What Electric Yasiel Puig Show Would Mean For MLB Home Run Derby Future

If you went into a lab and created the ideal Home Run Derby contestant, he'd look a lot like Yasiel Puig.

No, Puig doesn't boast gaudy power numbers. He hit just 12 home runs in the first half, the fewest among this year's derby participants, and none in the entire month of June.

Yet when the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder takes aim at the bleachers at Minnesota's Target Field Monday, it's a safe bet he'll be the center of attention.

That's just how it goes with Puig. Love him or loathe him, he's a force of nature, an uncontainable mixture of muscle and moxie, brawn and bravado. He was born to perform.

Put it this way: The Home Run Derby needs Puig more than Puig needs it.

Once a must-see event that frequently overshadowed the Midsummer Classic itself, the derby has devolved into a sideshow. The new format is clunky, top hitters often skip it and fans, increasingly, are tuning out.

Part of that is the decline of the home run. In the post-steroid era, baseball is ruled by pitching, defense and situational execution.

The days of the hulking slugger are, if not over, certainly numbered.

Really, though, that should make the prospect of power hitters doing power-hitter things even more intriguing. When middle infielders were hitting 50 jacks, it felt like overkill. 

Now, when they do come, home runs are an event. A genuine spectacle.

And no one knows spectacle like Puig. His brashness rubs plenty of peoplefans, commentators, fellow playersthe wrong way. That's sort of the point: With Puig, no one is indifferent. His allure is undeniable.

He may be known for bat flipping. But when Puig has a bat in his hand, nobody's flipping the channel.

Or so Major League Baseball hopes. Puig's mere presence is enough to inject some intrigue. If he goes off, though, putting on a show complete with deep drives and over-the-top antics, it could propel the event back to relevance—this year and for years to come.

Remember: Puig is just 23 years old. If he has a good showing Monday, he could become a derby fixture and coax other stars to get in on the action. 

Puig isn't the only derby participant worth watching. The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton is a masher second to none. Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's, Puig's fellow Cuban and the defending derby champ, shares his countryman's pop and flair for the dramatic. 

Every member of the derby roster—which also includes Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles and Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's on the AL side, plus Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds and Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies on the NL side—is capable of wowing. That's why they're in the derby.

But with marquee names like Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera opting out, the burden is on Puig to deliver the fireworks.

While Puig's first-half home run total doesn't turn heads, his home runs do. The average "true distance" of a Puig dinger is 417.3 feet, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, fourth-best in all of baseball and second-best among derby participants, eclipsed only by Stanton.

"He has tremendous power,” said Tulowitzki, who as NL captain selected Puig, per the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez. “I’ve seen his BP a couple times." 

Anyone who's watched a Puig batting practice (which, in essence, is what the derby is) can attest to the majesty—the sheer ridiculousness—of his moon shots.

An impressive derby display could also be a step toward acceptance for Puig by the rest of the league, which has yet to fully embrace his irrepressible passion. Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis thinks it's already happening. 

“There’s not as much venom from the other dugout," Ellis told the Los Angeles Daily News' Jill Painter. "He plays with so much heart and emotion. They know it’s genuine."

If Puig manages to make the derby must-watch TV, the appreciation of MLB will be equally genuine.

He wasn't created in a lab. But when it comes to reviving baseball's premier power showcase, Puig might offer the perfect formula. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

What Electric Yasiel Puig Show Would Mean For MLB Home Run Derby Future

If you went into a lab and created the ideal Home Run Derby contestant, he'd look a lot like Yasiel Puig.

No, Puig doesn't boast gaudy power numbers. He hit just 12 home runs in the first half, the fewest among this year's derby participants, and none in the entire month of June.

Yet when the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder takes aim at the bleachers at Minnesota's Target Field Monday, it's a safe bet he'll be the center of attention.

That's just how it goes with Puig. Love him or loathe him, he's a force of nature, an uncontainable mixture of muscle and moxie, brawn and bravado. He was born to perform.

Put it this way: The Home Run Derby needs Puig more than Puig needs it.

Once a must-see event that frequently overshadowed the Midsummer Classic itself, the derby has devolved into a sideshow. The new format is clunky, top hitters often skip it and fans, increasingly, are tuning out.

Part of that is the decline of the home run. In the post-steroid era, baseball is ruled by pitching, defense and situational execution.

The days of the hulking slugger are, if not over, certainly numbered.

Really, though, that should make the prospect of power hitters doing power-hitter things even more intriguing. When middle infielders were hitting 50 jacks, it felt like overkill. 

Now, when they do come, home runs are an event. A genuine spectacle.

And no one knows spectacle like Puig. His brashness rubs plenty of peoplefans, commentators, fellow playersthe wrong way. That's sort of the point: With Puig, no one is indifferent. His allure is undeniable.

He may be known for bat flipping. But when Puig has a bat in his hand, nobody's flipping the channel.

Or so Major League Baseball hopes. Puig's mere presence is enough to inject some intrigue. If he goes off, though, putting on a show complete with deep drives and over-the-top antics, it could propel the event back to relevance—this year and for years to come.

Remember: Puig is just 23 years old. If he has a good showing Monday, he could become a derby fixture and coax other stars to get in on the action. 

Puig isn't the only derby participant worth watching. The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton is a masher second to none. Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's, Puig's fellow Cuban and the defending derby champ, shares his countryman's pop and flair for the dramatic. 

Every member of the derby roster—which also includes Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles and Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's on the AL side, plus Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds and Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies on the NL side—is capable of wowing. That's why they're in the derby.

But with marquee names like Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera opting out, the burden is on Puig to deliver the fireworks.

While Puig's first-half home run total doesn't turn heads, his home runs do. The average "true distance" of a Puig dinger is 417.3 feet, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, fourth-best in all of baseball and second-best among derby participants, eclipsed only by Stanton.

"He has tremendous power,” said Tulowitzki, who as NL captain selected Puig, per the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez. “I’ve seen his BP a couple times." 

Anyone who's watched a Puig batting practice (which, in essence, is what the derby is) can attest to the majesty—the sheer ridiculousness—of his moon shots.

An impressive derby display could also be a step toward acceptance for Puig by the rest of the league, which has yet to fully embrace his irrepressible passion. Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis thinks it's already happening. 

“There’s not as much venom from the other dugout," Ellis told the Los Angeles Daily News' Jill Painter. "He plays with so much heart and emotion. They know it’s genuine."

If Puig manages to make the derby must-watch TV, the appreciation of MLB will be equally genuine.

He wasn't created in a lab. But when it comes to reviving baseball's premier power showcase, Puig might offer the perfect formula. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

What Electric Yasiel Puig Show Would Mean for MLB Home Run Derby Future

If you went into a lab and created the ideal Home Run Derby contestant, he'd look a lot like Yasiel Puig.

No, Puig doesn't boast gaudy power numbers. He hit just 12 home runs in the first half, the fewest among this year's derby participants, and none in the entire month of June.

Yet when the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder takes aim at the bleachers at Minnesota's Target Field Monday, it's a safe bet he'll be the center of attention.

That's just how it goes with Puig. Love him or loathe him, he's a force of nature, an uncontainable mixture of muscle and moxie, brawn and bravado. He was born to perform.

Put it this way: The Home Run Derby needs Puig more than Puig needs it.

Once a must-see event that frequently overshadowed the Midsummer Classic itself, the derby has devolved into a sideshow. The new format is clunky, top hitters often skip it and fans, increasingly, are tuning out.

Part of that is the decline of the home run. In the post-steroid era, baseball is ruled by pitching, defense and situational execution.

The days of the hulking slugger are, if not over, certainly numbered.

Really, though, that should make the prospect of power hitters doing power-hitter things even more intriguing. When middle infielders were hitting 50 jacks, it felt like overkill. 

Now, when they do come, home runs are an event. A genuine spectacle.

And no one knows spectacle like Puig. His brashness rubs plenty of peoplefans, commentators, fellow playersthe wrong way. That's sort of the point: With Puig, no one is indifferent. His allure is undeniable.

He may be known for bat flipping. But when Puig has a bat in his hand, nobody's flipping the channel.

Or so Major League Baseball hopes. Puig's mere presence is enough to inject some intrigue. If he goes off, though, putting on a show complete with deep drives and over-the-top antics, it could propel the event back to relevance—this year and for years to come.

Remember: Puig is just 23 years old. If he has a good showing Monday, he could become a derby fixture and coax other stars to get in on the action. 

Puig isn't the only derby participant worth watching. The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton is a masher second to none. Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's, Puig's fellow Cuban and the defending derby champ, shares his countryman's pop and flair for the dramatic. 

Every member of the derby roster—which also includes Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles and Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's on the AL side, plus Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds and Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies on the NL side—is capable of wowing. That's why they're in the derby.

But with marquee names like Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera opting out, the burden is on Puig to deliver the fireworks.

While Puig's first-half home run total doesn't turn heads, his home runs do. The average "true distance" of a Puig dinger is 417.3 feet, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, fourth-best in all of baseball and second-best among derby participants, eclipsed only by Stanton.

"He has tremendous power,” said Tulowitzki, who as NL captain selected Puig, per the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez. “I’ve seen his BP a couple times." 

Anyone who's watched a Puig batting practice (which, in essence, is what the derby is) can attest to the majesty—the sheer ridiculousness—of his moon shots.

An impressive derby display could also be a step toward acceptance for Puig by the rest of the league, which has yet to fully embrace his irrepressible passion. Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis thinks it's already happening. 

“There’s not as much venom from the other dugout," Ellis told the Los Angeles Daily News' Jill Painter. "He plays with so much heart and emotion. They know it’s genuine."

If Puig manages to make the derby must-watch TV, the appreciation of MLB will be equally genuine.

He wasn't created in a lab. But when it comes to reviving baseball's premier power showcase, Puig might offer the perfect formula. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Dee Gordon Is Top-of-the-Order Catalyst Dodgers Needed to Excel

You've heard the cliche: You can't steal first base.

Dee Gordon has heard it, too. Early in his career, it was all he heard.

Gordon's always had the speed—the blinding, blink-and-you'll-miss-him speed—to be special. The question was whether he could get on base enough to harness it.

Through the first half of 2014, he's answered that question with a resounding yes and provided a much-needed spark atop the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup.

As of Wednesday, Gordon was hitting .299 with a major league-leading 42 steals, to go along with 101 hits, 50 runs and a league-best nine triples.

On June 25, in the Dodgers' 80th game, Gordon swiped his 40th bag, reaching the milestone faster than any Dodgers player not named Maury Wills, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA

Gordon's most important stat, though, is his on-base percentage. In 2012, the only other season in which he logged more than 300 big league plate appearances, Gordon posted a .280 OBP, barely adequate for a back-of-the-bench guy, let alone a leadoff hitter.

This year, he's elevated his OBP to .352. And his game-changing speed has started, well, changing games.

Gordon can turn a bloop single into a man-on-second (or even third) situation in an instant. And he's a gadfly on the basepaths, driving opposing pitchers to distraction, interrupting their rhythm and affording his teammates an advantage at the plate.

"Dee's at a different level," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "With all of the strikeouts and premium on runs, there's a place for speed to come back in the game."

This spring, Time magazine branded another slender speedster "Baseball's Next Big Star." Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds was supposed to be the guy who changed everything with his legs.

And Hamilton is having a solid season. So far, though, Gordon (along with Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros) outpaces him in nearly every major category. 

Rail thin with a less-than-stellar arm, no pop and a shaky glove, Gordon has long been regarded as a one-tool player. Despite his famous pedigree—his dad is former MLB hurler Tom "Flash" Gordon—few ticketed the younger Gordon for stardom.

“It drives me,” he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Brent W. New of the doubters. “It definitely fuels me.”

That fuel has rocketed him into the pantheon of All-Stars, where he'll join teammates Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke.

The honor, Gordon told New, left him unable to sleep and on the verge of tears. "I can't put it into words," he said.

Kershaw had some words, per the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez:

He's been through a lot. Playing all sorts of different positions, had to go and try the outfield, he's been everywhere. So for him to get to second base and excel the way he has and play the way he's played the first half, it's just a huge testament to him and his work ethic and his character.

Gordon began the transition to second base last season in the minors, then honed his skills over the winter in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. He didn't come into the Cactus League with any guarantees; the Dodgers inked Cuban second baseman Alex Guerrero to a $28 million deal in the offseason.

Gordon ultimately won the job. And like a born base stealer, he hasn't looked back. 

As an MLB shortstop, Gordon owns a pedestrian .947 fielding percentage. This season, as a second baseman, he's raised that number to .982.

After a rocky start, the Dodgers have taken a cue from Gordon and charged ahead. Despite a two-game skid, they entered play Thursday at 51-42, tied for first place with the struggling San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

Gordon isn't solely responsible for the Dodgers' turnaround. Yet, on a team loaded with big names and bigger contracts, the gangly kid earning sub-seven figures is leading the pack.

Of course, careers aren't made in half a season. There's a chance Gordon will regress, that his OBP will slip and the hits will stop falling. He could wind up, pardon the pun, a flash in the pan.

For now, Gordon is riding another cliche: Speed doesn't slump.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

George Springer Quickly Becoming One of MLB’s Most Exciting Young Talents

George Springer hit his 19th home run Wednesday night, helping the Houston Astros sweep the Texas Rangers.

And it wasn't even the most impressive thing he did.

Starting just his fourth major league game in center field, Springer made a highlight-reel catch, streaking deep into center in the third inning and crashing into the padding to rob the Rangers' Alex Rios of extra bases.

It was a key play—the Astros were down by a run at the time, with nobody out—but more than anything it showcased the fearlessness and extreme athleticism that make Springer one of the most exciting young players in baseball.

And let's not forget about that home run. With yet another awe-inspiring bomb—hit one day after he bashed a 430-foot moon shot—Springer kept himself among the American League home-run leaders.

And his homers are the opposite of cheap—this is a power hitter who looks the part. So much so that ESPN.com's David Schoenfield was dreaming of seeing Springer's swing in the derby:

Springer has drawn comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins slugger who sets the bar for muscle-flexing pop.

In fact, Springer was linked to Stanton in a supposedly discussed blockbuster, revealed as part of the Astros' in-house trade database leak at Anonbin.com (via CBSSports.com). 

Right now, Houston fans might be glad the trade didn't happen. That's how much of a revelation Springer has been.

Yes, his .238 batting average doesn't turn heads, and his 109 strikeouts in 330 plate appearances could use improving.

But he's also shown flashes of a legitimate five-tool player, the type of talent a franchise could, and should, build around.

Add MLB hits leader Jose Altuve, and it's clear why the Astros are bullish about the future.

Wednesday's win over the injury-depleted Rangers and their ace Yu Darvish moved the 'Stros into a tie for last place in the American League West. That might not seem like much, but as the Astros jockey for respect, it pays to beat their Lone Star State rivals.

Springer actually began the season with the Astros' AAA affiliate. After hitting .353 with a 1.106 OPS in 13 games, he got the call up. He struggled initially, whiffing 29 times before hitting his first home run, but with the way he's produced since, it's a safe bet he won't be going back down anytime soon.

In May, Springer made a splash by hitting seven home runs in a seven-game span.

The final long ball in that historic streak, on May 29, was ripped straight from a Hollywood script: A wheelchair-bound child asked Springer to hit a home run (to left field, no less) and he obliged.

Springer's reaction, per CSN Houston's Howard Chen:

I actually had forgotten, at that point, that he had said, "Hit it to left." I do know he said, "Hit a home run today" and I kind of thought about it after I hit it like, "Huh! He called it!" So I'll give him all the credit for that one.

"He's an exciting player," Astros manager Bo Porter said of his burgeoning masher at the time, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). "At any moment, he can change the game with one swing. It doesn't matter if he's 0 for 3 or 3 for 3, he has the ability to impact the game every time he steps into the batter's box." 

No question that impact will continue to be felt throughout Springer's rookie campaign.

With the injury to the New York Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox has the inside track on Rookie of the Year honors. Houston, though, is keeping an eye on the future. Forget individual accolades, or even being the best team in Texas.

The Astros want to become a factor in the AL West, and ultimately all of baseball.

If and when they do, there's an excellent chance Springer will be there—bashing baseballs, streaking for improbable catches and generally doing impressive things.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Kyle Seager Has Been Integral to Mariners’ Shocking 2014 Breakout

It's probably unfair to say nobody expected the Seattle Mariners to contend this year. Surely there are diehards who believe in their team every season, regardless of the odds.

Yet few, if any, of the experts gave the M's much of a chance. Baseball Prospectus' 2014 preseason projection had them finishing fourth in the American League West, ahead of only the Houston Astros. Others disagreed and pegged them for dead last.

So much for the experts. Entering play Tuesday, the Mariners are 49-40. That puts them in third place in the AL West, looking up at the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics. If the season ended July 7, though, Seattle would be in the postseason.

How are the Mariners doing it? The pitching, led by Felix Hernandez, is solid as expected, and Robinson Cano is making good on his massive contract.

But a less-familiar name has emerged as arguably the most important piece in the Mariners' projection-busting puzzle: Kyle Seager.

Seager is no stranger to Mariners fans, who have watched the 26-year-old third baseman surpass 20 home runs in each of his first two big league seasons. Outside Seattle, though, he isn't a household name.

That's about to change. On Monday, Seager was named to the American League All-Star team, replacing injured Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.

What was Seager doing when he got the news? Shopping for Pampers, of course. Here he is, recounting the phone call from Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon that sealed his trip to Minnesota, per Greg Johns of MLB.com:

I was actually leaving Babies R Us. I had 'Little Man' in my arms and a big box of diapers. I put the diapers down and answered the phone, so it worked out pretty well.

Things have been working out very well for Seager. After spending the first three weeks of April in a deep slump, he's gone on a sustained tear.

As of Monday, Seager led the Mariners in home runs (13) and RBI (59) and owned an .829 OPS, second only to Cano.

He's been particularly deadly at home. Safeco Field ranks as one of the top five pitchers' parks in baseball, per ESPN.com. Don't tell Seager, who has posted a gaudy .347 batting average in front of the Seattle faithful.

The power stroke is central to Seager's game, but his manager has noticed a better overall approach at the plate this year. "I want him to be that tough out, particularly with runners in scoring position...to hit the ball the opposite way for a base hit," McClendon told MLB.com. "And he's starting to do that. ... He's starting to become that complete player."

With Seager protecting Cano, the Mariners have jumped from 22nd in baseball in runs scored in 2013 to 13th this season. They're finally giving their stable of plus arms some run support, and the wins are following.

A team that barely warranted mention in April is now squarely in the conversation.

"There is a really good feeling in the clubhouse," Seager said June 25 after he sparked an 8-2 win over the Boston Red Sox with a home run and four RBI, per Tim Booth of The Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports). "We know what we have in here. We feel good about it and we feel like we'll be able to sustain it."

Whether the Mariners can sustain their success is one question. Whether they'll lock up Seager for the long haul is another.

Seager will be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season, which means talk of a contract extension is heating up. As Jason A. Churchill of CBS Seattle argues:

One thing the Mariners cannot afford to do is allow Seager to reach free agency.

[...]

Regardless of the club's financial position, they have no choice but to get something done with Seager for the long haul or suffer insurmountable consequences. He's made the decision a no-brainer.

A no-brainer, maybe. Also best left for another day.

For now, the M's are content to enjoy the exploits of their newly minted All-Star—and to keep proving the experts wrong.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Handicapping Odds for Giants vs. A’s Bay Bridge World Series in 2014

Almost exactly 25 years ago, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area. The tremor buckled a one-mile span of the Bay Bridge, leveled neighborhoods and left the entire region reeling.

It also interrupted Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's.

The so-called Bay Bridge Series wouldn't resume for another 11 days, the longest interruption of a Fall Classic since 1911 (when, coincidentally, rain poured down on the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics).

As it turns out, that Giants-A's World Series matchup would prove to be just as rare as the massive quake itself. 

The cross-Bay rivals have made the playoffs in the same season four times since '89, and they've each been back to the Series, but they've never met in postseason play. 

As the Giants and A's begin a four-game interleague interlude at O.co Coliseum on Monday, it's worth asking: Could this be the year the long-awaited October rematch finally materializes?

Entering play Monday, the A's were 55-33 and held a 3.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. The Giants, meanwhile, stood at 49-39, one-half of a game behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and in position for a wild-card spot. It's enough to get Northern California baseball fans thinking big.

Right now, though, the two Bay Area clubs are headed in opposite directions.

After starting the season on a tear—and building a 9.5-game lead in the NL West by June 8—San Francisco has imploded.

Yes, they took two of three from the San Diego Padres over the holiday weekend. But the Giants have gone 6-18 since their high-water mark. The bats have gone cold, the bullpen has wobbled, and their momentum has ground to a halt.

The A's, meanwhile, are cruising. Owners of the best record in baseball, they just completed a four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. And they engineered a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Cubs that netted starting pitchers Jason Hammel and All-Star Jeff Samardzija in exchange for a package of top prospects (Samardzija tossed seven strong innings Sunday in his Oakland debut).

Oakland general manager Billy Beane insisted the trade wasn't made with an eye on the ultimate prize, telling SFGate.com, "I don't feel comfortable talking about October."

Detroit Tigers hurler Justin Verlander has no such qualms. Verlander, who helped Detroit knock Oakland out of the last two postseasons, told MLB.com he thinks the trade proves the A's are going all-in.

"If they want to win the World Series, they're envisioning that they have to go through us, and, even though it's been two fantastic series, it's been heartbreaking for them the last two years," Verlander said.

If that heartbreak ends this fall, it'll be a watershed moment. For all their "moneyball"-fueled success, the Green and Gold have never advanced past the ALCS on Beane's watch (Oakland's last World Series appearance was in 1990 when they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds).

The Giants, on the other hand, have made a habit of dumping confetti on Market Street. After winning the first World Series in San Francisco history in 2010, they treated giddy fans to an encore in 2012. 

The 2014 Giants team shares plenty of DNA with those championship clubs. Manager Bruce Bochy and most of his staff remain intact, as does the bulk of the starting rotation. Key members of the bullpen and six of eight current starting position players hoisted at least one of the two Commissioner's Trophies.

More than anything, the Giants have a "been there, done that" vibe. They understand the crazy combination of skill, luck and timing required to win it all. It's the reason they've navigated this recent skid with relatively little finger-pointing or clubhouse acrimony.

If chemistry exists, the Giants have it.

Will it be enough? The Dodgers haven't run away with anything, but they're playing more and more like a big-spending Goliath. The NL Central is stacked with four playoff-caliber teams—the Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinalsand in the East, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals look formidable.

Just squeaking into the playoffs in the National League, let alone making a deep run, will be a tall order. "We didn't expect this to be a joy ride," Giants GM Brian Sabean told SFGate.com. "The league is too tough."

For their part, the A's keep finding ways to stretch a limited payroll and get unlikely contributions. The recent trade may have stacked their roster, but they're still the same low-spending, expectation-exceeding franchise they've been for a decade plus. 

It's tough to sell them as underdogs, though. Oakland will send six players to the All-Star Game in Minnesota (seven if you count Samardzija, who will be inactive after jumping over from the NL). Compare that to the Giants' two.

If the Giants and A's do manage a second World Series showdown, Oakland fans will be hoping for a repeat. The Loma Prieta earthquake was the dominant storyline a quarter-century ago, but the A's dominated as wellen route to a four-game sweep.

Will history repeat itself? Will the Giants exact some decidedly cold revenge? Or will Round 2 of Oakland-San Francisco remain elusive? 

No matter what, hold onto your seats.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Will Scott Kazmir’s Injury Demons Prevent Dominance Continuing in 2nd Half?

When the Oakland A's signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal this offseason, they didn't know what they were getting.

They hoped they were getting the guy who had a quiet bounce-back season with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, after injuries and mechanical issues forced him out of the big leagues. A decent middle-of-the-rotation arm.

So much for that. Halfway through the 2014 campaign, Kazmir looks like the guy who led the American League in strikeouts, who pitched in two All-Star Games and a World Series as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, who was once among the most dominant left-handers in baseball.

Through 17 starts, Kazmir is 9-3 and ranks fifth in the American League in ERA (2.61) and fourth in WHIP (1.03). He looks, more or less, like his old self.

For a 30-year-old whose career was on the ropes, it's a remarkable renaissance.

To recap: Kazmir, a high school phenom, was drafted in 2002 by the New York Mets and ultimately dealt to Tampa Bay. He made his Major League debut with the then-Devil Rays in 2004; by 2006 he was an All-Star and in 2007 he led the AL with 239 strikeouts.

The slender southpaw battled elbow issues in each of the next two seasons, but still showed flashes of brilliance.

After a trade to the Anaheim Angels in 2009, the wheels began to come off. Kazmir finished the 2010 season with a career-worst 5.94 ERA, and was cut loose by the Halos in 2011.

His confidence, along with his fastball, had vanished.

Part of the problem was physical. In addition to elbow issues, Kazmir spent time on the disabled list in 2010 with what the Angels described as "shoulder fatigue." But there was a psychological component as well.

Kazmir offered this self-diagnosis to the Los Angeles Times in 2010:

It kind of feels like I'm thinking too much about where I'm throwing the ball and things start snowballing, and the next thing you know you don't really know what's going on. You're just out there trying to throw to a spot, but then you look at your video the next day and you're like, who is this guy?

Kazmir spent the 2012 season with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. His 5.34 ERA did not portend a comeback.

The following year, however, he signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and made the rotation out of spring training. He'd hit bottom, and was on his way up.

Nobody, possibly including Kazmir, knew how high and how fast he'd rise.

"The biggest piece of analysis we did was try not to out-think ourselves on it," Oakland assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi said of the Kazmir signing, per ESPN The Magazine. "We saw a guy who was relatively young, who had good stuff, who had good numbers, who was a good fit for our park."

Kazmir has regained some zip on his fastball, touching the mid-90s at times. He's relying more on his secondary pitches, though, including the changeup. More than anything, he looks confident. Like a guy who knows who he is.

The question is, can it continue? Can a pitcher who hasn't thrown 160 innings since 2007, who has battled nagging injuries and mental lapses, keep it up through the dog days of summer and a possible postseason run?

Is this re-invented Kazmir an oasis or a mirage?

Kazmir exited his last start, June 30 against the Detroit Tigers, in the sixth inning with what manager Bob Melvin later termed a calf cramp, according to the Bay Area News Group's John Hickey.

The A's insist there's no issue. Still, seeing Kazmir on the mound wincing in pain was a stark reminder of his fragility—of how quickly the wheels can come off.

Entering play Thursday, Oakland's lead in the AL West had dwindled to 3.5 games. With the Angels charging and the Seattle Mariners lurking, the A's will need a healthy Kazmir to get back to the playoffs.

The good news is that Kazmir has already proved he can overcome adversity. "He lost his way a little bit, and that might have been the best thing that could have happened," Melvin said in the same ESPN The Magazine piece. "It's a rare story."

Whether the story has a happy ending remains to be written.

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Justin Verlander’s Much-Needed Win to Sweep A’s Puts Tigers Back Among AL Elite

When Justin Verlander recording a win counts as big news, it's safe to say things haven't gone according to plan.

Yet there was Verlander on Wednesday night, celebrating his first win in more than a month (since May 30, to be exact). It was a good night for the Detroit Tigers: Not only did they prevail 9-3 behind their struggling former ace, but they also swept the Oakland A's, owners of the best record in baseball.

The Tigers have now won three straight and eight of their last 10 and hold a 4.5-game lead over the upstart Kansas City Royals. With their sweep of Oakland, they look more and more like the team to beat in the American League.

Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler—the second baseman acquired from the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder, who is out for the season after neck surgery—provide a fearsome middle of the order. Anibal Sanchez and surprising sinkerballer Rick Porcello provide a solid one-two punch atop the rotation, not to menton reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Other contributors—such as Rajai Davis, who belted a dramatic walk-off grand slam Monday night—have stepped up as well.

Two years removed from their most recent World Series appearance, the Tigers look poised to claw their way back.

"There's nothing I dislike about the team," manager Brad Ausmus said, per Matt Slovin of MLB.com.

Verlander might disagree. The big right-hander—who underwent offseason core-muscle surgery—is having easily his worst season as a professional; after allowing two runs in six innings against the A's Wednesday night, he lowered his ERA to a still-unsightly 4.71.

Across the board, Verlander's stats are down. Not coincidentally, so is his fastball. In fact, Verlander's velocity chart, per FanGraphs, looks like the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the dawn of the Great Recession.

This is a guy who once routinely touched triple digits and was famous for gaining gas in the late innings. Now, he's lucky if he survives to the late innings.

As with most pitchers who falter, Verlander has tried tweaking his mechanics. In fact, as he said after his long-awaited win, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), the process of deconstructing his motion has taken its toll—to the point where Verlander is actually glad he won't be participating in the All-Star Game:

I'm not going this yearI can pretty much guarantee that. I didn't have a good first half, and I know that. It's going to be the first time I get that weekend off in a while. It will be nice to get that time where I don't have to tax my arm. I've put in a lot of extra work this year, trying to find my mechanics, so the rest will be good.

Assuming he doesn't get an invite to Minnesota (and that's a safe assumption), it'll be the first time Verlander will miss the Midsummer Classic since 2008.

Yet another sign that the once-unhittable stud has hit a serious skid.

Will his performance against the A's provide a springboard, not just for the Tigers but for Verlander personally?

Maybe, maybe not. It's tough to get too giddy about a night when Verlander surrendered two home runs in the first inning to leadoff hitter Coco Crisp and right-fielder Brandon Moss. In all, he allowed nine hits while striking out four and walking none.

Hardly dominant, but a step in the right direction.

"I didn't make a big adjustment, I just got more into my rhythm," Verlander told the AP.

As Verlander searches for his rhythm, it looks like the Tigers have found theirs. They'd love to get their ace back; they'd love for a Verlander win not to be big news.

In the meantime, as the summer gives way to fall, look for Detroit to stay in the headlines.

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Rick Porcello’s Rare Dominance Shining Bright in Star-Studded Tigers Rotation

Rick Porcello recorded zero strikeouts Tuesday night against the Oakland A's en route to his second consecutive complete game shutout.

Somehow, that made it even more impressive.

Instead of racking up the Ks, Porcello used his bowling ball sinker to induce a procession of ground balls off the bats of the A's and lead the Detroit Tigers to a 3-0 win. 

Most impressively, it was Porcello's second consecutive shutout. And it came against the hard-hitting A's, owners of baseball's highest-scoring offense. 

With Tuesday's gem, Porcello became the first Tigers pitcher since 1986 to throw back-to-back shutouts (the last guy to do it was Jack Morris, per MLB.com).

He also extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings. Prior to his last shutout against the Texas Rangers (the first of his career) Porcello tossed six scoreless frames against the Cleveland Indians.

No one has crossed home plate against him since June 15.

"I don't want to jinx it," Porcello said when asked about the streak, per the Associated Press (via ABC News). "All I know is that I'm throwing the ball really well right now."

Porcello's less than halfway to Orel Hershiser's all-time record of 59 straight scoreless innings, set in 1988, but he's still in rarefied territory. 

He's also looking more and more like one of the best arms in the Tigers' star-studded staff.

Porcello is now tied for the Major League lead with 11 wins, and his 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are second only to Anibal Sanchez among Detroit starters.

As ace Justin Verlander has seen his velocity drop and ERA skyrocket and Max Scherzer has so far failed to find his Cy Young form, Porcello has stepped up to fill the void—and help keep the Tigers atop the AL Central.  

"Obviously, Rick is throwing the ball extremely well right now," Detroit skipper Brad Ausmus told the AP after Tuesday's win. "He had a great curveball and changeup tonight, and the sinker was better than that. It makes my job a lot easier when the starter has only thrown 88 pitches through eight innings."

Porcello's final pitch count was an economical 95, the result of his zero-strikeout, zero-walk performance. 

It may not be as flashy as vintage Verlander and his triple-digit gas. But when that sinker's working, when baseball's premier offensive team is pounding pitch after pitch into the dirt, it's every bit as effective.

Last year Porcello finished with a 4.32 ERA in 177 innings, similar to the numbers he's put up in each of his five big league seasons. Serviceable, in other words, but unspectacular.

So far this season, he's erred more on the side of spectacular. What's the difference? Here's Porcello's take, per the Detroit Free Press:

I’ve been able to work out of some trouble this year that maybe in prior years I haven’t been so good at. I’ve been able to slow the game down a little bit better and recognize situations and understand when is the time to pound them with sinkers and when is the time to mix it up, especially with runners on base. In years past, I’ve fallen into the habit of throwing a lot of sinkers because that’s my best pitch and maybe not necessarily setting it up and going about it in the right way.

The numbers back that up: Porcello is throwing the sinker less frequently than in any season since his 2009 rookie campaign, according to FanGraphs, and it's yielding better results. Opposing batters have a .252 batting average on balls in play against Porcello this year, compared to .300 last year (some of the credit certainly goes to the Detroit defense).

His teammates are digging the new and improved Porcello, even if it makes their lives less exciting.

"To be honest, it was pretty boring out there," outfielder Torii Hunter joked after Tuesday's game, which saw 17 outs recorded on the ground, per the AP. Only two other pitchers this year, ESPN.com notes, have gotten that many ground-ball outs in a game.

If that's what passes for boring, the Tigers will take it. 

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How the S.F. Giants Can Fix Problems Exposed During Recent Failures

Go ahead, Giants fans. Close your eyes tight and pretend it's June 8. No one will blame you.

A mere three weeks ago—doesn't it feel like longer?—the Giants were 42-21, 9.5 games up in the National League West. They were, quite simply, rolling—pitching well, hitting even better and in all ways exceeding expectations.

Then, without warning, the wheels came off.

Since June 8, San Francisco has gone 4-15, including a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park that sealed a gut-punching four-game sweep and a dismal 1-6 homestand.

The Giants have now lost six consecutive series—three of them sweeps—and watched their comfortable division lead evaporate. Entering play Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers had moved into a tie for first. 

It's easy to look at the Giants' slide and draw a straight line to last season, when, after a promising start, San Francisco was undone by a June swoon. 

There are differences. By the end of last June, the Giants already had a losing record. This year, even after those dreadful three weeks, they stand at 46-36. If they'd gone on a 15-4 tear to move 10 games over .500 and catch the favored, hated Dodgers, there'd be joy by the Bay.

Instead, there's hand-wringing, head-shaking and a host of questions. Most pressingly: With June in the rearview, what can the Giants do to restart the engine and resume their winning ways?

Let's begin in the bullpen.

Closer Sergio Romo has blown three of his last five save attempts and seen his ERA balloon to 5.17. Worse, he has looked eminently hittable; his once-devastating slider is suddenly unreliable against righties and a liability against lefties. (As CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly notes: Last year Romo threw 506 sliders and only one was hit for a home run; this year he's thrown 244 and five have been hit out.)

Recognizing the need for a change, manager Bruce Bochy announced before Sunday's game that Romo will be relieved of closing duties. Instead, Bochy said, he'll use a mix of pitchers to get the "final six outs," per SFGate.com's Henry Schulman

"I think it’s the right time we tweaked this a little," Bochy told Schulman. "[Romo is] still going to be part of the mix, but we’re going to back off a little bit and do it by committee."

It could work. Bochy's committee includes weapons like lefty Jeremy Affeldt (1.33 ERA) and righties Santiago Casilla (1.17 ERA) and Jean Machi (1.36 ERA), all of whom have proved their late-inning mettle.

On the offensive side, things are equally dicey. The Giants have scored just 12 runs in their last seven games, and they've been shut out twice. Their power and situational execution—two early strengths—have virtually disappeared.

After an uncharacteristic slump, Buster Posey has begun hitting the ball with authority (his game-tying double Saturday night against flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was a true thing of beauty). Yet others—including, notably, Michael Morse—have tailed off.

Morse still leads the Giants with 13 home runs, but he's been stuck on that number since June 5. As a team, the Giants hit only 14 home runs in June after clubbing 63 in the season's first two months. Meanwhile, their batting average with runners in scoring position has fallen to .243.

There is help on the horizon. Brandon Belt, who was leading the team in home runs when he broke his thumb in May, could return by next week, according to MLB.com. So could leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, who has battled a back strain.

The Giants may also look for reinforcements at the trade deadline. 

Second base is the most obvious place for an upgrade. After flashing some early power, Brandon Hicks has gone stone cold—he entered play Monday hitting a pedestrian .168. Joe Panik, the Giants' first-round pick in 2011, had two hits in his first start June 22, but he has managed just two hits in 16 at-bats since. And Marco Scutaro, still rehabbing his ailing back, remains an enigma.

The Giants have been linked to several names, per MLBTradeRumors.com, including the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy. 

San Francisco is also rumored to be considering a trade for a starting pitcher—the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price and the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija are the big fish—though, for now, that doesn't appear to be a pressing need.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson are having terrific seasons. Matt Cain pitched like his old self in his most recent start against Cincinnati. Ryan Vogelsong is in the midst of yet another improbable renaissance. And Tim Lincecum just tossed a no hitter.

Really, scanning the Giants' roster, it's hard to find many glaring holes. Hunter Pence is hitting .293/.356/.469 while playing almost every inning. Pablo Sandoval has shaken off his early funk and made the panda-hat crowd stand up and cheer. Posey, again, looks like Posey.

Even the admittedly thin bench has been bolstered by unexpected contributions from the likes of minor league free agent Tyler Colvin, who got the call after Belt's injury and has posted a .717 OPS in limited action.

The Giants almost certainly aren't as bad as they've been for the last three weeks, or as good as they were for the first two months. Meet somewhere in the middle and you get a team that can contend but likely won't run away with the division.

Pretty much what most people expected.

The key, for now, is to stop the bleeding. Whether they do it through a reshuffled bullpen, the return of injured players, a couple of deadline pickups or some other means, they've got to do it. And soon.

Otherwise, there could be a whole lot of Giants fans with their eyes closed tight. 

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Introducing Roenis Elias, MLB’s Under-the-Radar Cuban Star

Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Roenis Elias.

If you think the last name on that list doesn't belong, you haven't been paying attention.

Cuban MLB players are almost always greeted with media attention and a hefty dose of hype; if they live up to the hype—as Cespedes, Puig and Abreu have—they quickly become household names.

Not so for Elias, who, despite winning a spot in the Seattle Mariners rotation this spring and emerging as one of the more promising young left-handers in the game, has flown mostly under the radar.

On June 1, he threw nine scoreless frames against the hard-hitting Detroit Tigers, allowing just three hits, striking out eight and becoming the first Mariners rookie since Freddy Garcia in 1999 to toss a shutout.

The Mariners have won four of Elias' last five outings. Overall, the 25-year-old southpaw is 7-4 with a 3.74 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 98.2 innings.

“His stuff is as good as any lefty in the league,” Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon told The Seattle Times after Elias blanked Detroit. “He’s got quality, quality stuff. If he throws strikes, he’s usually going to be around late in the ballgame.” 

When Elias made his pro debut in 2011 with little fanfare, he relied on a mid-90s fastball and a big, bat-missing curve. This season he's added a changeup, mimicking the grip used by teammate Felix Hernandez. Not a bad guy to emulate.

Elias has also started to control all his pitches, something he struggled with early on.

After getting shelled by the New York Yankees on June 12, he switched up his between-starts routine, throwing off flat ground instead of a mound.

In his next start against the San Diego Padres, he lasted seven strong innings, surrendering three hits and one run. "The pitching coach told me if you keep the ball down, you're going to be unhittable," Elias said through an interpreter after the game, per MLB.com.

"He tells me all the time, 'I want to pitch. I want to stay in there,'" McClendon said in the same Seattle Times piece. "I said, 'Well, then, pitch better.'"

Challenge answered.

Like most Cubans who make their way to the majors, Elias has a compelling backstory. He left Cuba in 2010, climbing aboard a boat in the dead of night with a group of fellow defectors and telling only his mother about his plans.

He spent some 30 hours adrift on the Atlantic Ocean, not knowing whether he'd ever reach the United States.

"Once I got on the boat, it was just like do or die," Elias told the Victorville Daily Press in 2012 while pitching for the Mariners' A-ball affiliate. "I didn't really have time for fear. It was either get caught and go to prison or we get there."

Elias got there and ultimately signed with Seattle. He shaved points off his ERA and upped his strikeout totals in each of his three minor league campaigns and entered spring training this year with an outside shot at making the big league roster.

Sounds like pressure, right? Not so much if you ask Elias, per the Daily Press:

Once you go through that experience in life, knowing that you're leaving and you're risking your life out in the ocean or you're risking getting caught and having to face whoever you have to face back home, once you go through that experience, this isn't pressure.

That fearlessness, a common denominator among Cuban players, is serving him well. In his gem against Detroit, he stared down the heart of the Tigers order, including reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera.

Ian Kinsler, Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the Tigers' three most dangerous hitters, went a combined 0-for-11 with two strikeouts. If Elias wasn't on their radar coming into the game, he is now.

Eventually, if he keeps it up, he'll be on everyone's radar. And the Mariners, currently lurking around the fringes of the playoff race at 42-37, could insert themselves into the picture.

Elias has already proved he belongs—in the big leagues, on a short list of young arms to watch and certainly in the same sentence as his more-hyped countrymen.

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After Lincecum No-Hitter, Are Padres Officially Worst Offense in a Generation?

After throwing a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres for the second time in as many seasons on Wednesday, it's safe to say Tim Lincecum likes facing the Friars.

Then again, these days, so does everyone else.

Even before they were stymied yet again by Lincecum—almost exactly a year after he twirled a no-no in San Diego—the Padres couldn't hit water if they stumbled off a Carnival cruise liner.

Entering play Wednesday, the Padres were dead last—30th out of 30—in batting average (.216), on-base percentage (.275), slugging percentage (.340) and runs scored (238).

Four regulars—Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable and Yasmani Grandal—are hitting below the Mendoza Line, while Seth Smith leads the team in home runs and RBI—with eight and 24, respectively.

Despite a pitching staff that ranks among the top 10 in ERA and opponents' batting average, San Diego is 34-45, 12.5 games out in the National League West.

"Obviously, when you're not scoring runs consistently it makes it tough to really get anything going," skipper Bud Black told NBC San Diego.

"It will come," Black added. "There will be a time when we start swinging the bats, the runs will come, the pitching will start clicking and you'll see those consecutive wins."

If it does come, general manager Josh Byrnes won't be around to see it. On June 22, San Diego axed Byrnes, who was hired in October 2011, saying in a statement that "expectations have not been reached," per MLB.com.

That's one way of putting it. Another is that the Padres are on pace for a historically feckless offensive performance.

The worst in a generation? Could be.

San Diego's stiffest competition, if you want to call it that, might come from the recent past: The 2013 Miami Marlins also finished dead last in virtually every major offensive category. Their collective batting average (.231) and OBP (.293) were a tick better than those of the 2014 Padres, though their slugging percentage (.335) was a tad worse.

The Seattle Mariners, another recent contender for the futility crown, put up back-to-back punchless seasons in 2010 (.236 AVG, .298 OBP, .339 SLG) and 2011 (.233 AVG, .292 OBP, .348 SLG).

It's tough to compare numbers much further back than that, as we begin to tread into the steroid years, but park- and era-adjusted sabermetrics stats such as wRC+ (see FanGraphs for an explanation) place the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers and 2001 Montreal Expos among the lightest-hitting clubs of the 21st century.

Speaking of adjustments: Petco Park is, admittedly, one of the most pitcher-friendly yards in baseball. Doesn't that at least partially explain San Diego's struggles?

Maybe. But get this: The Padres are hitting .213 on the road compared to a "robust" .218 at home, and they've hit nearly as many home runs (26) in spacious Petco as they have away from it (29).

All right, that's a lot of numbers. To truly appreciate how dreadful these Padres have been at the plate, though—to fully grasp their utter haplessness—you've got to watch them in action.

Wednesday versus Lincecum was a microcosmic case study.

Not to take anything away from Timmy—his command was good and his off-speed stuff was working—but against a Padres team that flailed at changeups, missed a few mistakes, hit almost nothing hard and pounded pitch after pitch into the dirt, he looked like the Cy Young Award winner of old.

Yet even after his no-hitter, Lincecum's ERA stood at 4.42. No doubt it'd be a good deal lower if he could pitch against San Diego every five days.

There's still a lot of season left. Guys such as Venable and Quentin—solid contributors last season—could rebound and elevate the Padres from terrible to merely mediocre. Before Linceum's gem, the Padres scored 13 runs in two games—and won both—against the first-place San Francisco Giants.

Heck, San Diego could even rip off a winning streak, as Black predicted. Stranger things have happened. If it does happen, it'd be a fitting tribute to Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn, whose otherworldly stroke the team could desperately use right now.

If things continue like this, though, the Padres will go down in history in the worst way possible—as the team everyone wanted to face.

 

All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com or Baseball-Reference.com except where noted.

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Ian Kinsler Finding Sweet Success with Tigers After Bitter Rangers Departure

Some breakups are amicable, some less so.

File Ian Kinsler's split with the Texas Rangers firmly in the "less so" category.

When Texas traded Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder this offseason, the second baseman and three-time All-Star had some choice words for his former club.

"I hope they go 0-162," he told ESPN The Magazine

In the same piece, Kinsler called Rangers owner Jon Daniels "a sleazeball." Bridge officially burned.

"There was no remorse from the Rangers," Kinsler said of the decision to cut him loose after eight productive seasons. "They did not care."

Kinsler showed no remorse on Tuesday night in his return to Arlington.

Playing for the first time in front of his old home crowd, where he was greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers, Kinsler sent the third pitch he saw from Texas starter Colby Lewis over the left-field wall.

How much did he enjoy the moment?

Put it this way: Cameras caught Kinsler waving in the direction of the Rangers' dugout as he rounded the bases, possible future chin-music be damned.

Kinsler wound up going 2-for-5 with three RBI in his much-anticipated homecoming. More importantly, the Tigers won 8-2 and extended their lead over the surprising Kansas City Royals to three games.

The win was, no doubt, especially sweet for Kinsler. After a bitter exit from Texas, he's found plenty of sweetness in the Motor City.

Entering play Wednesday, Kinsler is hitting .295 with nine home runs and 38 RBI.

Plus, he says, he's content with his new team—and at peace with the way his Rangers tenure ended.

"I'm over it. I'm past it, I've moved on," he told ESPNDallas.com. "I'm a Detroit Tiger and happy to be where I'm at." (He added he has "nothing to say" to Daniels, indicating a reconciliation is not in the cards.)

Surely, though, it must give Kinsler some extra pleasure, some share of schadenfreude, to witness the Rangers' plight.

Entering the season, Texas was a favorite to win the American League West, due in no small part to the Fielder acquisition. 

Yet here the Rangers sit, 35-41, 11.5 games out and on a six-game losing streak.

Mostly that's due to injuries, including Fielder's season-ending neck surgery. No player wishes harm on anyone—that's just tempting the baseball gods—but as of now the Kinsler-for-Fielder swap is working out in Detroit's favor.

Interestingly, Kinsler's former and current teams have each recently suffered multiple gut-wrenching World Series defeats. 

In fact, the Rangers (2010 and 2011) and the Tigers (2006 and 2012) have been on the losing end of four of the last eight Fall Classics. 

Taking his new club to the promised land after narrowly missing twice with Texas would, obviously, be the ultimate revenge for Kinsler. The cherry on top of his schadenfreude sundae. 

In the meantime, he's focused on contributing. Kinsler dropped weight in the offseason, hoping to regain the form that saw him hit 32 home runs in 2011. And he has been hitting the ball with authority, particularly of late.

After batting .331 in May, Kinsler has hit .360 with a pair of home runs over the past week.

Said Detroit skipper Brad Ausmus of his new player, per the Dallas Morning News:

Kins has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve really enjoyed having him around. He’s a blue-collar player, a baseball rat. He never takes a day off, mentally or physically. If you ask his teammates, they love having him on the team. If you ask the pitchers, they love having him behind them on defense. And they all love having him in the lineup. He’s endeared himself to the team with both his play and his personality.

More than anything, Kinsler seems to be benefiting from a change of scenery.

"In Texas, it was almost like my team," he said in his controversial ESPN The Magazine interview. "I go to Detroit, and it's [Miguel Cabrera's] team, it's [Justin] Verlander's team. I'm just a ballplayer. I can just go play and have fun." 

If fun is waving ironically at your old teammates after a round-tripper and rubbing it in your former GM's face, Kinsler is having it.

The breakup may not have been amicable, but so far the rebound relationship is working out well.

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