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The 30, Week 16: Opposites Attract

What a difference a couple months make as the MLB playoff picture slowly starts to take shape

Eight weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared on their way to their 20th straight sub-.500 season; now they’re dreaming of a deep playoff run. Seven weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers were playing so poorly that some critics were calling for Jim Leyland’s head; now they’re poised to defend their AL Central crown. Three weeks ago, the Oakland A’s seemed destined for another season of irrelevance; now they’re baseball’s Cardiac Kids, pulling off more miraculous wins than anyone.

Eight days till the trade deadline, and baseball’s balance of power is shifting. It’s Week 16 of The 30.

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

1. New York Yankees, 57-38 (459 RS, 383 RA) (last week: 1)

Their Oakland nightmare notwithstanding,1 the Yankees are probably going to coast to their third AL East title in four years even if they run out Clay Bellinger every day in left field. But here’s the thing: Over the past month, the guy playing left field against right-handers could only wish to be as productive as Clay Bellinger. On May 21, Raul Ibanez was hitting .273/.336/.582, providing a huge power boost to an already potent lineup. Since then: .271/.271/.349, with the usual abysmal defense you’d expect from someone who was already a human GIF machine years ago, and is now past his 40th birthday. With Brett Gardner likely out for the year, Nick Swisher battling a quad/hip flexor injury, and the Ibanez-as-killer-cheap-signing meme dead now that Raul’s just a tick above replacement level for the season, the Yankees are rumored to be kicking the tires on multiple outfield options. Given that the Yankees have aspirations beyond another division title, you can’t blame them.

2. Texas Rangers, 56-38 (473 RS, 393 RA) (last week: 2)

Remember all the hype that swarmed around Yu Darvish? He was going to single-handedly alter the course of the AL pennant race. He was going to cause spring training press boxes to turn into horrific fire hazards. When he didn’t dominate right away, his failure elicited much hand-wringing in mainstream and analytical circles. By that point, it scarcely mattered anyway: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper (especially Trout) had captured the vast majority of phenom-watching eyeballs. Since then, he’s become something a lot more substantive: a very good, reliable, starting pitcher. In his past six starts (including a seven-run blowup against Seattle July 14 and an 11-strikeout gem against the Angels Saturday), Darvish has fanned 55 batters, holding opponents to a line of .205/.299/.333. With Colby Lewis a candidate to head back to the DL and Roy Oswalt missing Monday’s start (at least) with a flare-up of his back problems, getting steady production from Darvish is still worth plenty of hype if you’re a Rangers fan.

3. Washington Nationals, 55-39 (399 RS, 333 RA) (last week: 3)

If there’s any team that seems likely to make a significant acquisition at the deadline, it has to be the Nationals, right? With starting catcher Wilson Ramos out for the year and Opening Day right fielder Jayson Werth still fighting his way back from injury, Washington’s lineup was already short-handed. The latest setback has breakout shortstop Ian Desmond (.286/.322/.503, career-high 17 homers) out at least a month with a torn oblique muscle. If they stand pat, the Nats would go with Steve Lombardozzi (.265/.316/.335) making outs from the leadoff spot, Roger Bernadina (career .680 OPS) and Jesus Flores (.227/.268/.333) at the bottom of the order, and Danny Espinosa shifting back to shortstop after not playing the position regularly since his Triple-A days. The trade buzz surrounding the Nats has revolved around a deal for a starting pitcher, presumably as a hedge against a Stephen Strasburg innings cap that may or may not exist depending on what GM Mike Rizzo feels like telling the media that morning. Ryan Zimmerman’s two home runs Sunday hiked his July line to an outrageous .414/.481/.914, Mike Morse is slowly starting to regain the swing that made him an offensive terror last year, and last week’s blown 9-0 lead against the Braves surely left a mark. But a bat should still be Washington’s top priority between now and July 31.

4. Los Angeles Angels, 52-44 (433 RS, 387 RA) (last week: 4)

Since May 1, Mike Trout leads the majors in hits, runs scored, times on base, and stolen bases. On Sunday night he set the all-time rookie record and Angels record for most consecutive games with a run scored, at 14. At his current pace, he’d join an elite group of players to post a batting average of .340 or better, 20 or more homers, and 40 or more steals … which is to say, he’d be the first player to accomplish that feat, ever. Somehow, less than three months into Trout’s career, these numbers don’t look quite so jarring anymore. If you’re an Angels fan, you might be more excited over what a usually reliable 10-year veteran just did to the Rangers: After posting an 8.67 ERA and yielding nine homers in 27 innings, then hitting the DL with a bad back, Dan Haren returned to action Sunday and limited Texas to just two runs on three hits. With Ervin Santana making a case for the title of worst starter in the majors, a return of the old Dan Haren could erase some of the desperation that had slunk its way into the Angels’ pitching search.

5. Cincinnati Reds, 55-40 (396 RS, 345 RA) (last week: 6)

The week started in the worst possible way, as news broke that Joey Votto has a torn meniscus in his left knee that will sideline him at least three weeks. All the Reds did from there was go 5-2 for the week, reaching a season-high 15 games over .500 and retaining their NL Central lead despite a big challenge from the surging Pirates. With the league’s second-most productive hitter on the shelf, it’s been the pitching that’s carried the load. Johnny Cueto’s been the star of the rotation, striking out nine and allowing just one run over seven innings Sunday to lower his ERA to 2.23 and give him 10 starts in a row with three runs or fewer allowed. Since going through a brief rough patch in June, Aroldis Chapman has reclaimed his status as the world’s most unhittable closer, striking out 25 batters and allowing just five base runners over his past 11 appearances, covering 10⅓ innings. The sequence of pitches he used to strike out Jason Kubel for the second-to-last out of Thursday’s game was evil incarnate: first-pitch 98-mph fastball over everyone’s head, 97-mph fastball up in the zone that had Kubel extremely late, knee-buckling 87-mph slider for called strike two, and a 98-mph fastball near Kubel’s eyes that triggered a helpless swing-and-a-miss for strike three. But we’ve come to expect greatness at this point from Chapman, and, with a fourth straight season of falling ERAs, from Cueto too. Homer Bailey has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise. In his four June starts spanning 30⅔ innings, Bailey has struck out 27 batters, walked just three, tossed eight innings three out of four times, and posted a 1.76 ERA.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates, 54-40 (390 RS, 348 RA) (last week: 8)

Via ace St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist and St. Louis radio host Bernie Miklasz comes this tidbit: The Pirates have gone 34-16 in their past 50 games (winning 16 of their past 21). In those 50 games, the team that looked like it would set offense back 100 years has averaged a robust 5.3 runs per game; Andrew McCutchen has hit .399/.456/.720 during that stretch, with 15 homers. We’re just going to keep linking to Cutch homer highlights until he stops destroying everything in his path.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s pitching keeps cruising along, with the Pirates allowing the third-fewest runs per game in the National League. How have they done it? As Pirates fan Luke Williamson notes, the Pirates don’t have a single homegrown pitcher in their rotation. James McDonald came over from the Dodgers in exchange for two months of Octavio Dotel; the Yankees dumped A.J. Burnett on Pittsburgh like he was a raging virus; Erik Bedard was a cheapie free-agent acquisition; Kevin Correia’s on the third team in his 10th major league season; and Jeff Karstens landed in the Steel City four years ago in a deadline trade that netted four prospects and cost the immortal Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. In fact, baseball’s other biggest surprise team, the A’s, don’t have a single homegrown starter in their rotation either. Yet another reminder that there are a million ways to build a successful ballclub.

7. Detroit Tigers, 52-44 (441 RS, 420 RA) (last week: 12)

If you want some perspective on the Tigers’ topsy-turvy season, try this:

For all the hand-wringing over Boston’s terrible pitching, we should probably acknowledge that Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are in fact really, really, really good. …

Even better, Austin Jackson hit a blistering .571/.625/.857. It’s three games. We’re talking Dead Sea-sized grains of salt. But it can be instructive keeping tabs on players going through change, coming back from a major injury, or in Jackson’s case, making a big change in his approach. If two months from now Jackson’s still raking, we’ll look back on the great disappearing leg kick as the start of something big.

That was from Week 1 of these rankings, so long ago that this column didn’t even have a name yet. Following that opening-weekend sweep of the Red Sox, the Tigers went 22-31 over the next two months, struggling predictably with their run prevention, but also getting disappointing offense from secondary players like Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, and Brennan Boesch, all the way up to a good-but-not-dominant Miguel Cabrera.

Now, the scrubs are starting to hit, Cabrera’s raking again,2 Austin Jackson’s new batting approach has delivered huge results all year, and the Tigers just swept the White Sox to take over first place for the first time since May 1. Quintin Berry is FIRED UP.

8. San Francisco Giants, 53-42 (385 RS, 369 RA) (last week: 9)

Possibly my favorite stat of the season: Ryan Vogelsong has made 17 starts this year, and has allowed more than three runs in a start exactly once (and that was a respectable four-run outing in Cincinnati on April 26). Vogelsong has been one of the most reliable starters in the game, tossing six-plus innings in every one of those 17 starts. Yes, yes, you can point to his 2.31 ERA and say that it’s a fluke, sure to regress given his comparatively much higher 3.74 FIP. Of course you might’ve said the same thing about Vogelsong, his middling strikeout rate, abnormally high strand rate, and low ERA (2.71) vs. higher FIP (3.67) last year. But here’s the thing: We’re talking about someone who disappeared from the majors for five years, had only one season with an ERA under 6.00 to his credit, then made his comeback at age 34. If he could get through five innings without his arm falling off, that’d be enough of an accomplishment. We can debate whether Vogelsong’s shiny numbers are a product of the Dave Righetti juju that’s helped Matt Cain and other pitchers thrive in San Francisco, or whether it’s just plain luck. But in a new season that’s given so many great story lines, Ryan Vogelsong has quietly been one of the very best.

9. Atlanta Braves, 52-43 (438 RS, 414 RA) (last week: 7)

Dan Uggla’s 37 games: .124/.307/.190, 50 strikeouts in 121 at-bats. Jair Jurrjens’s past two starts: 5⅔ innings, 17 hits, 3 walks, 22.24 ERA. Chipper Jones’s flip home: preposterous. 9-0 deficit against the stingiest team in the majors: no problem. Ben Sheets’s first 12 innings pitched in two years: scoreless. Baseball!

10. Oakland A’s, 52-44 (362 RS, 345 RA) (last week: 17)

“What is happening in Oakland?!”

Those were Glen Kuiper’s words after Coco Crisp’s 12th-inning single knocked in Derek Norris, giving the A’s an improbable four-game sweep. It was improbable given the competition: the best-in-baseball Yankees, who’d come into Oakland having won 35 of their past 48 games. It was improbable since it was the fifth straight win for the A’s, all of them one-run victories. It was improbable since it was the 11th walkoff win this season for Oakland (more than any other team), the second of the weekend, and the sixth in the team’s past 11 home games.

And it was most improbable because all of this is starting to echo 2002 just a bit too strikingly, right down to Kuiper parroting one of the most memorable lines from Moneyball. Even the masses know the plot of the movie by now: Baseball team loses its big stars, is given no shot to win, goes on an incredible winning streak, storms to the playoffs. You’d think someone who knows the story by heart at this point wouldn’t go writing off the A’s and decrying the closing of their “window,” just because a couple of starting pitchers got traded. Nope. I was horribly wrong about this team, the gigantic impact that Yoenis Cespedes would have on the offense, Josh Reddick’s power potential once he settled into an everyday job, Jarrod Parker’s ability to be a plus big league pitcher right away, and on and on down the roster. There are still holes here, none bigger than Brandon Hicks (.158/.200/.316) manning shortstop while Cliff Pennington (.197/.259/.282) sits on the DL. But Oakland’s 13-2 July and down years for multiple would-be wild-card contenders make a go-for-it trade or two a realistic possibility, on the heels of multiple see-you-in-San Jose-in-2015 deals. The A’s might look like a cute and cuddly team. But with strong pitching, surprising power, even one of the best sleeper prospects lurking in the minors, just know that they bite.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers, 52-44 (374 RS, 360 RA) (last week: 11)

Once 42-25, the Dodgers won just six of their next 25 games, buckling under the weight of injuries (most notably to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier) and regression toward the mean (even the biggest Dodgers diehard would’ve had a hard time betting on the team to maintain a 102-win pace). The best way to describe the Dodgers’ free fall was … this, basically. A four-game winning streak at the expense of a down-year Phillies team and a miserable Mets bullpen (with help from a historic performance by Matt Kemp) thrust the Dodgers back to within a game and a half of the first-place Giants. The next step could be a trade for a starting pitcher, though a run at walk-year Ryan Dempster went nowhere when the Dodgers couldn’t meet the Cubs’ price. Matt Garza heads the list of starters who might be wearing Dodger Blue by this time next week.

12. Chicago White Sox, 50-45 (440 RS, 401 RA) (last week: 5)

The week started so promisingly, with Kevin Youkilis lighting up his former teammates in Boston. The White Sox also shored up their bullpen by acquiring Brett Myers from the Astros. It got ugly thereafter, with a 10-1 drubbing giving way to the least enthusiastic call of a walkoff home run in the sport’s history, followed by the Tigers outscoring Chicago 17-7 en route to a weekend sweep and a new claim on first place. If the Tigers widen their lead in the AL Central, it’ll be interesting to see how Kenny Williams proceeds; the White Sox had the look of (at least mild) sellers in the offseason, then got off to a surprisingly strong start once the games started counting. Where do the Pale Hose go from here, if they’re one of many contenders chasing the second wild-card spot, with several shiny pieces that could be marketed if they felt like it? Get ready for a raft of teams that could go either way as the deadline approaches.

13. St. Louis Cardinals, 50-45 (464 RS, 378 RA) (last week: 13)

Thank the Cubs for rolling over in an ugly weekend sweep, but the Cardinals now own the best run differential in the majors. If that factoid seems a little esoteric, try this: The Cards are getting big performances from some of their best players in July. Matt Holliday hit what the Cardinals claim was the longest home run in new Busch Stadium history and is up to .390/.464/.695 in July; David Freese is hitting .434/.559/.566 this month; and Lance Lynn seems to have sloughed off the rookie wall, striking out 22, walking just five, and ceding just one earned run over his past three starts, covering 19 innings. Though St. Louis owns a similar record to several other teams in this class, it feels like the Cardinals — given their history of aggressive deadline dealing, their need for a starting pitcher, their defending World Series crown, and the supply of available quality starters out there — are more likely to be buyers than others in their cohort.

14. Baltimore Orioles, 51-44 (395 RS, 449 RA) (last week: 15)

By hook (a 34-14 record in one- and two-run games) or by crook (an MLB-best 10-2 record in extra-inning games), the Orioles have overcome the seventh-worst starting rotation in baseball (and getting worse, with Jason Hammel on the shelf and the Triple-A shuttle the best hope now) and an offense that’s scored just 3.8 runs per game since June 1. They’re relying on pitchers like Chris Tillman, who get torched for seven runs in ⅔ of an inning one start, then fire 6⅔ frames of one-run ball the next time out. They’ve been worse than any other team at second base, and their first and third basemen might as well be playing with these on. Yet the O’s have won five in a row, arresting a recent losing skid, taking firm control of second place in the AL East, and tying for the wild-card lead. We’ve been yelling some variation of “This isn’t sustainable!” all year long. But at some point, you survey the landscape, find a group of fellow flawed contenders, and wonder what might be with the right move or two.

15. Boston Red Sox, 48-48 (479 RS, 436 RA) (last week: 10)

From the Boston Globe‘s Peter Abraham comes this gem: The Red Sox are 15-31 in games started by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester since September 1, 2011, with the two pitchers combining for a 5.11 ERA. Optimists look at Lester’s recent performances, including his 11-run (!!!) annihilation Sunday against the Jays, and see bad luck weighing him down: Lester’s posted a 6.75 ERA in his past 12 starts, but that’s largely the result of a sky-high .376 batting average on balls in play and an unusually high home run rate (1.7 per 9 innings). He’s still striking out nearly a batter an inning during that stretch, with a strikeout-to-walk rate of better than 3-to-1. The cries to trade Beckett and Lester (combined first-inning ERA this season: 8.00) won’t resonate, since the Sox can’t afford to sell their hoped-for top two starters at bargain-basement prices. Maybe both gentlemen need a crash course in the Aaron Cook school of pitching to extreme contact: The extreme ground ball pitcher (60.6 percent ground ball rate, second among starters with 30 innings pitched or more) has struck out just three batters, and walked just three, in 36 innings. Cook’s 3.50 ERA might not be sustainable. But compared to the torture chamber that is watching Beckett or Daisuke Matsuzaka write Russian novels between pitches, Cook has to be one of the most randomly beloved players on this team right now. Next step: Get David Ortiz back from the DL to join the now-healthy Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and the suddenly scorching Adrian Gonzalez.

16. Toronto Blue Jays, 48-47 (476 RS, 447 RA) (last week: 18)

We covered the Jays’ 10-player, “That’s it?” trade and Toronto’s prospects for the rest of the season given their decimated starting rotation in considerable depth on Friday. So we’ll use this space to give a shout-out to Bob Elliott, a dogged baseball reporter for 33 years, a class act, and the first Canadian ever to be honored in Cooperstown for winning the J.G. Taylor Spink Award “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” Check out Richard Justice’s story on Elliott’s acceptance speech, a case of nerves, and the help he got from an all-time great. It’s a terrific read.

17. Tampa Bay Rays, 49-47 (396 RS, 394 RA) (last week: 14)

Consecutive 2-1 losses to Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan will make you reevaluate your lot in life in a hurry. DRaysBay’s Jason Collette breaks down the struggles the Rays offense has had this season, especially with runners in scoring position. Cliff’s Notes version: This team can’t hit, and even a healthy Evan Longoria coming back tomorrow might not be enough to solve the problem. The Rays could opt to acquire a bat at the deadline, but the front office has never been willing to make a splashy move in late July even when Tampa Bay looked like legitimate World Series contenders. Now that they look like potential also-rans, selling might become more likely: Everyone and his cousin supposedly is hot for James Shields. The Rays could conceivably pull a 1999 A’s,3 trade Shields for either a bat or a group of high-ceiling prospects that could facilitate a trade for a bat, thus effectively buying and selling at the same time. But the hunch here is either a stand-pat session for Andrew Friedman & Co., or an outright sell job. After three playoff berths in the past four seasons, this just doesn’t look like the Rays’ year — too many injuries, too many disappointments.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks, 47-48 (429 RS, 408 RA) (last week: 20)

Since this is apparently the week I out myself for every stupid thing I’ve ever said, let’s talk about Jason Kubel. Hated the two-year, $15 million contact Arizona gave to Kubel, coming off two highly mediocre offensive seasons (.326 and .333 wOBAs in 2010 and 2011, respectively) with all the defensive skills of an aging DH. Why would the D-backs want Kubel at that price, I wondered, when they could just pay Gerardo Parra about the league minimum to contend for a Gold Glove, swipe some bags, and hit enough to be a perfectly viable starter? So much for that theory. While Parra has indeed enjoyed a fine season, Kubel’s been one of the best hitters in the league. He blasted three homers Saturday, then another one on Sunday, giving him 21 for the year. He’s now hitting .300/.372/.585, good for an excellent .393 wOBA, and if you care about such things, a league-leading 71 RBI. Who knew that acquiring a hitter who’d batted .300 with 28 homers just three years earlier, was still in his prime at age 30, and was going to a far superior hitter’s park in Phoenix would work out so well? (Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, for one.)

19. New York Mets, 47-48 (437 RS, 432 RA) (last week: 16)

Nine losses in their past 10 games, a 4-12 July, and a bullpen that’s causing so much gallows humor it’d be funny to follow 500 Mets fans on Twitter if it weren’t so sad. The lowlight of the week, and maybe the season (which is saying something), came on Tuesday. Trailing 2-0 going into the ninth, the Mets put two runners on, then pinch-hit minimum-salaried farmhand Jordany Valdespin for $66 million bust Jason Bay with the game on the line. And it worked! Valdespin cranked a three-run homer off Nats closer Tyler Clippard, and the Mets looked like they might snap their losing streak and cut into first-place Washington’s division lead. Then with two outs in the ninth, fill-in closer Bobby Parnell yielded an RBI single by Danny Espinosa that tied the game. In the top of the 10th … another run for the Mets, this one on a Josh Thole RBI double. Mets lefty Tim Byrdak comes in for the bottom of the 10th, quickly blows the lead on a Bryce Harper double … then allows the winning run to score on a freaking wild pitch. Considering how low preseason expectations were for the Mets, the fact that they’ve been contending for half the season is damn impressive. Almost makes it more frustrating to wonder what might have been if the Mets bullpen hadn’t turned high-leverage failures into an art form.

20. Cleveland Indians, 47-48 (416 RS, 463 RA) (last week: 19)

A four-game losing streak dropped the Tribe back below .500, as the Tigers start to pull away from the pack and even a wild-card run starts to look like a Herculean task. No one in that clubhouse is giving up, though. Diving into the stands and giving young ladies a case of the vapors? Yes. Throwing a birthday party for the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona with three different cakes to honor the full extent of his birth certificate subterfuge? Hell yes.

21. Milwaukee Brewers, 44-50 (415 RS, 426 RA) (last week: 21)

John Axford lost his closer job after six blown saves, six losses, and 21 walks in 37 innings pitched. Francisco Rodriguez, the embattled former closer turned overpaid setup man, took over … and might actually turn out to be a decent choice. K-Rod racked up six straight scoreless appearances en route to winning the ninth-inning job from Axford, striking out eight batters, yielding just three hits, and walking two over six innings pitched. After collecting his first post-role switch save Tuesday, K-Rod very nearly blew Wednesday’s game, giving up a hit and three walks before wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam to lock down a 4-3 win. Fantasy heads-up: At this stage of the season, a closer’s not going to have a big impact on your ratios one way or another. So if you find yourself with a surplus of closers and needs elsewhere, don’t be afraid to trade your elite closers and hang on to your K-Rods and Francisco Corderos. You’ll get a ton more in return if you offer an Aroldis Chapman, but with a little luck, the saves will be there either way.

22. Philadelphia Phillies, 42-54 (403 RS, 433 RA) (last week: 22)

The latest Cole Hamels speculation has the Phillies potentially offering $140 million-plus over six years to lock down their 28-year-old co-ace. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and now Roy Halladay are all back, but it’s hard to imagine Ruben Amaro Jr. seriously envisioning a playoff run given the hole the Phillies have dug for themselves. Re-signing Hamels would serve aims other than fueling a sixth straight playoff berth (more on some of those angles shortly).

23. Miami Marlins, 44-51 (358 RS, 429 RA) (last week: 21)

That 21-8 May looks like ancient history, much less the Marlins’ splashy offseason spending spree and the wave of optimism that ushered them into the new ballpark. The Fish have tallied just seven runs during their current five-game losing streak, including a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Pirates on Sunday. Hanley Ramirez’s recent woes nicely frame what’s quickly becoming a lost season: Earlier this month, Ramirez cut the knuckles on his right hand when he punched a cooling fan. He forgot to take the medication prescribed to treat the wound, then suffered an infection. He’s now missed three straight starts, and might miss more this week. The rumor of Heath Bell and Hanley for Carl Crawford wasn’t likely to go anywhere. But you can see why the Marlins are now fed up with Ramirez: After ranking as one of the 10 best players in baseball as recently as three years ago, his deteriorating defense, his now-pedestrian bat, and his trademark knuckleheadedness have made him an albatross.

24. Seattle Mariners, 42-55 (384 RS, 397 RA) (last week: 26)

The next time someone tells you that coaches don’t matter, refer them to John Jaso’s radical batting stance change and the resulting surge in his numbers: .224/.298/.354 in 2011 with Tampa Bay, .287/.388/.473 this year in Seattle.

25. San Diego Padres, 41-56 (355 RS, 414 RA) (last week: 27)

Holding one of the best trade chips on the market in Carlos Quentin, the Padres elected to re-sign their slugging outfielder to a three-year, $27 million contract (with bonuses that could take the deal up to $30 million), rather than sell him to a needy contender for 59 cents on the dollar. Quentin won’t help the Padres sniff the postseason this year, of course. But by signing him to a long-term pact, the Padres showed they could’ve been motivated by any one of several factors:

• They saw keeping Quentin long-term as the best option given how weak the prevailing trade offers were.

• They tried to generate better offers, but were stymied by teams’ reluctance to pay big for a walk-year player given the changes in the collective bargaining agreement and the end of compensation picks being awarded to teams that acquire players at the trade deadline of their walk years.

• The cost certainty and years given to Quentin made him a more attractive trade candidate, and he could still be dealt … if not now, then possibly this offseason.

Whatever the case, the Padres’ message was spoken loud and clear: Deal with it.

26. Kansas City Royals, 40-54 (391 RS, 442 RA) (last week: 24)

Jonathan Sanchez’s final numbers as a Kansas City Royal: 53 innings pitched, 1-6, 7.76 ERA, 36 strikeouts, 109 total base runners. Jeremy Guthrie should probably feel insulted that the Rockies found him to be a less palatable option than Sanchez, given that Colorado and Kansas City pulled off a challenge trade of those two pitchers. On the other hand, maybe he should feel flattered that Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd thought so much of his skills that he traded Jason Hammel to Baltimore to get him, thus handing the Orioles a new staff ace for the guy who would eventually get traded for Jonathan Sanchez.

27. Minnesota Twins, 40-55 (405 RS, 495 RA) (last week: 28)

Joe Mauer! JOE MAUER!!!!!!!!!!

28. Chicago Cubs, 38-56 (347 RS, 424 RA) (last week: 25)

Congratulations on your posthumous induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Ron Santo. We wish you could have been there to accept the honor. Still, your spirit lives on.

29. Colorado Rockies, 36-58 (453 RS, 531 RA) (last week: 29)

The most valuable Rockies pitcher this year by Wins Above Replacement is a relief pitcher. The second-most valuable Rockies pitcher this year by Wins Above Replacement has a 5.71 ERA. The third-most valuable Rockies pitcher this year by Wins Above Replacement threw 58 innings, and is now out for the rest of the season.

30. Houston Astros, 34-62 (370 RS, 477 RA) (last week: 30)

Last week, Houston traded four pitchers with major league experience for what was mostly a bushel of second-tier prospects. GM Jeff Luhnow has vowed to make more moves between now and the start of August. And Houston’s an increasingly strong bet to finish with the worst record in baseball for the second straight year. The Astros are (wisely) committing to bottoming out, revamping their farm system, and emerging as a contender sometime down the road. Until then, there are plenty of good seats available.

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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 New York Times best seller. The paperback edition of his new book, Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

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