Adrian Gonzalez and More American League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week
Interleague play will go bye-bye after this week. The next seven days represent the last chance for American League players to impress their National League counterparts until the World Series rolls around in October.
A handful of players around the Junior Circuit need to do something to impress the guys on the NL side of the fence. For a variety of different reasons, a variety of AL players just haven't been playing their best baseball recently.
Boston Red Sox first baseman/part-time right fielder Adrian Gonzalez is one of them. He's had a hard time getting on track all season, and he's coming off a particularly brutal week against NL competition. It's past time for him to get hot.
There are plenty of other American Leaguers besides Gonzalez who need to show up big this week. Here's a rundown of players who will be feeling the pressure to perform over the next seven days.
Note: Special thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for the stats.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B/RF, Boston Red Sox
We're two-and-a-half months into the 2012 regular season, and so far, Adrian Gonzalez looks nothing like the man who hit .338 with a .958 OPS in 2011.
Gonzalez enters the week hitting a mere .260 with an uncharacteristically low .315 on-base percentage. He's slugging .403 with a .718 OPS.
Gonzalez's numbers are so low in part because he's in a bad slump. In his last eight games (seven starts), he has three hits in 25 at-bats. All three of those hits were singles, and all three of them came in the same game against the Miami Marlins.
Bobby Valentine finally left Gonzalez out of his starting lineup altogether on Sunday. He told the media that Gonzalez didn't fight the decision when he was informed on Saturday night.
"He thought so, after the game yesterday, too,'' Valentine said, via ESPNBoston.com. "Kind of a mutual admiration society."
The Red Sox have an off day on Monday. After that, they'll start a nine-game homestand against the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves, two teams that have been struggling lately.
For their part, the Red Sox are hanging in there, but there's no telling when their lineup will go cold and they'll string a few losses together. Their lineup has been prone to cold streaks this season, in large part because Gonzalez hasn't been himself.
If the Red Sox are to stick around in a very, very tough AL East, Gonzalez needs to get going.
Desmond Jennings, LF, Tampa Bay Rays
When the Rays placed Desmond Jennings on the disabled list in mid-May, he was hitting .265/.333/.398 with 20 runs scored and eight stolen bases. Numbers like those qualify as decent for a 25-year-old playing his first full major league season.
Jennings missed four weeks recovering from a knee injury, and he hasn't been the same since the Rays activated him in early June. In 12 games (11 starts), he has 10 hits in 52 at-bats, good for a .192 average. He hasn't even attempted a stolen base.
Joe Maddon has been using Jennings at the top of his lineup since he was activated him, but he hasn't done a great job of setting the table for the guys in the middle of the order. If his struggles persist, Maddon may have to make a conventional choice (for him, anyway) and move Jennings down to the bottom of the lineup.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say. The Rays are losing ground to the red-hot New York Yankees in the AL East, and things could get worse throughout the course of their nine-game road swing through Washington, Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Jennings can do the Rays a big favor by collecting a few hits and by wreaking havoc on the basepaths.
Derek Lowe, SP, Cleveland Indians
There's no love lost between Derek Lowe and Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, and the two of them will cross paths once again on Monday night in Cleveland.
Lowe said last week (via MLB.com) that he had "zero respect" for Baker after he was buzzed by a Mat Latos fastball while batting during Cleveland's 5-3 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati. Baker admitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer that he had indeed ordered Latos to make Lowe feel "uncomfortable," and then he told the media that Lowe used to drink at the ballpark.
As far as baseball feuds go, this one is actually fairly interesting. And indeed, one can't help but wonder what Lowe has in store for Baker's Reds on Monday night at Progressive Field.
The Indians, however, probably couldn't care less about the feud between Lowe and Baker. They only care about Lowe pitching a good ballgame, and that's something he's struggled to do recently. He hasn't had his best stuff in recent weeks, and the Indians have won only one of his last five starts.
So they'll be looking for a good performance out of Lowe on Monday night, and they'll be looking for another good performance out of him on Sunday when he makes his second start of the week at the Houston Astros.
Cleveland has lost five of six and is now just a game and a half up on the third-place Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. If Lowe doesn't have his best stuff this week, there's a chance the Indians will be out of second place in the division by the end of the week.
CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees
The numbers suggest that CC Sabathia is having a typical CC Sabathia season. He has eight wins and a 3.70 ERA, and he's pitched 92.1 innings in his 13 starts.
Sabathia has been far from perfect, however. He's eating plenty of innings, but he's given up a lot of hits and quite a few runs this season. In fact, he's only had one start this season in which he's allowed one earned run or fewer.
As strange as it feels to say it, Sabathia is currently the weak link in a Yankees rotation that has been money in the month of June. He's allowed nine earned runs in his three June starts, and the rest of the rotation has allowed a grand total of 14 earned runs in 12 starts.
Sabathia will get two chances to join in the fun this week. He'll start against Mike Minor and the Atlanta Braves on Monday night at Yankee Stadium, and he'll wrap up the week with a start against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Sunday.
In that game, he'll be opposed by R.A. Dickey, who is as hot as any pitcher in baseball right now. On paper, it's a matchup that should favor Sabathia, but that's not the case. Nobody should be betting against Dickey right now.
That game will be Sabathia's chance to show that he's still the ace of the Bombers' staff. They'll be counting on him.
Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are finally starting to play some good baseball. They've won three series in a row, and six of nine games overall. They have the Indians in their sights, and they're only three games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox.
Over the weekend, the Tigers got good work out of Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, who combined to allow no earned runs in 14 innings of work. For a team that has struggled to get consistent work out of its starting rotation, watching the two of them go to work was a welcome sight.
Now, the Tigers will look to Justin Verlander to keep the good pitching vibes alive. If he does, the Tigers could find themselves in second place in the Central by the end of the week, or maybe even in first place.
Verlander will make two starts this week. The first will be on Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, and he'll be opposed by 10-game winner Lance Lynn. That's a game that could turn into a classic pitcher's duel, in which case Verlander will have to be the better man for the Tigers to win.
On Sunday, Verlander will take on the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team he very nearly no-hit back in May. If he comes anywhere close to achieving the dominance he had in that start, the Tigers ought to have an easy win.
Basically, Verlander just needs to be himself this week. That shouldn't be a lot to ask, but anybody who has watched him pitch this season will know that he's shown cracks in his armor at times. The Tigers can't have him doing so again.
A Few More
Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Toronto Blue Jays
He's hitting .293 this month, but with a mere .366 slugging percentage. He has yet to hit a home run in June and has only collected two RBI. The Jays, meanwhile, are struggling to keep pace in the AL East.
Nick Hagadone, RP, Cleveland Indians
He's allowed six earned runs in his last two appearances, including four in a single inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that outing, he walked four and gave up three hits, including one home run. Not good.
Russell Martin, C, New York Yankees
He has one hit in 18 at-bats since his big two-homer day against the New York Mets.
Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
He's two for his last 22 with no extra-base hits and no RBI. He has eight strikeouts in those 22 at-bats.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Baseball's best rookie has finally gone into a slump. Trout is two for his last 21 with one RBI and no runs scored.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox
Youkilis isn't making it easy for the Red Sox to trade him. He's 5-for-39 this month with two extra-base hits and one RBI to go along with 10 strikeouts.
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