Biggest Takeaways from This Week's MLB Action
The marathon feel of Major League Baseball's 162-game season can be broken down into easily digestible and debatable segments. As the 2014 campaign enters the stretch run of the first half of the season, let's take a look back on the last week of action.
While making long-term evaluations or declarations based on one week of play can be a fool's errand, each small sample does provide perspective on the season. As the months pass and each game becomes more important in a season full of pennant chases, day-by-day results take on extra meaning.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the last week of MLB action.
It's Time to Sell in Philadelphia
Stick a fork in the Phillies, folks. While you can make the case that the recent run of great baseball in Philadelphia ended at the conclusion of the 2011 NLDS, the Phillies attempted to patchwork a competitive team around aging stars over the last three years.
After injuries and ineffective play derailed the 2012 and 2013 seasons, respectively, 2014 profiled as one last chance for a team that dominated the National League from 2007 to 2011. Entering play on July 3, the Phillies were 36-48, 10.5 games behind the division-leading Braves and given just a 1.1 percent chance of making the postseason, per ESPN.
With reality setting in, logic would dictate a fire sale from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Of course, things aren't as always as simple as logic would dictate. While CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury reported that the team is willing to listen to offers on almost all veterans, actual deals won't be easy to commence.
Before everyone scorches Amaro in the comments section, ownership may be the biggest obstacle to a complete and total rebuild in Philadelphia. David Montgomery, a part-owner and general partner of the franchise, recently expressed a fear of selling off former stars because of how attendance could suffer, per Kevin Cooney of the Bucks County Courier Times.
“Some people say that the Phillies worry too much about attendance," Montgomery said. "Yes, we do. When you are low in attendance, the risk is only on the upside. When you are (drawing well), the risk is dropping any further. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Fear aside, it's time for the Phillies to think about the future.
These Aren't Your 2007 Yankees
After five straight losses, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Rays, the Yankees limped away from home and off to a weekend series in Minnesota. Entering play on July 3, baseball's second-biggest payroll had amounted to a below-.500 (41-42) record through 83 games.
While the Yankees are far from finished in a wide-open postseason race, a losing record in July is alarming for team that hasn't finished below .500 since 1992. Of course, the last time the Yankees had a losing record in July was 2007, a season that ended with 94 victories and an AL wild-card spot.
Making parallels from 2014 to 2007 is a natural course to take, typified by Andrew Marchand's ESPN New York column. The differences between the two teams, however, are too stark to think that the current Yankees can reel off .671 baseball the rest of the way.
When the 2007 Yankees sat at 41-42, the team owned a plus-55 run differential. At the time, a roster led by eventual AL MVP Alex Rodriguez and star-caliber Derek Jeter was underperforming. By the time a young, flamethrower named Joba Chamberlain arrived in August to save the bullpen, a very talented team was realizing its potential.
Seven years later, the AL MVP isn't in the Bronx, a minus-37 run differential suggests the Yankees are actually worse than simply one game below .500, and the minor league system likely isn't ready to produce a game-changing star in August.
If the current Yankees make a run to October, it will likely be because the AL East doesn't have special rivals, not because an excellent team has underachieved since April.
Jose Altuve Is a Star
Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve isn't a household name among baseball fans. In fact, his name and profile are more synonymous with his short stature (5'6") than talent on the diamond. That, if you've been watching the 24-year-old lately, needs to change.
The deserving American League All-Star is much more than a novelty act for the rebuilding Astros. Much like the rise of Dustin Pedroia in Boston during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, it's easy to be distracted by Altuve's less-than-imposing frame. His game, however, is outstanding.
Heading into play on July 3, Altuve was pacing the AL with a .343 batting average, 118 hits and 37 stolen bases. According to ESPN's projections, he is on pace to finish the season with 222 hits and 70 stolen bases.
How rare is that combination of natural hitting ability and base-stealing acumen? It's only been done twice in the history of the game, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required). By the end of September, the Astros second baseman could match a feat only accomplished by Ty Cobb and Willie Wilson.
As the Astros continue to graduate future stars to the big leagues, don't forget the current star who is on track for a special season.
Watch out for the Mariners
On April 22, the Seattle Mariners lost their fourth consecutive game. This one, in particular, was an indictment for a franchise that signed Robinson Cano and Fernando Rodney last winter in an effort to post a winning season for the first time since 2008.
After the 5-2 loss at the hands of the lowly Astros, the Mariners sat at 7-13 and were eerily similar to the listless clubs that have occupied Safeco Field for the last half decade. Since that moment, however, things have changed.
At 47-38, the Mariners are in postseason position in the American League. Thanks to a 40-25 run since the start of play on April 23, Seattle is playing like a team that is ready to make major noise in the second half of the season. With an impressive plus-70 run differential, this group isn't simply winning by luck or smoke and mirrors.
At the start of play on July 3, Seattle's run differential was the second-best in all of baseball, trailing only the Oakland Athletics. To put that number in perspective, the four teams (Boston, Detroit, Atlanta and St. Louis) with a plus-70 mark on that date last season all went on to win at least 93 games and qualify for the playoffs.
Led by Cano's bat (138 OPS+), Felix Hernandez's arm (177 ERA+) and manager Lloyd McClendon, the Mariners are for real. Hernandez, a 10-year-veteran who has seen many teammates and managers come and go in Seattle, recently raved about the chemistry of this group and the Cano-McClendon factor, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
"The chemistry is the best it's ever been in here," Hernandez said. "Everyone is so happy. Lloyd McClendon and Cano are the biggest reasons."
Tampa Bay Isn't Dead Yet
At the start of play on June 25, the Tampa Bay Rays were a whopping 17 games under .500 (31-48), saddled in last place in the American League East and seemingly destined to trade away David Price around the trade deadline.
One week later, things have changed. After winning seven of eight games, including five straight over the Orioles and Yankees, the Rays have crept to within 9.5 games of the AL East lead. If the Rays play well against the Tigers this weekend, perhaps a likely seller will be removed from the upcoming trade market.
That thought was recently echoed by Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
"We really are taking it a day and a week at a time to see where we stand," Sternberg said. "Obviously we have some decisions to make at some point in time potentially—make decisions not to do something, make decisions to do something. I emphasize that when you don't do something that's a decision in itself, so we're always evaluating and making decisions."
Rick Porcello Is on the Path to Riches
When Detroit Tigers starter Rick Porcello threw a complete-game shutout on Tuesday night, accompanied by a 0 BB, 0 K stat line, the potential AL All-Star locked up his 11th win of the season. On the surface, the 25-year-old is an emerging pitcher in the midst of a really good season.
Down the line, we could be looking at one of the most uniquely accomplished young starters that baseball has seen in a long time. As Chris Lott of MLive pointed out, Porcello could be on the path to a $100 million contract when he hits free agency after the 2015 season.
Before scoffing at the notion of a starter with a 4.36 career ERA receiving that kind of money, consider the company Porcello is in among young, durable arms over the last 20 years. Assuming health, Porcello should zoom past 1,200 career innings by the end of the 2015 season. Since 1995, only seven starters have accomplished that, per Baseball-Reference.
While Porcello's stuff and career numbers are more similar to, say, Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle than Felix Hernandez, a young, durable and ascending pitcher is a rare commodity on the open market.
If the Tigers righty backs up a solid first half (3.12 ERA, 3.74 FIP) with a good second half and equally good 2015, don't be shocked if a team offers him a contract in excess of $100 million prior to the 2016 campaign.
Jake Arrieta Serves as a Cautionary Tale for Deadline Deals
Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta has become a no-hitter waiting to happen. Over his last five starts, including a no-hit bid against the Boston Red Sox earlier this week, the 28-year-old has allowed just 14 hits in 34.2 innings pitched. During that span, he's struck out 46 batters.
At this point, calling him dominant isn't enough praise. Amazingly, the former Baltimore Orioles prospect wasn't even on the radar screen for baseball fans prior to this breakout stretch. Entering the 2014 season, Arrieta owned a 5.23 ERA across 78 big league games.
Those numbers were likely a big reason why Baltimore was willing to part ways with its former fifth-round pick during last July's trading season. With Arrieta showing little ability to win at the big league level, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette shipped him to Chicago in a deal for veteran arm Scott Feldman.
One year later, every GM in baseball should look at Arrieta as a cautionary tale. From the moment he was drafted, talent and stuff were evident for the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher. Consistency and confidence, however, were not.
Now, Arrieta has found it. For a grand total of 90.2 innings from Feldman, the Orioles traded away a pitcher who could be morphing into a top-tier starter and must-watch television on a start-by-start basis for the Cubs.
Keep his name in mind when your favorite team considers giving up former highly drafted arms over the next few weeks.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are valid through the start of play on July 3. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
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