.
28. Miami Marlins (38-51, minus-24, LW: 27)
The Nationals were my top suggested destination for Lind, but Clint Robinson, the journeyman replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, has raked since then. Still, I’d rather trust Lind and use Robinson as a key bat off the bench.
There are three reasons to hate Dee Gordon’s infield hit during Saturday’s game against the Reds:
1. It came on a headfirst slide into first that served no purpose since Gordon wasn’t trying to elude a tag. Gordon’s former coach, Davey Lopes, like the rest of us, is despondent over the pointless thumb injury that happened as a result and will likely knock Gordon out for weeks.
2. Gordon is one of the most delightful players in the game on and off the field, mixing a throwback, George Sisler–esque hitting style with blazing speed and elite postgame celebration skills. It would’ve been great to see him start in the All-Star Game.
3. Gordon has a chance to do something few other players have ever done: get caught stealing more times than he walks. This year, Gordon has been gunned down 12 times and has walked 12 times.3 Since 1951, the first year caught stealing became an official leaguewide stat, this weird and somewhat ignominious feat has been accomplished only four times:
Two of those walks were intentional.
The more action Gordon misses, the less time he’ll have to make sure he joins this strange crew.
27. Colorado Rockies (39-49, minus-54, LW: 28)
While newly anointed All-Star Troy Tulowitzki usually gets most of the attention on the Rockies trade front, his running mate is raising his own market value at the perfect time. Over the past 23 games, Carlos Gonzalez has hit a robust .304/.325/.595, with five homers, six doubles, and a triple.
Still, there are reasons for potential suitors to remain skeptical. First, Gonzalez’s recent hot streak has merely raised his season line to .259/.314/.452, below-average numbers once you adjust for his home park. Second, while Gonzalez has stayed remarkably healthy this year, he played in just 180 combined games over the previous two seasons. Third, it can be tough to evaluate Rockies hitters given the extreme environment of Coors Field: CarGo’s 2014 home OPS was 401 points higher than his road mark. And finally, Gonzalez is owed about $54 million through 2017 — a deal that initially looked like a bargain when he played like a borderline MVP candidate, but now seems like more of a burden as the still-29-year-old already appears to be past his prime.
26. San Diego Padres (41-49, minus-48, LW: 21)
When James Shields signed with San Diego over the winter, it looked like a rare potential value for a starting-pitcher free-agent contract. From 2011 through 2014, Shields had thrown more regular-season innings than any other pitcher in baseball and ranked ninth in Wins Above Replacement. And while off-field contributions are always tough to quantify, so many teammates had told stories of the nine-year veteran teaching them wipeout changeups and sneaky moves to first base. On a four-year deal that cost less than half what Jon Lester got from the Cubs, and with Shields moving to a pitcher-friendly ballpark that figured to negate the one consistent weakness in his game (home runs), this looked like one of GM A.J. Preller’s better offseason moves.
Instead, Shields has joined his rotation mates in serving up too many long balls, ranking fifth among National League starters for highest home run rate. Shields’s bloated 17.9 percent home-run-per-fly-ball rate doesn’t look like a fluke, either: Only five NL starters have allowed hard contact more frequently, and none of those five is making the All-Star team anytime soon. So while teams like the Cubs (led by Shields’s former manager, Joe Maddon) and Dodgers (run by his former GM, Andrew Friedman) are said to have interest, it won’t be easy for both sides to agree on the big right-hander’s trade value.
25. Seattle Mariners (41-48, minus-48, LW: 23)
Barring a monumental (and unlikely) second-half turnaround, the Mariners are going to miss the playoffs for the 14th straight season, the second-longest drought in the majors. Given the huge investments the team made in 30-plus-year-olds Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz over the past two years, that kind of finish could prompt plenty of changes — from the front office down to the 25-man roster.
Within that dark cloud of losing, though, Taijuan Walker has emerged as a silver lining. Here’s the progression he’s made this season:
• First nine starts: 43 IP, 39 K, 23 BB, 56 H, 8 HR, 7.33 ERA
• Most recent nine starts: 59.1 IP, 61 K, 4 BB, 48 H, 8 HR, 3.03 ERA
Although the Mariners’ offensive woes usually get most of the ink, Felix Hernandez is going to need a capable sidekick to give the pitching staff a lift for the next few years. Even though his two most recent starts were shaky, Walker still looks a lot better than he did at the start of the season. He’s the best young pitching hope for a player development system that’s delivered far too many failures over the past few years.
24. Cincinnati Reds (39-47, minus-48, LW: 25)
The Reds sit eight games under .500 and 15.5 games behind the front-running Cardinals in the Central, so logic suggests they should be open for business as soon as the All-Star Game ends. Johnny Cueto’s a free agent at season’s end and wants $200 million; flip him to the highest bidder. Mike Leake can also test the open market four months from now; shop the hell out of him. Free-agents-to-be Manny Parra and Brayan Pena could probably fetch a couple of B-level prospects; make it happen.
And really, why stop at immediately expiring contracts? Aroldis Chapman is a force of nature, but he can test free agency at the end of next season, and in a division that figures to be ruled by the Cards, Pirates, and Cubs for at least the next couple of years, a nuclear closer becomes a luxury best shipped to another team for future assets. Jay Bruce is also only team controlled through 2017, and plenty of outfield-needy teams would pay up to get him.
Now, someone just needs to convince the team’s owner that there’s no valor in winning 76 games every year.
23. Atlanta Braves (42-47, minus-38, LW: 20)
Jason Grilli looked like a prime trade candidate for a Braves team that has so cleverly approached the trade market in rebuilding a flawed roster — but he tore his Achilles on Saturday, so there goes Atlanta’s closer and one of its best chips. Instead, look for Cameron Maybin to be shopped around: The 28-year-old outfielder is having his best season since 2011, but he also carries a history of health problems and wouldn’t be too appealing at $8 million next year if he suffers another serious injury.
22. Oakland A’s (41-50, plus-44, LW: 24)
The combination of a bad bullpen and terrible luck has doomed Oakland to MLB’s worst record in one-run games (8-22) and extra-inning games (1-6). According to FanGraphs’ BaseRuns standings, if the A’s merely had league-average luck in close games and in areas like hit sequencing, their record would improve by 12 games. In fact, by BaseRuns, they’d have more wins than everyone other than the Dodgers and Astros. If that’s not enough context for you: No team in the FanGraphs database has been worse than minus-11 wins since the site started tracking BaseRuns results in 2002.
21. Chicago White Sox (41-45, minus-73, LW: 26)
Since 1900, these are the 10 best single-season K/9 IP rates by MLB starting pitchers:
First, Randy Johnson was a badass.
Second, when I ranked Chris Sale as the fourth-most-valuable trade commodity in the game in December, that might have been too low.
Here’s a word of advice to Robin Ventura: When you’re up four runs, your ace has topped 110 pitches for the ninth time in 10 starts,4 and it’s the second-to-last day before the All-Star break, maybe don’t send him back out to start the eighth inning. Sale is an irreplaceable pitcher and a bright light in what has been a disappointing season on the South Side. Granted, tabulating raw pitch counts isn’t how you want to run a staff, but come on. Use a little common sense here.
20. Boston Red Sox (42-47, minus-43, LW: 22)
Sale’s line in those 10 starts: 76 IP, 113 K, 10 BB, 49 H, 1.78 ERA.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Fun tidbit from ESPN Stats & Info: Seven players aged 23 or younger are on pace to post five or more Wins Above Replacement, which would tie the record set in 1964.
Only the Red Sox employ multiple players on that list: Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Whether or not the pair’s recently improved play continues and gets their team back into the playoff race — FanGraphs gives them a 26 percent chance of making the postseason — Sox fans should at least feel heartened for the future. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia will have worthy successors when the time comes to pass the torch to the next generation of Boston stars.
19. Arizona Diamondbacks (42-45, even, LW: 19)
For four innings on Saturday, Patrick Corbin was living the dream. In his second start back after the requisite long, painful recovery from Tommy John surgery, Corbin dominated the Mets, allowing just a lone single to Michael Cuddyer in the first and clocking five strikeouts. Then, the wheels flew off. Three of the next seven batters cracked a home run, with Matt Harvey’s go-ahead two-run shot in the fifth the biggest indignity of the bunch.
It was a disappointing end to what could have been a magical evening for a pitcher who was Arizona’s staff ace as recently as two years ago. Still, the Tommy John scourge has become so prevalent, the continued presence of a pitcher like Corbin on the mound was great to see.
18. Texas Rangers (42-46, minus-25, LW: 15)
The tattered pitching staff we figured would sink the Rangers has finally fallen apart, and Texas now goes to the break four games under .500, looking more like a seller than a buyer. As the team considers who to keep and who to shop, here’s a little nugget on its 21-year-old second baseman:
• Rougned Odor from Opening Day to his May 11 demotion to Triple-A: .144/.252/.233
• Odor since being recalled on June 15: .350/.400/.550
He’s a keeper.
17. Cleveland Indians (42-46, minus-19, LW: 18)
My favorite Indians stat of the year comes from R.J. Anderson’s Baseball Prospectus piece on the impact of vacuum-cleaner shortstop Francisco Lindor (and to a lesser extent, fellow call-up Giovanny Urshela). Without Lindor in the lineup, the Indians rank 28th in Defensive Efficiency. With him, they rank first. Even granting the vagaries of small sample size, the impact of pitchers and opposing hitters on factors such as batted-ball velocity, and other variables, that’s still a highly encouraging sign.
I’ve been on the Indians bandwagon since the beginning of the season, but the Tribe sit four games below .500 at the break. They’ve wasted some magnificent performances by the top four members of their rotation, who recently became the first quartet of starters to each record 100 or more strikeouts before the All-Star break. That said, if Lindor (and Urshela) can help Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer record a bunch more outs when balls are actually put in play against them, Cleveland still has some sleeper potential.
[mlbvideo id=”237936483″ width=”510″ height=”286″ /]
16. Detroit Tigers (44-44, minus-15, LW: 14)
The injury that knocked Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup for six weeks is a temporary problem. An issue with a less obvious eventual fix?
• Alfredo Simon over his past five starts: 22.2 IP, 19 K, 9 BB, 47 H, 5 HR, 11.12 ERA
• Shane Greene over his past five starts: 19.1 IP, 12 K, 7 BB, 36 H, 8 HR, 12.57 ERA5
His past five major league starts, anyway. Greene got sent to the minors after getting torched on June 10, returned to start yesterday against the Twins, and got blasted for seven runs.
That’s two-fifths of the rotation. Throw in a Swiss cheese bullpen, and you have a team that, under normal circumstances, should be preparing to sell at the deadline. David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria, Alex Avila, and Simon are all free agents at season’s end, and the Tigers could get a ton of promising young talent in return if they shop those five players. Yet with 85-year-old owner Mike Ilitch having long ago adopted an all-in approach to roster building in the hopes of getting a ring as quickly as possible, and GM Dave Dombrowski potentially headed elsewhere soon, the future isn’t the top priority in Detroit. If you’re wondering how it can all go wrong for a team that downplays a long-term view and hitches its fortunes to a bunch of aging stars, scroll back up and look at who’s listed at no. 30.
15. Tampa Bay Rays (46-45, minus-9, LW: 13)
A brutal 3-15 stretch threatened to knock the Rays out of postseason contention, but a three-game sweep over the suddenly swooning Astros means they’re not dead yet. Saturday’s return of underrated right-hander Jake Odorizzi gave the team a big lift, and a tightly bunched AL East that lacks any great teams gives Tampa Bay some reason to hope.
Still, for the Rays to have a fighting chance, it would help a lot if Matt Moore could find his command. After Sunday’s ugly win over Houston — his first in two years — Moore has now allowed 11 runs, 20 hits, and seven walks over 14 innings in his first three starts back from Tommy John surgery, combining the usual diminished command that post-TJ pitchers often face with a drop in velocity, too. With Alex Cobb not coming back until next year and Drew Smyly aiming to return later this season but a long shot to pitch well with a torn labrum, Moore represents the rotation’s best shot for some much-needed internal improvement.
14. Toronto Blue Jays (45-46, plus-82, LW: 11)
This Jays fan said it better than we ever could:
13. Baltimore Orioles (44-44, plus-39, LW: 10)
Though Dan Duquette’s preference for incremental moves over blockbusters figures to make the trade deadline less than thrilling, the return of Jonathan Schoop could be an in-house difference-maker. Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and the other Orioles who manned second base in place of the injured starter gave the team a combination of below-average defense and subpar hitting. Meanwhile, Schoop was the fifth-best defensive second baseman in the majors last year per Baseball Info Solutions, and he’s mashed since returning from the 60-day DL eight days ago. If Schoop can improve on the horrific 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio he posted last season, his power stroke and defense could help the Orioles considerably.
[mlbvideo id=”248419783″ width=”510″ height=”286″ /]
12. New York Mets (47-42, minus-2, LW: 17)
Even without Steven Matz, who’s on the DL with a lat tear, the Mets have more than enough starting pitching to remain contenders. The problem, even amid a four-game winning streak, remains their offense, as only the lowly Phillies and White Sox have scored fewer runs.
There’s plenty to be said about the massive contrast between New York’s pitching and hitting, but it’s kind of amazing how reliant this team is on Lucas Duda. Over the first baseman’s June 19–to–July 8 homerless streak, in which he batted .121/.216/.152, the Mets went 8-10. Even after that slump, Duda leads the Mets with a batting line that’s 21 percent better than league average, per wRC+. The only other Mets with 100 or more plate appearances to manage above-average results by that metric? Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy.
11. San Francisco Giants (46-43, plus-26, LW: 12)
Injuries to the outfield and starting rotation have kept the defending champs from hitting their full stride, but they’re still hanging around the playoff race, thanks in no small part to their defense. At plus-36, San Francisco ranks second in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, per Baseball Info Solutions. Brandons Belt and Crawford deserve much of the credit: Giants first basemen (mostly Belt) lead the NL at plus-11, while their plus-12 shortstops (mostly Crawford) trail only the Braves and noted fielding cyborg Andrelton Simmons.
10. Minnesota Twins (49-40, plus-23, LW: 16)
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
We’ve already discussed the Twins’ extraordinary Cluster Luck — how the offense has benefited greatly from hits being bunched together, while the pitching staff has had the good fortune of scattering hits.6 This sums it up well: Minnesota hitters are batting .254/.307/.400, while their opponents are batting .270/.320/.419. Getting outhit by your opponents is typically a sign of a sub-.500 team.
Over a whole season, nine teams have exceeded their expected record by nine wins or more since 2002, per BaseRuns, and the Twins are currently plus-nine.
Still, Minnesota has a chance to turn that early luck into something more. For one, the Miguel Sano era has begun, and the big slugger is batting a huge .378/.489/.649 in his first 45 big league plate appearances, giving the offense a huge boost. Second, well, all those wins are banked. And whether you call it skill, luck, or both, the Twins do own the second-best record in the American League. That gives them some cushion if regression does show up, and it also gives them a good excuse to consider buying players at the trade deadline. Getting a real shortstop would be a great place to start: Danny Santana’s been one of the league’s 10 worst players by WAR, and his impressive 2014 numbers look like they can be explained away by a fluky .405 batting average on balls in play.
[mlbvideo id=”237792583″ width=”510″ height=”286″ /]
9. Washington Nationals (48-39, plus-36, LW: 6)
Given the wave of injuries that’s crashed down on this team’s position players, it’s tough to know exactly how to stack up the Nationals’ ideal batting order. But here’s an attempt, with each player’s current status included:
1 — CF Denard Span (DL)
2 — 2B Anthony Rendon (DL)
3 — LF Jayson Werth (DL)
4 — RF Bryce Harper (MVP)
5 — 1B Ryan Zimmerman (DL)
6 — 3B Yunel Escobar (pleasant surprise .321/.369/.407)
7 — C Wilson Ramos (career-worst .255/.284/.390)
8 — SS Ian Desmond (career-worst .211/.255/.334)
Good thing the Nats play in MLB’s worst division.
8. Chicago Cubs (47-40, plus-16, LW: 7)
From the beginning of the 2014 season up to today, these are the top 10 starters, according to WAR:
Jon Lester might be in Year 1 of a $155 million contract, but Jake Arrieta is the ace of this staff. It’s time to start talking about him like one of the 10 best pitchers in the league — because that’s what he is.
7. New York Yankees (48-40, plus-26, LW: 9)
The Yankees’ wealth always makes them a threat for a splashy deadline deal. While that might very well happen soon, they could help themselves greatly through the farm system, too. Rob Refsnyder made his major league debut Saturday, hit his first home run Sunday, and has pushed lamentable second baseman Stephen Drew to the bench. If Carlos Beltran’s injury lingers, we might see 23-year-old Triple-A outfielder/top prospect Aaron Judge at some point, too. And if CC Sabathia and/or Nathan Eovaldi can’t right the ship soon, Luis Severino and his 1.79 Triple-A ERA could also get a spin.
6. Houston Astros (49-42, plus-50, LW: 3)
We published our Astros trade wish list two weeks ago, and moves for an impact outfielder (think Carlos Gomez) and/or front-line starting pitcher (Johnny Cueto? Scott Kazmir?) make even more sense now that Houston’s squandered its once sizable division lead and fallen back into second place. Astros beat writer Evan Drellich brings up another intriguing trade possibility: While Houston’s bullpen ranks as one of baseball’s best, it’s also the softest-tossing bunch in baseball. If the Astros can’t muster the cash or the will to ship off multiple top prospects to make a blockbuster deadline deal, a little bullpen insurance — and some cushioning to get 10 to 12 outs whenever someone other than Dallas Keuchel starts — wouldn’t hurt.
5. Los Angeles Angels (48-40, plus-33, LW: 8)
Five days ago, I suggested you could make a case for Josh Donaldson (my choice), Mike Trout, Jason Kipnis, or Manny Machado as AL MVP. Then Trout went on a huge power binge and we were reminded that the king stay the king. Oh, and get this: The defending AL MVP is having the best offensive season of his career, both by advanced metrics and simple home run totals. Trout’s the real MVP.
4. Kansas City Royals (52-34, plus-63, LW: 5)
While four-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon is out for eight weeks (or more) with a groin injury, the Royals won’t miss his defense all that much. It’s actually his bat they’ll need to figure out how to replace.
Gordon’s current stand-in is slick-fielding speedster Jarrod Dyson, but he’s a pop-gun hitter who could be badly exposed against the league’s better pitchers. Given K.C.’s place atop the AL Central standings, how close the team came to winning it all last year, and the uncertainty that surrounds Gordon’s return, acquiring a replacement who’s better than Dyson would be a wise move. Two candidates to watch: Jay Bruce,7 who offers two extra years of control and could slide over to right field and take over for Alex Rios once Gordon returns, and Gerardo Parra, who is a walk-year player but would be cheaper than Bruce and also provides a two-way threat.8
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (51-39, plus-62, LW: 2)
In 2015: .251/.341/.465, 119 wRC+, plus-four DRS.
In 2015: .309/.344/.496, 127 wRC+, minus-three DRS. (The defensive number was an off-the-charts plus-37 just two years ago.)
C’mon, you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist.
At 430.5 feet, Pederson’s average home run distance is the longest in the majors among batters with at least 10 dingers. Carlos Gonzalez, who’s second on the list, is a full 10 feet behind.
[mlbvideo id=”141829583″ width=”510″ height=”286″ /]
2. St. Louis Cardinals (56-33, plus-91, LW: 1)
Cardinals pitchers have been incredibly stingy/lucky with runners in scoring position, allowing an MLB-low .206 batting average in those situations. The Cards are due for some regression, but let’s take a moment to marvel at their run prevention in 2015: Their ERA of 2.71 ranks fourth among all teams in the expansion era. Consider that two of the teams above the Cards posted smaller numbers in the much lower run-scoring environment of the 1972 season, while the other team did so in the pitcher’s haven that was the Astrodome during the strike-shortened 1981 season, and you could argue that this might be the best pitching-and-defense club of the past 45 years. They just weren’t quite stingy enough to tame the team that’s next.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates (53-35, plus-64, LW: 4)
The torn thumb ligament that whisked Josh Harrison to the DL marks yet another warning about the dangers of headfirst slides. In Pittsburgh, though, the injury looks like an outlier. As Pirates beat writer Travis Sawchik notes, the Pirates have the second-fewest days lost to the DL among all NL teams, and most of those days lost have come from fringe players. Restrict DL days to starting position players and pitchers, and only the perennially healthy White Sox have fared better. If you want to know why the Pirates have been baseball’s winningest team over the past seven weeks, taking three of four games against the Cardinals since Thursday, start with their terrific health.
Raise the Jolly Roger. We have a new no. 1.
[mlbvideo id=”257138683″ width=”510″ height=”286″ /]
This article has been updated to clarify the results of the recent Pirates-Cardinals series.