1. July 1, the trade deadline approaches, and it’s last call for...
Boston Red Sox: Last October’s iconic photo, Koji Uehara fanning Matt Carpenter to end Game 6 and clinch the World Series title, has been replaced by this year’s most recent snapshot: A.J. Pierzynski twice punching the top of the Sox dugout in Sunday night’s tough win over the Yankees.
So desperate are the Sox, they’ve actually linked themselves with one of the most infamous names in their history: Mookie. Looking for something to jump-start a dormant offense, they summoned hot prospect Mookie Betts, 21, over the weekend. No relation to Mookie Wilson, but those scarred from 1986 still shudder.
Nearing the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency stage, Sox scouts are crisscrossing the country looking for bats to help. Don’t be surprised if Boston takes a run at San Diego’s Seth Smith this month. Until then, manager John Farrell is hoping an infusion of youth will help ignite things: Betts, who has played just 77 games above the Class A level and was not even invited to spring training in February. Jackie Bradley Jr. Brock Holt. Xander Bogaerts.
Along with Stephen Drew, those four rookies figure to share four positions: center field, right field, shortstop and third base. And if Pierzynski does not start hitting, we might see prospect Blake Swihart before too much longer. The Red Sox rank dead last—15th—in the AL in runs scored.
“They’re in a better position than [the Yankees] to make a run because of, I think, starting pitching,” one longtime scout says. “Jon Lester is very good, Jake Peavy, John Lackey...it’s going to be interesting to see how Clay Buchholz does. That will be a key.
“I think their rotation, potentially, could be the best in the division. I think the infusion of youth, the young left-hander leading off [Holt], the kid has been a plus. The catcher has been disappointing, and they haven’t done well offensively. I would be more comfortable and confident in Boston really having a much better second half.”
New York Yankees: You look at the standings, and the numbers still don’t add up. Not even close. How the Yanks could be only two games back in the AL East starting the week with three-fifths of their rotation out for an extended period of time, well, that’s more impressive than Jimmy Fallon’s lip-syncing.
Manager Joe Girardi is doing a wonderful job, and the bullpen has been darn near worthy of its own monument (speaking of which, kudos to the Yanks for forging one for Goose Gossage).
But the Yankees also had a chance to land something close to a knockout blow on a wholly uninspired Red Sox club over the weekend and failed to do so. How long until that comes back to haunt them?
Jacoby Ellsbury’s absence is killing Boston, and his presence isn’t what the Yankees need. The Sox have been unable to figure out their leadoff slot all year. In New York, the Yanks have two leadoff hitters—Ellsbury and Brett Gardner—and not enough middle-of-the-order hitters. Carlos Beltran has been a disaster. Brian McCann isn’t hitting as much as expected. So Ellsbury is in the three-hole but without the power the Yanks need.
“They’ve really, really overachieved this year,” our scout says. “They’re going to run into a lot of problems because of the rotation. Chase Whitley is a fringy fifth starter. He’s more of a long-relief/starter guy who really doesn’t have an out pitch. David Phelps, same situation. Vidal Nuno just pitched the best game of his life, but he’s got fringy stuff, too. Unless he’s got plus-plus command, he’s in deep doo-doo.
“The thing that’s saving them is the back end of the pen. Dellin Betances might be the best reliever in the game at this moment, as we speak.”
The Yankees need at least one starter in July, if not a couple, and the Yangervis Solarte fable has run its course. They’re shopping for a third baseman as well, according to sources. They just don’t have many prospects to deal.
Philadelphia Phillies: What the last 10 days have shown is that Philadelphia’s little five-game winning streak that pulled it to within 3.5 games of first place in the NL East on June 20 was a mirage. Question is, will a stubborn Phillies front office that continues to ride hard the Ryan Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins horses accept that a significant retooling is needed?
The Phils went frisky midmonth and voiced optimism that the division was up for grabs. It is. But as expected, it’s up for grabs between the Nationals and Braves. The Phillies’ current 2-8 run is hammering that point home, especially during Atlanta’s four-game sweep in Philadelphia over the weekend.
One of their best trade chips, Cliff Lee, remains on the disabled list with a strained left elbow. The Phils could open shop on Rollins and/or Utley, though that’s a long shot. Kyle Kendrick should attract interest. Marlon Byrd? May as well. Closer Jonathan Papelbon? Why not?
The Phillies need upgrades to the bullpen and outfield. Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
2. AL East status report
So, with the Yankees and Red Sox seriously flawed, the Rays sinking fast and neither the Blue Jays nor the Orioles looking anywhere close to perfect, what to make of things?
“I think the overall best club in the division probably is Baltimore in terms of balance,” one veteran scout says. “Hitting, power, pitching, defense, bench, everything. The Orioles are the most balanced.
“Toronto has the best offense, but they’re not the best defensive club, and there are issues in their rotation.”
Expect Toronto to add a starting pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline (the Jays also need a catcher and third baseman, too). With the Blue Jays poised for October for the first time since 1993, it is incumbent upon general manager Alex Anthopoulos to strike. The Jays have had 10 different scouts look at the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, Hall of Fame baseball writer Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports.
Still, obtaining Samardzija is no slam dunk, and industry sources do not expect the Jays to cave in to the temptation to deal a couple of their own top pitching prospects, Danny Norris and Aaron Sanchez.
Aside from sheer talent, there is another reason why the Jays need to add.
“The thing about Toronto is, they have to learn how to win,” the scout says. “The Cardinals expect to win. Certain teams know how to win, and I think that’s a big factor with Toronto. They’re just waiting to self-destruct.”
3. Yeah, what have you done aside from Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter?
Manager Bruce Bochy is viewing things as a two-week slump.
The swooning Giants’ job is to ensure their manager is correct.
Otherwise, pull the ripcord and duck.
On June 8, the Giants led the NL West by 9.5 games. As of July 1, buried amid a 4-15 stretch, they had kicked away that entire lead and are now a half-game behind the Dodgers.
Of the various issues in San Francisco, these are the biggest:
Closer Sergio Romo blew three consecutive save opportunities in AT&T Park, forcing Bochy to move toward a bullpen by committee that will include Romo, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt.
Leadoff man Angel Pagan has been out since June 14 with a lower-back strain.
The home runs have all but disappeared. Buoyed early by Brandon Belt, Michael Morse and Brandon Hicks, the Giants still rank third in the NL with 77 homers. However, in the month of June, the Giants rank 28th in the majors with only 14 homers.
Lincecum’s no-no last Wednesday could have helped point the Giants back in the proper direction. Instead, they were swept by the Reds in a four-game series for the first time in San Francisco since 1972.
4. The continuing adventures of Dodgers pitching
Making a bid for his third NL Cy Young Award in four seasons, Clayton Kershaw now has run his scoreless streak to 28 consecutive innings.
Dodgers starters rank first in the majors with a 3.03 ERA and have walked two or fewer batters in 33 consecutive games. That’s the longest single-season streak by an NL club since 1914, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and the longest streak in the majors since 2005, when the Twins did it over 36 consecutive games.
As for Kershaw, since he surrendered seven earned runs on May 17, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with two strikes, opposing hitters are 4-for-82 with 63 strikeouts against Kershaw’s breaking ball.
“I don’t think he got enough money,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer quipped to reporters of Kershaw’s $215 million contract.
5. For your trade market consideration
Looking to add a proven starter for the stretch run? David Price has fanned at least 10 hitters in each of his past five starts, and he’s gotten 144 strikeouts and just 14 walks over his last 17 starts.
“I’ve never been as good as I am right now,” Price told reporters, via the Tampa Bay Times, after tipping his cap to fans at Tropicana Field last Wednesday in case it was his final home start. “Period.”
6. Red(s) Alert
At the completion of their first four-game sweep in San Francisco since 1972, the rampaging Reds had won five in a row, eight of nine and, into this week, were 11-3 on the road in the month of June.
Nice pillows? Tasty chocolate mints?
“In large part it’s because of our health,” first-year manager Bryan Price says. “Nobody wanted to use that as an excuse in April and May, but we started with eight players on our 40-man roster on the disabled list, and that affected our 25-man roster.
“As we’ve gotten more whole, with a solid rotation and solid bullpen, we’ve gotten better. We knew we had a good team. We just needed to get healthy.”
Among those who have bounced back off of the DL: first baseman Joey Votto (right quad), outfielder Jay Bruce (knee), starter Tony Cingrani (shoulder), catcher Devin Mesoraco (hamstring), infielder Skip Schumaker (shoulder), closer Aroldis Chapman (eye, nose), setup man Jonathan Broxton (forearm) and starter Mat Latos (elbow and knee).
Votto noticeably is homerless since his June 10 return, with a slugging percentage of only .368. Yet, his on-base percentage since his return is .378.
“Our good fortune is that we don’t have a situation with Joey in the three- or four-hole where we expect him to do all of the damage,” Price says. “He can be a part of it.”
7. The Little Astro Who Could
Miguel Cabrera? Mike Trout?
Houston manager Bo Porter says Jose Altuve is the AL’s Most Valuable Player, and even given Porter’s obvious prejudice toward his own guy, he may be on to something.
Into this week, Altuve, all 5'6" of him, led the AL in batting average (.347), hits (116) and steals (36). If he leads in all three categories at the All-Star break, Altuve will become the first AL player to do so since Ichiro Suzuki with Seattle in 2003.
Already, Altuve is only the third player since 1904 with multiple steals in four consecutive games. He is only the third player in modern major league history to do that, and the first since Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in 1917.
8. Friars say their prayers
You don’t see as many general manager searches as you once did: When the Padres fired Josh Byrnes two Sundays ago, it was the first GM firing since the Astros dispatched Ed Wade following the 2011 season.
Don’t look for the Padres to rush into hiring a replacement for Byrnes. According to multiple sources, the club plans to move forward deliberately and carefully in a search that could extend well into the second half of the season or, possibly, reach a conclusion after the season.
For now, the Padres have instituted a three-man “Office of the General Manager,” and here’s how it will work: A.J. Hinch, who was Byrnes’ assistant, will work as the point person, including working the trade-deadline telephones. Omar Minaya, the former Mets and Expos GM who is senior vice president of baseball operations, will act as the senior adviser to help navigate July. And longtime assistant GM Fred Uhlman will continue in his role as evaluator and contract and rules specialist.
The Padres have concluded that their roster needs a significant overhaul, and several players are expected to be shopped: closer Huston Street, starter Ian Kennedy, outfielder Seth Smith, third baseman Chase Headley and center fielder Cameron Maybin among them.
Meantime, the Padres interviewed former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest on Friday and Logan White, the Dodgers’ vice president of scouting, on Monday.
They are expected to contact Billy Eppler, assistant Yankees GM; Mike Hazen, Red Sox assistant GM; and Thad Levine, assistant Rangers GM.
Two others have declined to interview with the Padres: Jason McLeod, Cubs scouting director, told Chicago reporters that he will stay with the Cubs, and sources say that Athletics assistant GM David Forst also has passed on a chance to interview.
9. Do two closers equal...two closers? One closer?
The Angels and Pirates are about to find out.
In a classic change-of-scenery deal, the two clubs swapped the disappointing Ernesto Frieri for the disappointing Jason Grilli.
Of the 26 closers with at least 10 saves at the time of the deal, Frieri had the worst ERA at 6.39, and Grilli the highest WHIP at 1.62.
No sugarcoating that.
“We are trading a struggling closer for a struggling closer with the idea that a change of scenery will help both,” Angels GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters via the Los Angeles Times.
The Angels bullpen ranks 11th in the AL with a 4.28 ERA, which is one halo-sized clue as to why Dipoto says he will be “surprised” if the Angels don’t deal for more relievers as they try and chase down the Athletics.
9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week
The Giants might be slumping, but some things out of San Francisco never do...
“I know the rent is in arrears
“The dog has not been fed in years
“It's even worse than it appears
“But it's alright
“The cow is giving kerosene
“Kid can't read at seventeen
“The words he knows are all obscene
“But it's alright
“I will get by, I will get by, I will get by
“I will survive”
— Grateful Dead, Touch of Grey
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
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