MLB Team of the Week: Cano, Rollins, Wainwright and Puig Star
Major League Baseball is a mercurial sport. And by that I mean the fortunes of an MLB player can turn on a dime.
Some players—who were of almost no use—will suddenly come alive and carry their team to several victories. Conversely, players who were performing at a high level can go through stretches where it seems each ball they hit hard goes right to someone.
Take Boston's David Ortiz, for example. From May 6 to May 14, he had a .552/.606/1.172 slash line with five home runs and eight RBI and was the hottest hitter in MLB. Since then, he is hitting a woeful .115 and has a .348 OPS.
Just like that, Ortiz has gone from hero to hindrance.
So which players have stepped it up over the past seven days? For the sake of brevity, things are going to be straightforward here. One pitcher and one player from each position, including designated hitter, will represent MLB as a whole.
To be sure, this isn’t science. And for every player presented, there will be an argument for another. But isn’t that what makes MLB so much fun to follow?
Brandon Moss, 1B, Oakland A's
2014 Stats: .291/.383/.576, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 25 R, 11 2B, 2 3B, 166 wRC+
As hard as Miguel Cabrera tried, he couldn’t take the starring role away from Oakland A’s first baseman Brandon Moss this past week. Moss has one swing against the Tampa Bay Rays to thank for the separation.
On a 0-2 count Wednesday evening at Tropicana Field, he took an Erik Bedard curveball over the fence in right field for a solo home run. The homer ended up being the only hit the A’s had in the game and would account for the winning run in what ended up being a 3-2 victory.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, “it was the first time the A’s have won a regular-season game with just one hit since at least 1914.” Moreover, the home run was indicative of the kind of lift Moss has provided to the A’s lineup all season. He has simply been clutch.
To be sure, that one swing wasn’t the only reason he gets the nod here. He did go 6-for-10 during a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians with four doubles, one triple and six RBI. That is the type of production the left-handed hitter will need to continually provide if the A’s are going to take the AL West.
Last Week’s Stats: .364/.500/.955, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 288 wRC+
Honorable Mention: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion had a fantastic week in his own right, collecting 6 R, 5 HR and 9 RBI. It was a very close call due to his power surge, but huge differences in batting average (.280 vs. .364) and on-base percentage (.357 vs. .500) were the tiebreakers of sorts.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .322/.372/.428, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 21 R, 11 2B, 3B, 116 wRC+
Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is rounding into form after a rather inauspicious start. And last week was his best one to date—by a wide margin. In six games, he raised his average from .304 to .322 and his slugging percentage went from .391 to .428.
And going into action on Thursday, "Cano had reached base in 28 consecutive games, dating to April 20,” per Ryan Divish from The Seattle Times. The streak represents the longest of Cano’s career and is also the longest one running in MLB right now. To say that the Mariners sorely need the production is an understatement.
See, nobody in the lineup with the exception of outfielder James Jones (.321) is hitting above .270, and he only has 53 at-bats. The situation is that dire for manager Lloyd McClendon.
A few more weeks like this and Cano will once again establish himself among the most feared hitters in the American League, regardless of whether or not he is hitting home runs.
Last Week’s Stats: .458/.481/.708, HR, 6 RBI, 223 wRC+
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .276/.376/.455, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 26 R, 6 HR, 6 2B, 2 3B, 132 wRC+
CBS Sports’ Chris Cwik recently opined that “Jimmy Rollins has apparently found the fountain of youth.” Cwik is particularly excited since the shortstop has increased his fantasy value quite a bit, but the Philadelphia Phillies are ecstatic because they need Rollins to anchor a lineup that has had its share of problems this season.
What made Rollins even more valuable to the Phillies this past week is that he is getting on base more often than usual, which is driving his wRC+ through the roof. Last week, for example, he had a 22.2 percent walk rate and a 216 wRC+, per FanGraphs.
Last Week’s Stats: .333/.481/.667, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 216 wRC+
Cody Asche, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .258/.346/.425, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 8 2B, 112 wRC+
Cody Asche went on a tear for the Philadelphia Phillies over the last seven days. And after only collecting two hits over his previous seven games, the production came at exactly the right time.
For the week, Asche had at least two hits and scored at least one run in three contests. It was quite impressive—if not expected.
The Good Phight's John Stolnis put it this way:
Like a late afternoon summer squall that seemingly comes out of nowhere on an otherwise sunny day, the ‘good’ Cody Asche emerges from his periodic funks with ferocious production.
Happily, Asche’s offensive explosions are a little more pleasant than a torrential downpour.
Whether or not Asche can continue to put up numbers like these is another story altogether, but he has been outstanding recently.
Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson was in the mix here, but Donaldson's awful series against the Tampa Bay Rays put Asche over the top.
Last Week’s Stats: .417/.481/.625, HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, 210 wRC+
Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: .327/.380/.606, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 10 2B, 160 wRC+
He hit safely in six out of seven games with an extra-base knock in four of them. He is also a model of consistency in creating runs. His wRC+ for the season is 160, and he maintained that pace this past week, compiling a 162 mark.
While Miguel Cabrera takes much of the attention, Martinez has been the offensive show in Detroit, leading the American League in both batting average (.327) and slugging percentage (.606). Talk about an unheralded contribution. Martinez should make an appearance at this year’s All-Star Game.
Last Week’s Stats: .290/.353/.645, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 162 wRC+
Michael Brantley, LF, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: .303/.369/.528, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 11 2B, 3B, 154 wRC+
Rapidly, Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley is turning into the player the front office and fanbase alike expected him to be. As a matter of fact, he has become one of the best outfielders in baseball.
Per The Plain Dealer’s Zack Meisel:
Perhaps no game exemplifies Brantley's progression into a five-tool player better than Wednesday's 11-10 win against Detroit. The left fielder collected four hits, stole two bases, scored two runs, tallied three RBIs, went 2-for-3 with runners in scoring position, drove in a pair of runs with two outs and socked a game-tying RBI single in the 13th inning.
It’s only one game, but that is emblematic of the rest of Brantley’s season. Just consider that entering play on Thursday he has recorded at least one base hit in 36 out of 45 games.
Brantley—who opened the season as the everyday center fielder but has since switched primarily to left—has been key to the Indians' recent run, compiling a .467/.529/.800 slash line during the recent three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.
Last Week’s Stats: .419/.500/.742, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 249 wRC+
Denard Span, CF, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .263/.315/.377, HR, 11 RBI, 10 2B, 3B, 6 SB, 92 wRC+
Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span stands out at his position based upon his last seven games. Sure, A.J. Pollock from the Arizona Diamondbacks has better cumulative numbers, but he is riding a weekend series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers during which he hit .667 and had a 1.859 OPS, per splits over at Baseball-Reference.com, and that’s about it.
Span, on the other hand, has been consistent throughout the week, collecting hits in four out of seven contests. And during that stretch, he has raised his batting average from .243 to .263 and his slugging percentage has gone from .336 to .384.
Of course it helps that he went 5-for-5 against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday with two doubles and two runs scored, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he has been the most productive at his position for the week’s entirety.
Last Week’s Stats: .387/.441/.581, HR, 4 RBI, 3 2B, 2 SB, 187 wRC+
Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .331/.423/.607, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 11 2B, 2 3B, 4 SB, 190 wRC+
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig is the gift that keeps on giving. And last week, he gave a lot.
On May 16, he went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. Four days later, he ended up with almost identical numbers, going 3-for-6 with two more runs scored but only knocked in one. To top his week off, he made a jaw-dropping catch on Thursday night that reminds us all of just how athletic he is.
And don’t expect Puig to slow down anytime soon. As Dalton Del Don from Yahoo Sports’ Roto Arcade noted, he has improved in almost every metric, including his discipline at the dish.
With that as a backdrop, expect to see the polarizing player on this list a few more times this season. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Puig will continue seeing pitches thanks to a lineup that features a resurgent Adrian Gonzalez and an overperforming Dee Gordon.
Last Week’s Stats: .375/.464/.875, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 270 wRC+
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: .329/.361/.467/, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 11 2B, 130 wRC+
It seems as though St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina may be distancing himself from the rest of the pack in the National League. Last week was that good for the veteran.
And it’s not so much the weight of the numbers he put up, it’s the consistency with which he did it. Never mind that he had nine hits this past week, for example. Focus instead on the fact that he collected at least two hits in four out of six games.
And as usual, Molina is playing exceptional defense. Put everything together and there wasn’t another catcher who was as productive as he was this past week.
Now it must be noted that Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers and Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers both had nice weeks, but Molina’s multi-hit consistency gives him the edge.
Last Week’s Stats: .429/.440/.524, 2 RBI, 3 R, 155 wRC+
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: 7-2, 1.85, 65 K, 15 BB, 73.0 IP
They weren’t one-hit, complete-game shutouts, though. That stat line belongs to Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, who dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday evening.
Needing 115 pitches to make it through nine innings, Wainwright pounded the strike zone to the tune of 86 strikes and finished the night with nine K's. The only hit he allowed was a double by Paul Goldschmidt in the fourth inning.
He was in complete command, “freezing guys in two-strike counts all night,” according to CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry. A performance like that makes this decision a no-brainer.
Last Week’s Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 9 K, 1 H, 0 BB, 9.0 IP
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs. Weekly statistics were taken from the "leaders" page at FanGraphs and are for the week ending Thursday, May 22. Transaction, injury, scouting reports and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.