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The 30, Week 11: Seeing Red

Joey Votto’s ludicrous bat has Cincinnati climbing the charts, while interleague play wreaks havoc on our rankings.

Joey Votto

If you ever want to see a 37-year-old man cry, send him to a reunion of the first team he rooted for as a kid, play a killer tribute for the Hall of Fame player who recently left us way too soon (digging up cherished childhood memories), then double down with one of the best baseball-themed songs anyone’s recorded in years.

Fortunately, we’ve pulled ourselves together since then. It’s Week 11 of The 30.

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

1. New York Yankees, 40-25 (309 RS, 253 RA) (last week: 1)

The Yankees beating up on the rest of the league with their pitching, even after losing both prized offseason pickup Michael Pineda and all-universe closer Mariano Rivera to season-ending injuries, has people more than a little confused. They’ve allowed a total of just 19 runs during their nine-game winning streak, yielding four runs or fewer in 14 of their last 15 games. We broke down Ivan Nova’s quirky career last week, noting his combination of moderate skill and terrific luck. Lately it’s been more skill than luck: Two runs allowed and a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate in his last three starts, covering 22⅔ innings.

2. Texas Rangers, 40-27 (358 RS, 271 RA) (last week: 3)

With Josh Hamilton sitting out the weekend due to an intestinal virus, the top on-base percentage in the Rangers’ primary lineup belongs to … Elvis Andrus. The 23-year-old has improved his on-base ability in each of his first four major league seasons and is up to a career-high .372 this season. In fact, Andrus has improved his offensive game across the board this year, sitting on career highs in batting average, walk rate, and isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average, a better measure of extra-base-hit ability than glancing at home run totals), while also stealing bases at the highest success rate of his career (12-for-14, an 86 percent clip). By putting up such impressive offensive numbers while playing a premium defensive position at a high rate and running the bases at an elite level, Andrus has been the sixth-most valuable player in the American League this season.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers, 42-25 (289 RS, 236 RA) (last week: 4)

Not that there was much question Dodgers ownership would pay premium prices to build a winning team after shelling out $2.15 billion for the team, but the $85 million the Dodgers just gave Andre Ethier, a solid player who’s also unlikely to earn his keep over the next five years, points to a team that might be aggressive with the trade deadline approaching, given their place in the standings and the multiple holes in the lineup. When you’re trotting out a Matt Kemp–less Sunday lineup like this, how can you not want to do better? Well, unless the Dodgers can keep doing stuff like this seemingly every other day.

4. Washington Nationals, 38-26 (246 RS, 214 RA) (last week: 5)

The Nats are a legitimate first-place team with a phenomenal pitching staff. But Bryce Harper seems determined to dominate this space every week. Here’s Harper hitting a moonshot in Toronto. Here he is creating a meme that was hilarious for a couple hours, incredibly irritating thereafter. And here he is striking out five times in one game. Considering the Nationals had won six in a row before getting swept at home by the Yankees, the whole weekend counts as a rare dose of humility for both Harper and his friends.

5. Cincinnati Reds, 38-27 (285 RS, 245 RA) (last week: 10)

Six in a row for the Reds, who’ve gone 19-8 since May 19, scoring an average of 5.2 runs per game with a 3.46 ERA over that stretch (hat-tip Bernie Miklasz). It’s been a team effort. Joey Votto’s staked his claim as the best player in the world, hitting a ludicrous .366/.489/.652. After a slow start to the season, Brandon Phillips has caught fire, hitting homers in three straight games at one point last week, while playing fantastic defense. Several young pitchers are rounding into shape, with Homer Bailey tossing six quality starts in his last seven times out, and a 3.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate in those seven starts. Hell, they’ve even mastered the art of cheating.

6. Tampa Bay Rays, 37-29 (286 RS, 266 RA) (last week: 2)

They make you want to plan a World Series parade one day, impale yourself with a javelin the next. Last week started with the Rays getting swept at home for the second time in two and a half weeks. This time the Mets were the aggressors, scoring 29 runs in three games and tossing glacial water over the Rays’ pitching and defense reputation. Then they get their punching bag intrastate rivals from Miami for three games and look infinitely better, culminating in Alex Cobb’s best start of his career: seven innings, two hits, no runs, one walk, 10 strikeouts (the same Cobb who got pounded for six runs in his previous start). Metspocalypse aside, the Rays’ strength remains run prevention; what the team needs now are, simply, better lineups. Sunday’s alignment featured Hideki Matsui (.160/.208/.300) hitting cleanup, Jose Lobaton (.214/.327/.310) batting fifth, and Will Rhymes (.239/.306/.261) hitting sixth. Evan Longoria’s rehabbing in Triple-A Durham, and an optimistic timetable might have him back by week’s end. Simply getting more from slumping incumbents would help nearly as much as a Longoria return. Ben Zobrist was hitting .199 seven days ago; then he went on a .520/.636/.960 binge. Next up: Carlos Pena, still mired below the Mendoza line and hitting .137/.313/.252 since Longoria got knocked out of the lineup (through Saturday).

7. Baltimore Orioles, 39-27 (299 RS, 284 RA) (last week: 8)

Brian Roberts is back, finally. He made his return on Tuesday, and went 7-for-22 in his first five games back (though with no walks or extra-base hits). Few could have predicted that the 34-year-old who played in just 98 games in the past two years for a last-place team would become a linchpin of the Orioles’ legitimate playoff chances in 2012. But that’s where we are. Robert Andino might’ve been awarded the key to the city of St. Petersburg, but he’s not a viable everyday second baseman, hitting just .237/.293/.321 this year. Dan Duquette’s nearing the point where he’ll have to seriously think about pursuing reinforcements for this surprise team. A healthy and even quasi-productive Roberts would solve one of his biggest dilemmas.

8. San Francisco Giants, 37-30 (267 RS, 254 RA) (last week: 9)

Sure, fine, Matt Cain’s perfect game has to qualify as the highlight of the week, I guess (good stuff from Jay Jaffe on why we might be seeing more no-hitters). But really, the Giants need to do a better job spreading out their moments of awesomeness. Because on top of Cain’s perfecto, we also got the Giants’ never-ending home homerless streak finally ending on a blast by … Madison Bumgarner (???) and the best use of technology in the history of the universe: a man watching a game for free by using a jet pack. A JET PACK!

9. Atlanta Braves, 35-31 (298 RS, 278 RA) (last week: 6)

A 1-5 week, with two straight shutouts thrown at them by the surprising duo of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. But the more troublesome news was Brandon Beachy’s trip to the disabled list with what’s being called “elbow discomfort.” He’d been uncharacteristically wild in the three starts leading up to Saturday’s truncated outing, walking 13 batters in 16⅓ innings; tough to say if a barking arm played a role in that stretch, but something didn’t seem right with Beachy at the time. Either way, Beachy had emerged as their ace. Calling up Jair Jurrjens from Triple-A and banking on a pitcher who looked completely broken earlier this year might be asking for trouble. With Jurrjens, Mike Minor (gopherific disaster of a season, his last start against the Yankees the notable exception), and Randall Delgado (two solid efforts in his last three starts, but also a poor 60-to-37 strikeout-to-walk rate) manning three-fifths of the rotation, the Braves risk getting lapped by the Nats and their elite rotation.

10. Los Angeles Angels, 36-31 (266 RS, 247 RA) (last week: 11)

As if Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo devastating the league and turning a leaky bullpen into a huge strength thanks to Ernesto Frieri and his strikeout rate of death weren’t enough, the Angels are now pulling starting pitching dominance out of their collective posterior. First Ervin Santana, who was on pace to challenge the single-season home runs allowed record as of a few days ago, twirled a one-hitter against the Diamondbacks. The next day Garrett Richards, making his sixth career major league start, fired eight scoreless past Arizona. After an abysmal start to the season, everything’s coming up Angels.

11. Chicago White Sox, 35-31 (312 RS, RS 276 RA) (last week: 7)

After cratering last season, Adam Dunn has returned to his roots, as the Three True Outcomes king of the world. Dunn leads the American League in home runs (23), walks (53), and strikeouts (104); he actually leads all of baseball in homers and Ks, and sits just one behind front-runner Joey Votto for the MLB lead in walks. The Three True Outcomes Triple Crown is a much rarer feat than even the traditional Triple Crown, with only eight players turning the TTO feat, vs. 16 AVG/HR/RBI ones:

(Source: Elias Sports Bureau)

12. St. Louis Cardinals, 34-33 (329 RS, 276 RA) (last week: 12)

It’s easy to get overexcited about young players putting up huge performances in the playoffs. We start projecting breakouts for the next season, forgetting that the laws of small samples usually override whatever pixie dust points one collects with World Series heroics. But in the Cardinals’ case, both of their young(ish) playoff heroes from last season have bucked the odds: Even after David Freese has 13 homers and is slugging just under .500, Allen Craig has gone absolutely crazy, hitting .336/.416/.645 after missing the first month of the season with a knee injury (and a few more games with hamstring problems). These are two of several excellent individual performances for a team with the best run differential in the league, but a record only one game over .500, thanks to a 6-11 mark in one-run games and a 1-4 ledger in extra innings.

13. New York Mets, 35-32 (296 RS, 304 RA) (last week: 16)

It doesn’t get much more maddening than getting swept by the Yankees, sweeping the Rays, then getting swept by the Reds, back-to-back-to-back. R.A. Dickey continued to stake his claim as a leading Cy Young contender, breaking the Mets’ record for most consecutive scoreless innings with a 12-strikeout masterpiece against the Rays Wednesday. But after piling on 29 runs against the Rays, the Mets’ offense went cold, tallying just five vs. Cincinnati. The good news is this killer schedule won’t last much longer: After playing the Cards, Nats, Yankees, Rays, and Reds, the Mets get three against the Orioles and three more against the Yankees before getting a breather against the lowly Cubs.

14. Boston Red Sox, 33-33 (330 RS, 303 RA) (last week: 14)

Just when you thought Boston’s injury problems couldn’t get any worse, Josh Beckett and Ryan Sweeney both hit the DL. It’s a wonder the Red Sox have hung in this well given their ridiculously long injured list along with lousy seasons for several key players. The biggest offender has been Kevin Youkilis, who’s just 4 for his last 36, dropping his season line to a miserable .215/.301/.341. One report had the outfield-needy Sox shopping Youkilis to Arizona in exchange for Gerardo Parra, but those talks died on the vine. Parra is a 25-year-old elite defender and (roughly) league-average hitter making a paltry $502,000, while Youkilis is 33, makes $12 million this year, and could become a free agent at season’s end. Still, on name value alone, it’s a bit jarring to hear that the second-best hitter in the game from 2008 to 2010 is being offered for Arizona’s fourth outfielder … and that the D-backs turned down the deal.

15. Toronto Blue Jays, 34-32 (315 RS, 283 RA) (last week: 13)

If the Red Sox have struggled under the weight of injuries, the Jays might’ve been pushed to the brink by their recent bout of DL-itis. Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison, and Kyle Drabek all hit the 15-day shelf last week, leaving the Jays with only three obvious starters (Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez, and Brett Cecil) and a sudden, pressing need to explore the trade market. They’re reportedly talking to the Rockies about Jeremy Guthrie, and may well have other irons in the fire too. Toronto’s actually coming off a sweep of the Phillies and boasts the third-most prolific offense in the American League. But it’s tough to feel good about a team that heads into a new week with 40 percent of its starting rotation a complete mystery.

16. Pittsburgh Pirates, 34-31 (222 RS, 244 RA) (last week: 15)

Per @MLBStatoftheDay, A.J. Burnett become the first Pirates pitcher since 1990 to win six straight starts. Burnett’s resurgence in Pittsburgh is reminder no. 5,762 that the AL East is much tougher to navigate as a pitcher than the NL Central. It’s also another nod to a pitching staff that’s allowed fewer runs than any team in baseball save the Nationals and Dodgers. The slumbering offense remains the problem, with only one hitter owning a Weighted On-Base Average above .319. This is an easily solvable problem, though: Just get Pedro Alvarez to hit four homers every weekend.

17. Miami Marlins, 33-33 (239 RS, 286 RA) (last week: 17)

The Marlins had lost eight straight to the Rays (and been outscored 53-17 in that stretch) before finally taking a game against them on Saturday. Overall, Miami’s lost 10 of their last 12 games, falling from a tie for first in the NL East to six games out and fourth place in just two weeks. One reason for their precipitous fall: Omar Infante, who’s gone 2-for-26 in his past six games and hasn’t hit a homer since May 8. This after smashing five homers in his first 12 starts of the year. Just as we shouldn’t overreact to big playoff performances, we also need to avoid overrating the first few games of the season: It’s incredibly rare for 30-year-old players to suddenly start performing at a new level unlike any they’ve ever shown before. Infante’s scorching start to the season was just one of those random baseball events. He’s still Omar Infante.

18. Cleveland Indians, 33-32 (279 RS, 319 RA) (last week: 18)

Jose Lopez DH’d for the Indians on Sunday. And batted cleanup. Sure, Travis Hafner’s still on the DL (as is Grady Sizemore). But given those two players’ histories, it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. The Indians’ inability to have strong contingency plans on hand for such events has given us 120 Lopez plate appearances and a .275 OBP (which is still, disturbingly, better than anything he’s done in four years). Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, the two Tampa Bay refugees brought in to patch other holes, have hit .186/.273/.280 and .221/.285/.330, respectively. An optimist would look at three such egregious holes and say, “good, easier to upgrade than actual semi-productive players.” A pessimist would ponder the situation and say, “too many glaring holes to fix for this team to contend for a division title.” A realist would agree with the optimist, then remember that the Indians play in the horrific AL Central, where building a winner with chewing gum and a protractor is a realistic goal.

19. Arizona Diamondbacks, 32-34 (273 RS, 270 RA) (last week: 19)

The great third base search continues. With Ryan Roberts adding new evidence every day that 2011 was his career year, post-hype prospect Josh Bell (predictably) not hitting, and no other good alternatives on the major league roster or in the high minors, the D-backs are scouring the landscape for answers. With Ian Kennedy dominating in three of his last four starts, Wade Miley emerging as a Rookie of the Year candidate who might actually challenge Bryce Harper, and several top pitching prospects knocking on the door, bolstering the lineup is the obvious move for a team trying to recapture the magic of last season’s 94-win ride.

20. Detroit Tigers, 32-34 (292 RS, 303 RA) (last week: 20)

The Max Scherzer Experience rolls on. After getting shelled for eight runs against the Indians, then walking five and chucking two wild pitches in a rocky start against the Cubs, Scherzer destroyed the Rockies Sunday, fanning 12 batters and walking none in eight innings of work. If he’s not the most high-variance pitcher in the majors, he’s certainly on the very short list.

21. Oakland A’s, 31-36 (254 RS, 261 RA) (last week: 24)

The runaway winner in this week’s “Where the hell did that come from?” power rankings: Brandon Moss. Called up from Triple-A Sacramento 12 days ago and handed the vacant first-base job, Moss belted five homers and knocked in 10 runs in a four-game stretch last week. He’d shown plenty of power in the minors, smacking 15 bombs with the River Cats in 51 games (and posting solid numbers at pretty much every other stop in his long minor league career). Moss is 28 now, the A’s have lacked a true offensive threat at first for years, and this is a season for experiments anyway, given the top-heavy state of the AL West. Might as well see what you’ve got.

22. Philadelphia Phillies, 31-37 (290 RS, 297 RA) (last week: 21)

Pitcher wins are an overrated stat at best, a frivolous and complete waste of time at worst. Still, the Phillies have found so many ways to not win a game for Cliff Lee this season, it’s ridiculous. This time Lee largely did it to himself, taking a 5-2 lead into the eighth only to put the first three batters of the inning on base, all of whom eventually came around to score. Still, the extremely hittable Chad Qualls and the Phillies’ general bullpen mismanagement deserves some of the blame too. In possibly the saddest stat of the year for any team, the Phillies have played seven extra-inning games on the road in 2012. They’ve used Jonathan Papelbon, the highest-paid closer in major league history, in zero of those games. As @MikeFeigen reminds us, Jerry Koosman is the only pitcher in major league history to throw at least 150 innings, strike out at least 150 batters, and win fewer than five games. The way Cliff Lee and the Phils are going, Koosman might soon have company.

23. Milwaukee Brewers, 30-36 (286 RS, 304 RA) (last week: 22)

It seems crazy to think this team won the NL Central just a year ago. When you get a 12-game stretch where you play the 24th-, 28th-, 29th-, and 30th-ranked teams on this list and can only manage a 6-6 split, it’s yet another sign this is probably not your year.

24. Kansas City Royals, 29-35 (249 RS, 276 RA) (last week: 25)

Could this be the year Billy Butler harnesses his huge frame and his short, violent swing (when he’s on) into a power breakout season? His two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning homer off Cardinals closer Jason Motte Sunday gave Butler his 12th homer of the year and tied the game, eventually leading to a 5-3 KC win in 15 innings. The 26-year-old DH is now more than halfway to his personal single-season record of 21 homers.

25. Seattle Mariners, 29-39 (274 RS, 290 RA) (last week: 23)

Batting an MLB-worst .203/.285/.307 as a team at home this year. If you’re not streaming every random pitcher you can against the M’s at Safeco for your fantasy league, you’re doing it wrong.

26. Houston Astros, 27-39 (278 RS, 331 RA) (last week: 27)

Losers of 16 of their past 21 games, the Astros are slowly closing in on worst-record-in-baseball standards. Bud Norris hitting the DL with a sprained knee can only help Houston’s shot at landing the no. 1 overall pick for the second straight year.

27. Colorado Rockies, 25-40 (329 RS, 373 RA) (last week: 26)

Troy Tulowitzki has missed the last 16 Rockies games, and now doctors suspect he might have a sports hernia, which could require surgery and keep him out significantly longer. Houston, you’ve got company.

28. Minnesota Twins, 26-39 (275 RS, 349 RA) (last week: 28)

The couple at the 19-second mark of Denard Span’s walkoff single video are ready for their close-up.

29. San Diego Padres, 24-43 (225 RS, 298 RA) (last week: 29)

Called up a month and a day ago, new Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera went hitless in his first 17 at-bats of the season. Since then: .303/.391/.513, with nine steals (and zero times caught stealing).

30. Chicago Cubs, 22-44 (243 RS, 302 RA) (last week: 30)

The Cubs signed 20-year-old Cuban sensation Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract — albeit a contract that can be changed pretty easily to Soler’s advantage if he comes up to the majors and mashes. Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein profiles Soler, who joins Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, and Albert Almora as potential lineup building blocks on a team that’s hurting for front-line talent. Spending this much money on a raw but potential-filled player like Soler is exactly what the Cubs meant when they said they would focus on building from within while using their considerable resources to make it happen.