10 Struggling MLB Players Who Should Be Benched for the Stretch Run
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Only two weeks remain in the 2013 MLB regular season, meaning it's all or nothing for a handful of teams in division and wild card races, while others will simply coast down the stretch run.
With a 40-man roster at their expense, each manager has the unique opportunity in September to play the hot hand and toy with roster combinations as the playoffs quickly approach.
Inconsistent play and waiver-wire deals may pave the way to the bench for 10 MLB starters as each game becomes ever more important in the waning days of 2013.
Let's take a look at who might be losing playing time.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference
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For a couple years in 2008 and 2009, it looked like Nate McLouth could be a consistent 20-home run, 80-RBI slugger from the left side of the plate. However, since his days in Pittsburgh, the 31-year-old hasn't produced quite to that level.
Batting .267 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI through 133 games in 2013, McLouth should be limited to situational at-bats through out the remainder of the season as the Baltimore Orioles hunt after an AL wild card spot.
His weak .213/.292/.361 slash line against left-handed pitching is a hole in what has become a good-hitting Orioles lineup filled with names like Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
The O's dealt for former Seattle Mariner Mike Morse, a right-handed bat, who can platoon against left-handers. Morse is only hitting .220 with 13 home runs in 2013, but Baltimore hopes he gets hot and becomes a replica of what he was in 2011 when he mashed 31 home runs.
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In what has become increasingly evident to Red Sox manager John Farrell, shortstop Stephen Drew should have nothing to do with left-handed pitching.
Signed to a one-year, $9-million contract in the offseason, some thought it was a steep price to pay for the fragile, weak-hitting shortstop, with his sure-handedness in the field being the only upside.
Well, Drew's .272 batting average and OPS just under .830 in the second half would prove otherwise.
His .184/.240/.338 slash line against lefties is another story.
The Red Sox have shortstop-of-the-future Xander Bogaerts in the majors on the 40-man roster, and he has been taking some starts against left-handed hurlers. It remains to be seen whether or not Bogaerts will make the playoff roster.
With the best record in baseball, Boston should be able to give players some time off in the next two weeks, meaning Drew will see limited playing time against lefties.
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Who is the man roaming right field for the New York Yankees? Does anyone know him?
For those of us who have followed Ichiro Suzuki through his 13 major league seasons, the majority of them spent in Seattle, the image of the iron horse and career .319 batter is a thing of the past.
Over 2,700 hits to his name, Ichiro's wonderfully fluid swing is no longer producing from the bottom half of the Yankees lineup. In fact, his .194 batting average over the last two weeks with just one extra-base hit and one RBI is becoming a liability.
However, after the announcement that leadoff man Brett Gardner may miss the rest of the regular season with a rib cage injury, the Yankees have no choice but to leave Ichiro in the lineup.
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I mentioned Michael Bourn in my article last week, stating he was a star player for the Cleveland Indians who needed to step up big in order for his team to make the playoffs.
How did Bourn respond?
In eight games, the center fielder has gone 7-for-32 (.219) with two extra-base hits and four RBI. It isn't stellar, but his Indians did win five of those eight games and stand just 1.5 games back of an AL wild card spot.
Manager Terry Francona is trying to figure out how to properly use utility outfielder Ryan Raburn, who has been excellent in limited at-bats recently. In just 11 at-bats over the past couple weeks, Raburn has six hits (four of them doubles and one a home run) and 11 RBI. He hits better against left-handed pitching—a .326 average compared to .258 against righties.
I'm not saying Bourn will be benched, as the Indians don't have anyone else to hit at the top of the order. But based off his under-productive play in 2013, he may lose some at-bats late in games.
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So hear me out.
If the Tigers can gain a couple more games on the Indians in the AL Central to pad their division lead, why not rest the anchor of their offense? Cabrera could use the much-needed time off, especially after missing three games in early September due to an abdominal injury.
The current MLB leader in batting average (.348) and RBI (133), Cabrera has been on a down-swing over his last eleven games. During the span, he is just 7-for-41 (.171) with one extra-base hit and three RBI as he has watched his batting average dip below .350 for the first time since April 20.
Cabrera is up against Chris Davis for the AL MVP, but with a second consecutive Triple Crown likely out of reach, his readiness for the playoffs should be a priority. A little rest would help.
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David Murphy, who batted .304 with a .380 OBP last season, has struggled to see the ball well in 2013.
In what he described to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram as a "five-month slump," Murphy's .220/.281/.376 slash line has become a sore spot in the Rangers' lineup and caused him to lose some playing time.
Manager Ron Washington has chosen to ride the hot bat as of late, meaning Jim Adduci has been starting over Murphy. Adduci is hitting .308 with two walks since his major-league debut on September 1.
The Rangers, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games, cling to the AL wild card lead and finish up an important series against the division-rival Athletics today.
A spark in Murphy's bat would be key, especially after the loss of Nelson Cruz. Whether or not he'll get playing time is the question.
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Dan Uggla is the most expensive player on the Atlanta Braves' roster in 2013 at $13.1 million, yet he may not even be in the starting lineup down the stretch.
And for good reason!
Uggla's .180 batting average in 2013 actually reflects well on his current status.
As Elliot Johnson—who is being paid 1/26th of Uggla's contract—takes over the majority of playing time at second base, Uggla has batted just .127 in the second half and has just five hits in his last 65 at-bats dating back to August 3. That's an .077 average for those checking at home. He also struck out 24 times over that span. Ouch.
Despite the pop in his bat (he does have 21 home runs on the season), Uggla is no doubt a liability at the plate. While he may not agree with manager Fredi Gonzalez's decision to leave him out of the starting lineup day after day, he may have to get used to it heading into the postseason.
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How the Braves have the best record in the National League with their two most expensive players barely producing is a mystery to many.
B.J. Upton, who is being paid just over $13 million this season, has the second-worst WAR total in the game at -1.7, according to Baseball Reference.
His .191 batting average, nine home runs and 26 RBI is a far cry from what the Braves anticipated out of the 29-year-old outfielder in 2013. For reference, Upton batted .246 with 28 home runs and 78 RBI in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jordan Schafer has taken over some responsibility in center field for the Braves, and MLB.com's Mark Bowman made the case for the necessity of having Schafer at the top of the lineup, especially without Jason Heyward for the time being.
With home-field advantage through the NL playoffs at stake, Upton may be watching from the bench.
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Garrett Jones hasn't done anything necessarily wrong to be benched, but as the Pirates enter the stretch run in a tight NL Central race, including six games against the Cincinnati Reds, Jones may lose some playing time.
As the Pirates have locked in their first winning season since 1992, the team has added roster depth as it makes the playoff push—Marlon Byrd came over from the Mets and Justin Morneau from the Twins.
Unfortunately for Jones, his two primary positions are the outfield and first base, which just happen to be the two positions Byrd and Morneau cover. Already seeing a decrease in playing time, Jones hasn't been taking advantage of the at-bats he's been given, going 4-for-21 (.190) over his past 10 games.
The upside: he will be a great bat off the bench come crunch time.
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There is no obvious choice for the St. Louis Cardinals at shortstop. Daniel Descalso (.236/.289/.359) and Pete Kozma (.218/.274/.273) have been platooning the position at the direction of manager Mike Matheny for the better part of the season.
Two reasons Descalso should be benched in favor of Kozma, however, are Kozma's superior fielding ability and the hope that Kozma can recapture the spark of last September when he hit .343 with 10 extra-base hits and 14 RBI.
Kozma had a terrible August featuring an .063 average but has seemed to find his swing again, hitting .273 through 22 at-bats this month.
Both Kozma and Descalso have started six games so far in September, but don't be surprised if Matheny relies more heavily on Kozma down the stretch.