1. Give the ball to Wainwright
The majors are more stocked with pitchers these days than the government is with pork. Talk about excess. Used to be, we talked incessantly about how expansion had diluted pitching. Now, Tim Lincecum is no-hitting the Padres every time you look up. Oink.
So here comes National League manager Mike Matheny, headed to the Land of 10,000 Pitching Decisions next week in Minnesota, and forget All-Star Game innings three through nine. Those are other decisions. The 10,000 Decisions simply involve the various angles Matheny will be faced with in determining which one of three brilliant pitchers will start for the NL, looking to ruin this year’s Derek Jeter-palooza.
Adam Wainwright deserves to start based on his major league-leading 1.79 ERA and second-in-the-NL 0.92 WHIP, right? Absolutely.
Clayton Kershaw deserves to start based on his incredible current streak of 36 consecutive scoreless innings and on his astoundingly silly strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 115-12, right? Definitely.
Johnny Cueto deserves to start based on his NL-best 0.87 WHIP, .176 opponents' batting average and 131.1 innings pitched, right? Unquestionably.
Good luck to Matheny on this one. Even the Cardinals sitting on that bat on the front of his St. Louis jersey are covering their eyes and ducking.
Start with one simple fact: There is no wrong decision here. Each one of these three aces absolutely should start Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic at Target Field.
Now, move along to this: Cross the T’s, dot the I’s and carry the ones…and Wainwright should get the ball.
Actually, by one very objective power poll (mine), here’s the ranking: 1. Cueto, 2. Wainwright, 3. Kershaw.
Now, hear me out.
Kershaw is mentioned in the same breath as Sandy Koufax so often these days in Los Angeles that you’d think Vin Scully called each of their no-hitters. (Wait, he did! All four of Koufax’s, including the perfecto, and Kershaw’s this year against Colorado.) The only reason Kershaw ranks behind Cueto and Wainwright in my eyes is through no fault of his own: workload.
Kershaw was sidelined earlier this year with a sore upper back muscle and, consequently, has thrown 44 fewer innings than Cueto and 43.2 fewer innings than Wainwright this season. That’s significant.
If you want to give Kershaw the ball Tuesday as sort of a lifetime-achievement award based on his winning two Cy Young Awards in the past three seasons, that’s a legitimate argument. But it would be far more legitimate if his closest two competitors were young guns without much on their resumes.
Instead, Cueto was totally screwed out of the All-Star Game two years ago, when Tony La Russa managed his final one, and still has never been to a Midsummer Classic.
Wainwright is the best active pitcher to never have won a Cy Young Award.
Each man is a veteran and has helped pitch his team into October.
These reasons are why, for me, Matheny’s decision should come down Cueto or Wainwright.
From there, Cueto has the better WHIP (0.87 to 0.92), better opponents’ batting average (.176 to .201) and more strikeouts (130 to 111).
But…Cueto is slated to start Sunday for the Reds, which, barring any sort of adjustment, will make him ineligible to start Tuesday.
Which leaves us with Wainwright. Who, by the way, owns the highest pitchers’ WAR (according to Baseball-Reference.com) among the three at 4.7. Kershaw is at 3.7 and Cueto is at 3.3.
He’s the man.
2. The Athletics, fireworks and the Fourth of July
Of the many reasons why Oakland’s Billy Beane hit a grand slam in striking for both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs before most folks had digested their Fourth of July hot dogs and blueberry ice cream, here is one not to be overlooked: timing.
Yes, Samardzija and Hammel as a package are a Bay Bridge-sized addition to an Athletics rotation already ranked first in the AL with a cumulative 3.11 ERA.
But acquiring them on July 4 instead of closer to the July 31 deadline was no small part of Beane’s masterstroke.
By pulling the trigger that early, the Athletics should get an extra nine or 10 starts combined from Samardzija and Hammel before July 31 even arrives.
The deal is reminiscent of when Brewers general manager Doug Melvin acquired CC Sabathia from the Indians on July 7, 2008.
Milwaukee got an extra five starts from Sabathia that July before the 31st even arrived, during which Sabathia went 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA over 38.2 innings pitched. The Brewers? They earned the NL wild-card berth that season—by one game over the New York Mets.
Who says playoff berths can’t be won in July?
The Tigers’ Justin Verlander may have instantly analyzed the blockbuster as Oakland dealing in preparation for facing the Tigers again in October, but no way is it just that.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about October in July when you have Mike Trout hitting game-winning homers every other night,” Beane said on a conference call after the deal.
In making this swap early, Beane just bought even more insurance as the A’s work on keeping the Angels and Mariners below them.
3. Fins to the left, fins to the right of Wrigley Field
Memo to angry Cubs fans burning up the telephone lines on Windy City talk radio: Club president Theo Epstein laid out a detailed blueprint when he accepted the job in the autumn of 2011, and it revolved around restocking the farm system from the ground up.
Yes, the losing in Wrigley Field is getting old. Yes, you would think the major-market Cubs could spend more money. And yes, when Epstein and Co. fired their own hand-picked manager, Dale Sveum, it deservedly rattled confidence in Cubs leadership.
But for those questioning the deal of the Shark, Samardzija, and Hammel to the Athletics…sorry, but from here, it looks like good business by the Cubs, especially because it aligns with the overall master plan.
Shortstop Addison Russell is only 20, and outfielder Billy McKinney is 19. They were rated as the top two players in Oakland’s farm system before this season by Baseball America. We’re not talking a couple of mid-20-somethings. These two are young enough that their ceiling remains exceptionally high.
Yes, the Cubs' system now is overloaded at shortstop with Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Russell. So here are a couple of options: One of them could bump over to second base during the next year or two. One could wind up in the outfield. Or, the Cubs could use one of them as a trade chip to fill a weakness in another spot on the roster.
Maybe in a perfect world, rebuilding clubs go around the diamond filling holes and upgrading position by position. But due to talent or a lack of resources (available talent from other clubs), it’s not always possible to move forward in a linear fashion. Sometimes the best way to fill a hole in, say, center field, is by acquiring multiple shortstops and then spinning one of them off.
That’s not to say the Cubs are going to do that here. But acquiring young talent has never been more important than it is in today’s game, and within that, do not discount the value of using some of those resources as trade chips in the future.
Sure, there are no guarantees that what Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and Co. are doing will work. But I do know this: It’s got a far better chance of working than if a year or two in, they started looking for shortcuts and stayed with their vision in some areas but not in others. That’s a straight line toward making a colossal mess.
As it is, the Cubs now employ three of the top 14 prospects listed in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list entering 2014, six of the top 41 and eight of the top 100.
As the fellas in Dumb & Dumber might say, so you’re saying the Cubs have a chance? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
4. Yankees get McCarthy, the Bronx sleeps
Brandon McCarthy is not a tabloid’s back-page dream. When the Yankees trade for a pitcher who is 3-10 with a 5.10 ERA over 18 starts this season, it ain’t exactly like the second-coming of David Wells, David Cone or even Jimmy Key.
Now if GM Brian Cashman could hijack David Price from division-rival Tampa Bay, or acquire Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels from the Phillies, now we’re talking. Of course, Lee has been out since May 19 with a strained elbow and is only now on an injury-rehab assignment.
That said, in the absence of Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and, probably, even, Sabathia for the season, the Yankees have to do…something. Their rotation ranks eighth in the AL with a 3.97 ERA and, more worrisome, ninth in innings pitched at 795.1.
At this rate, those aren’t going to be inflatable dinosaur floaties you see bobbing past at the Jersey Shore. They’re going to be the worn-out arms of the Yanks’ bullpen.
No, McCarthy isn’t the answer to unlocking the AL East in New York. But the veteran could be part of the answer to pitching deeper into games, which at least would give both the Yankees and their bullpen a chance.
Meanwhile, he does bring along somebody who might be a tabloid’s dream. His wife, Amanda, fired off this excellent tweet shortly after the trade:
5. Wither David Price?
Settle down, all of you trade-deadline junkies: With the Rays suddenly having won eight of 10, there is no guarantee that they will trade ace lefty David Price. The latest word from sources is that GM Andrew Friedman and their baseball brain trust will gather at the All-Star break to discuss the future.
And one thing they are well aware of is that their club, under manager Joe Maddon, has built an impressive history of second-half runs. Stay tuned.
6. Do you really want another Cardinals All-Star starter?
Why, heck yes, the fans said. And so Yadier Molina will start at catcher for the NL ahead of Jonathan Lucroy despite Lucroy’s more deserving offensive numbers this season and, well, this very funny campaign video the Brewers produced:
Lucroy is outslugging Molina .907 to .753, has out-RBI’d him 44 to 30 and has a higher batting average (.326 to .289).
Now, the question is whether Cards manager Mike Matheny will put him in the game. The answer surely is yes, but Matheny did not appreciate the above video.
"I think you have to take it in the nature in which it was meant, and it was meant to be geared toward their fanbase," Matheny told reporters last month, via MLB.com. "It was just amazing that it was that much directed at our organization. I think that part probably caught me off guard the most.
"Not saying that's surprising. We've gone through this the last few years, especially last year with the Cardinal Way stuff getting blown way out of proportion. I think it can put a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouth. But in defense of the recognition that our guys have had—whether it's having a number of guys on the All-Star team—that stuff isn't just handed out. These guys have worked hard for that. They have deserved it, and they have earned it, and I don't think that's anything for us to apologize for."
7. Intramural steroid squabbles
Did you see what Red Sox starter John Lackey said after the Orioles’ Nelson Cruz went 3-for-3 Saturday with a home run and a double against him in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader?
"I’m not even going to comment on him,” Lackey told reporters, via The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham. "I’ve got nothing to say about him. There are some things I’d like to say, but I’m not going to."
Added Lackey: "You guys [in the media] forget pretty conveniently about stuff."
Cruz, you’ll remember, was hit with a 50-game suspension last summer while with the Rangers for ties to Biogenesis. His manager had his back, though.
"He might want to be careful, I think. Everyone might want to make sure that their own backyard is real clear," Orioles manager Buck Showalter fired back in a thinly veiled reference to David Ortiz’s name being leaked as failing a performance-enhancing drug test in 2003.
8. Land of the free, home of the Braves
Fueled by a nine-game winning streak, the Atlanta Braves were back to 10 games over .500 to start the week, half a game ahead of the Nationals in the NL East.
Get this: During the team's nine-game wining streak, five of those contests were decided by two or fewer runs. Yet, Atlanta outscored its opponents 50-22 during the streak (while going homerless in six of the nine games).
The Braves averaged 5.6 runs per game during the streak after averaging only 3.7 during their previous 23, dating back to June 10.
9. By the numbers
Two things, courtesy of stats maven Bill Chuck, @BillyBall:
- The Red Sox dropped into last place in the AL East on Sunday, and if you’re wondering, the last team to sink from a World Series title to last place the next season was the Marlins, in 1997 and 1998.
- Clubs headed west had better be extra careful: The Angels (51-36) owned the best home record in baseball entering the week (30-14), and the Athletics (55-33) were next (28-15).
9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week
As the Giants and A’s meet this week, a potential preview of another Bay Bridge World Series, anyone?
“Sittin' in the morning sun
“I'll be sittin' when the evening comes
“Watching the ships roll in
“Then I watch them roll away again, yeah
“I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
“Watchin' the tide roll away, ooh
“I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
“I left my home in Georgia
“Headed for the Frisco Bay
“’Cuz I've had nothing to live for
“And look like nothing's gonna come my way
“So, I'm just gon' sit on the dock of the bay
“Watchin' the tide roll away, ooh
“I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
— Otis Redding, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay
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.
Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here.
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