Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Wainwright Deserves NL Start Despite Kershaw’s Streak

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 hadwhether it's having a number of guys on the All-Star teamthat 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

“Wastin' time

“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

“Wastin' time”

— 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. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

For the Adventurous: theQ Waterproof and Social Camera

The-Q-Camera

 

Bright colors. Waterproof. Filters. 3G connectivity. What more can you ask for from a camera these days? TheQ camera isn’t made for editorials or photo shoots, but it should be more than enough for your social photography needs, AKA selfies, couple shots, groufies, and whatever else you post on social media these days.

Its built-in 3G makes sharing images a breeze, without having to go through the process of transferring your pictures to your laptop to do so. If you’re into filters, then tweak your shots on TheQ Lab online before uploading them to your profile.

theQ Camera1

theQ Camera2

 

Just think of it as a dedicated camera that can shoot great-quality shots with the added bonus of 3G connectivity. It’s available for pre-order for £149.99 (or about $260+.)

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Holy Cool ]

The post For the Adventurous: theQ Waterproof and Social Camera appeared first on OhGizmo!.

For the Adventurous: theQ Waterproof and Social Camera

The-Q-Camera

 

Bright colors. Waterproof. Filters. 3G connectivity. What more can you ask for from a camera these days? TheQ camera isn’t made for editorials or photo shoots, but it should be more than enough for your social photography needs, AKA selfies, couple shots, groufies, and whatever else you post on social media these days.

Its built-in 3G makes sharing images a breeze, without having to go through the process of transferring your pictures to your laptop to do so. If you’re into filters, then tweak your shots on TheQ Lab online before uploading them to your profile.

theQ Camera1

theQ Camera2

 

Just think of it as a dedicated camera that can shoot great-quality shots with the added bonus of 3G connectivity. It’s available for pre-order for £149.99 (or about $260+.)

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Holy Cool ]

The post For the Adventurous: theQ Waterproof and Social Camera appeared first on OhGizmo!.

After God: how to fill the faith-shaped hole in modern life

Religion used to define our seasons and our days. But now that it’s in decline in the west, what rituals can take its place? Rowan Williams, Melvyn Bragg, Lucy Winkett, Robin Ince, Vicky Beeching and Julian Baggini try to answer that question.

Rowan Williams. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian News & Media

Rowan Williams: We can connect with God quietly, in private, through words, posture and breath. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian

 

The physicality of prayer

Rowan Williams

The Christianity I was originally formed in was not very ritual-minded: it was both intellectually alert and emotionally intense – the best of a style of Welsh Nonconformity now almost extinct – but tended to look down on physical expression of belief (other than singing, which I suspect was regarded as not really physical). Only when the family joined the Anglican Church when I was in my early teens, after we’d moved to another town, did I discover a sense of worship as a physical art, involving gesture, movement and colour. I still have a vivid memory of my first experience of a solemn Mass with procession at Easter, when I was, I suppose, about 12 – the awareness of a deliberate strategy of involving the senses at many levels.

The mild High Church atmosphere of those years was, for me, an environment that made strong imaginative and emotional sense, and indeed is still the kind of setting where I feel most instinctively at home, rather than in more simply word-oriented styles, or in the heated atmosphere of “charismatic” worship, repetitive song and unstructured prayer – although I’ve learned to be nourished by that, too, in many circumstances. But the ritual that is most significant for me apart from the routines of public worship and the daily recitation of the fixed words of morning and evening prayer owes more to non-Anglican sources.

Readers of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey will recall the somewhat unexpected appearance there of an account of the traditional Greek and Russian discipline of meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Practically every Eastern Orthodox writer on prayer will describe this, and many in the tradition also describe some of the physical disciplines that may be used to support it – being aware of your breathing, sitting in a certain way, focusing attention on your chest: “bringing the mind into the heart”, as the books characterise it.

The interest in uniting words with posture and breath is, of course, typical of non-Christian practices also; and over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the “Jesus Prayer” and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails. Walking meditation, pacing very slowly and co-ordinating each step with an out-breath, is something I have found increasingly important as a preparation for a longer time of silence.

So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.

The prayer isn’t any kind of magical invo­cation or auto-suggestion – simply a vehicle to detach you slowly from distracted, wandering images and thoughts. These will happen, but you simply go on repeating the words and gently bringing attention back to them. If it is proceeding as it should, there is something like an indistinct picture or sensation of the inside of the body as a sort of hollow, a cave, in which breath comes and goes, with an underlying pulse. If you want to speak theologically about it, it’s a time when you are aware of your body as simply a place where life happens and where, therefore, God “happens”: a life lived in you.

So the day begins with a physically concrete and specific reminder that your own individual existence is breathed through by a life that isn’t your possession; and at moments of tension or anxiety during the day, deliberately breathing in and out a few times with the words of the prayer in mind connects you with this life that isn’t yours, immersing the anxiety and dispersing the tension – even if it doesn’t simply take away pain or doubt, solve problems or create some kind of spiritual bliss. The point is just to be connected again.

The mature practitioner (not me) will discover a steady clarity in the vision of self and world, and, in “advanced” states, an awareness of unbroken inner light, with the strong sense of an action going on within that is quite independent of your individual will – the prayer “praying itself”, not just human words but a connection between God transcendent and God present and within. Ritual anchors, ritual aligns, harmonises, relates. And what happens in the “Jesus Prayer” is just the way an individual can make real what is constantly going on in the larger-scale worship of the sacraments. The pity is that a lot of western Christianity these days finds all this increasingly alien. But I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies. But that’s a long story. 

Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012

 

 

A walk with the imagination

Melvyn Bragg

Ritual practices that used to be confined to religious rites have now become secularised. From Homer, through Socrates, the Jews, Romans, Christians and all other known schemes of worship, ritual has been central to the observance of a creed.

Now we talk about the nesting rituals of birds, bargaining rituals in markets, the rituals of non-sexual actions in courtship, the rituals between waking up and getting to work, of games, of meeting and eating. Just about every social manoeuvre has been given a satisfying significance by what we would like to call ritual. We hold on to the word like a totem.

But the roots are still religious. And these roots are earthed in belief. In a way of being that began as an attempt to understand and explain the then otherwise inexplicable and continues, for some, in a conviction that there is more, or other, to life than can be described with certainty by reason alone.

Perhaps this can be ascribed to the hang­over effect. We carry with us layers of previous generations, in manners, in language, in habits. It could be that the residual belief in belief is just another part of the debris of our inheritance, but one so deeply grounded that it lingers on long after the death of the initial inspiration.

Of course, to millions of earthlings today, belief in the ancient sense is still a given. It is as inevitable a part of the day as sunset. And this is not only a phenomenon of “emerging” countries. The United States has a fair claim to be the most religious country on the planet.

Still, for those, like myself, whose early faith has ebbed so far away that it is over the horizon, the fundamental notions of religion have gone. The Resurrection? Surely not in a material world. Eternal life? A brilliant bribe. Miracles? Fables. God? The Big Bang. For us the sacred still reverenced for its hope, peace and beauty by so many has been skittled by the Enlightenment.

Yet in my case and perhaps in others, something remains. Perhaps it is prompted by a spiritual space so assiduously dug out in my childhood that it seems still to be in need of nourishment from a like sensation. The mysteries, visited on a young mind with force, which now appear like falsities, seem to have struck a chord too deep to be forgotten.

It is reassuringly commonplace to hear people talk about the peace or beauty they find in nature. I am writing this in Cumbria, a home of pantheism, the open library of a nature poet of genius. But Wordsworth’s nature always reverted to human nature and “the bliss of solitude” was inward. What he’d fed on was out there. And out there was felt, an impulse, rather than a deduction.

For many of us who walk in places of drama or beauty it is as if we are enveloped in an atmosphere that it’s a pleasure not to understand. As if we want not to know but to feel. And not to know why we feel.

The rituals of walking are few but often seem essential. The garb, the route, the recognition of old favourites – trees, prospects, rivers. Once you are in the rhythm of those rituals what happens, to me at any rate, is that a non-self takes over. A non-drug-induced drift. And an expanding sense of inner freedom. And there are the inklings of sensations. Intimations? Shapes that could become thoughts that do not seem to obey mechanical laws. Maybe in time we will see that in fact they do. Maybe everything we feel will be settled by mathematics. But what if not? Might the known unknown of the universe and the brain surprise us all? And will we then lose this invaluable feeling of inner liberty?

Such a reflection can be dismissed easily as sentimental or as a sort of non-thinking, or unreasoning, sin of sins. Yet sensations precede reason. Reason is a second tier. We are the multiple beings we are through our cascades of sensation. Imagination, scarcely understood, is let out to play during these solitary walks and is perhaps pointing us to communications which, in a few
hundred years, will seem as natural as quantum physics.

It could be that in solitude, with the luck of nature combining with a willing mind and time to let it roll through this strange, boundless creation inside the skull, we are looking to find . . . ? And the circle closes. Surely it can’t be a new Belief system. 

Melvyn Bragg is a writer and broadcaster

 

Life in a different kind of time

Lucy Winkett

I recently bought a new toothbrush. It’s my first electric one and it’s very clever: it tells me when the prescribed two minutes are up. I can even set it to sound an alarm for each 30-second segment for each quadrant of my mouth. And the perhaps unsurprising truth is that I am simply incapable of brushing my teeth in any order other than the order in which I always brush them. It’s common to call this kind of repetitious and regular behaviour ritualistic, but I’m not sure where the line lies between ritual, habit and routine.

Much of my professional life as an Anglican priest has been concerned not only with private but with public ritual, both inside and outside the church building. This takes the form of ordered, collective, symbolic action that somehow expresses deep and often unsayable emotions. Pride, grief, respect, awe, love can all be found underpinning the ritualistic gatherings of weddings, funerals and baptisms. One of my abiding memories of my time as a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral was from the week after the 7 July bombings in 2005, when at midday bells were rung, taxis and buses pulled over and people poured out of nearby offices, shops and cafés in order to perform together a public ritual; to stand together in silence, remembering those who had died and reclaiming the streets from those who would make us afraid.

Public ritual, in its repetition, its use of symbols, sound, silence, its regularity and ordinariness, provides a kind of framework within which not everything has to be explained. Take baptising a child; it’s one of the most lovely duties of a priest. The three symbols of oil, water and light are given expression in anointing the child with the sign of the cross, baptising the child with water and then giving the parents a lighted candle. There is broad agreement that something rather fabulous is being celebrated. But if I stopped a service at the point where water is poured over the child’s head and asked everyone present precisely what was happening, I would hear as many answers as there were people. Is that a problem? It would have been a problem for my predecessors if the ritual were being used, as in the past, as an agent of social control. But now, in a century when I can assume that the gathered congregation is free to express dissent for itself, it doesn’t worry me at all, because the best ritual is deeply ambiguous and, in its ambiguity, is a form of peaceful and beautiful resistance against all that would reduce or attempt to atomise the mysterious realities of life and death.

In theological terms, rituals are perfor­med at the crossroads where time meets eternity; where chronos meets kairos. We live our lives earthbound and rushing: metaphorically looking at the second hand on a clock. It’s accurate, but not a good way of telling the time. Rituals are performed, as it were, by the hour hand; imperceptible movement, no less true but a lot less anxious. Rituals help us do nothing less than live a different kind of time.

In the case of public ritual, the relationship between ritual and belief is a complex one, too. In an age where we are very fearful of being thought hypocritical, it is perhaps not a bad thing that the number of people being baptised is lower than it used to be; but surely a deeper question is: do I have to believe before I take part in the ritual, or does the ritual help to shape my belief? Just getting on and doing things before we know exactly what we’re doing, or why, can be a learning experience in itself. My own tendency is to blur the boundaries between ritual and belief, not because I think they are not important, but because I think they are easily distorted by people who claim the power to define what they are.

If rituals help us navigate the thresholds of life when emotion is high and the tectonic plates of desire, fear, hope and despair collide, then the truth is that I travel a long way not just when I’m celebrating the Eucharist but while I’m walking the dog. Ordinary life is full of grief and miracles. Rituals are performed at the boundaries, on the border. What we do almost every day, sometimes without noticing, is step over the line. 

Lucy Winkett is the rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly

 

Shelf life: books furnish mind, room and spirit.
Photograph: Matthew Somorjay/Millennium Images

 

Choices, choices: could I be a bookshop?

Robin Ince

Hints of paranoia dog me, the sense of being scrutinised – but that all evaporates in the bookshop.

Most of my working life is trains. I go from town to town, like the Fugitive or David Banner, but without the sense of pursuit by law-enforcers.

My earnings are not for the show I will do in the evening – that is pleasure. They cover the cost of being away from my family and sitting on a packed train, positioned somewhere between an overflowing bin and a malfunctioning toilet. I occupy my time experiencing train theatre, the small playlets of anger, desire and melancholy that take place in the seats and vestibule area. The furious phone calls with alibis from drunken business people explaining they were kept late at work; the sad-faced man who failed to press the lock button on the toilet, now shrivelled after shrieking, “Close the door!” with his trousers round his ankles and his newspaper on his lap. The door will not close until it has opened fully first – and so all the travellers have experienced a Beckett short adapted by Ray Cooney.

But most of my time is spent in other worlds, in the pages of the second-hand books that increasingly bulk up my rucksack as I investigate the bookshops of each town I visit.

The carriage is not a means of transport. It becomes a hectic library, where I can drink tea, flick the crumbs of my cake from the hinge of a book, and read on, occasionally looking up to view alpacas on disused factories, or hillsides. While at night I must be gregarious with a few hundred people, by day I can be solitary.

My greatest joy is browsing books in seaside towns. There I am lost. The delight of the second-hand bookshop is the delight of surprise. New bookshops are pleasurable but we know what lies within. Yet in the second-hand, who knows what nonagenarian ufologist or furtive philosopher has died and their boxed books have found their way on to the counter.

I am rarely looking for anything in particular. I am looking for everything in particular. Many of my childhood weekends were spent with my father, browsing through bookshops with warped shelves and idiosyncratic cataloguing techniques. Nature and nurture have combined to make me an obsessive.

Desmond Morris once described the finding of a rare book as being the modern equivalent of stalking and killing mighty prey. The tribe rejoices. I am not sure my wife has the same sense of glee when I bring back another satchel of Pelicans and Penguins. Sometimes I find myself taking the back footpath and popping them under the shed until she has gone out. I fear that one day
my house will sink into the ground, leaving visible only a chimney pot. Just as John Peel had to reinforce the foundations of his garage to support the weight of vinyl, I may have to call the architects in.

I see myself as an overly self-conscious human being. Hints of paranoia dog me, the sense of being scrutinised, yet that all evaporates in the bookshop. I am mesmerised by the spines – almost unconscious, until I see something with an alluring title or enigmatic cover.

Then it’s the leafing through. Do I need this book? What weight is my rucksack already? Is this purchase worth the extra tingling of sciatica it may bring on? My mind must map the shop. The most labyrinthine are a delightful challenge. When I get to the end of the browsing, I must recall where each possibility is and return for a decision.

Once the books are bought, I retreat to a tea shop, preferably one with an elaborate Victoria sponge in the window, and pore over the new purchases. Inside each book is the hope of a new way of seeing the world; each one is a potential adventure. There can be the additional joy of finding some ephemera left by the previous reader: a pressed flower, a bookmark, an old postcard of Budleigh Salterton sent by “Isobel”, with the story of a beach hut and errant gull.

I like losing myself in those shops that were once houses, where each room is book upon book – and perhaps sheet music and some National Geographics. As a child, I went to the Cottage Bookshop in Penn, its rows so narrow it was barely possible to tilt your head back far enough to read the upper shelves. The attic room had a lock on it; not due to the madness of the owner’s first wife – this was where the collectibles were kept, and sometimes I snuck in with my dad. And no trip to Eastbourne is complete without a visit to Camilla’s. Should all the bricks disappear, the structural integrity would remain from books alone. There is a tea shop two doors down; its cakes are mighty.

Some people wish to be buried at sea, others scattered on a hillside. I wonder if the matter that makes me could be transmogrified into a bookshelf? 

Robin Ince is on tour and will be appearing at the Latitude Festival on 19 and 20 July

 

Switch from online to off

Vicky Beeching

A few weeks ago at Westminster Tube station I watched as, seemingly in slow motion, my iPhone slipped out of my fingers, dangled momentarily at the end of its white headphone cable, then disappeared into the gap between the train carriage and the platform. Horror flooded through me. I stood transfixed, like in a Lord of the Rings re-enactment, watching as my “Precious” slowly fell into the abyss below. I literally found myself squeaking out a pained “Noooooo!”. Which made everyone turn round and notice. Which was then doubly embarrassing.

Hunting for a member of Underground staff, I felt sure they could reunite me with my iPhone easily and quickly. When they broke the news that nothing could be rescued from the tracks before the trains stopped running at 2am, I welled up. Which was of course rather embarrassing again. “It’s just a phone, love!” the cheerful chap said. “Come back tomorrow at 6am and we’ll have it for you.” “Yup, just a phone . . .” I mumbled absent-mindedly as I walked away, counting on my fingers just how many long hours lay between then and 6am.

Travelling onward from that station I felt increasingly like a small child lost in a giant universe. I wanted to call a friend – couldn’t. Wanted to fire off an email, listen to a tune on Spotify, or check in with my Twitter community – couldn’t. Wanted to map my route from the next station to my business meeting – couldn’t. Arriving very late, as I’d had no “blue dot” to point me in the right direction, I felt almost panicky. The reliance I’d developed on a small piece of rectangular plastic and glass was stunning.

The science fiction writer and journalist Cory Doctorow once referred to technological gadgetry as our “outboard brain”. I totally resonate with that, having felt mine suddenly removed in an unexpected digital lobotomy. It felt like the chopping off of a limb, albeit a virtual one. Every few seconds I found myself thinking of something I needed to do, reaching into my pocket, then remembering I didn’t have the “outboard brain” required to complete the task. I was badly addicted and knew I needed to go cold turkey, so I tried to embrace the silver lining that day contained.

Smartphone-free, I noticed throughout the afternoon and evening that I’d regained the natural pauses that happen between events. No screen to gaze into while commuting, no email to check in the coffee queue, no Instagram photo to snap of my dinner before eating it. Life had breathing spaces again. Moments to process thoughts, rather than just consume yet more information. Yes, I felt oddly disconnected from my virtual community; oddly alone, but in a way that reminded me how much I needed to do so on purpose.

If I had to name two things in life that keep me sane they would be silence and solitude. I’m a big introvert (think semi-hermit) and grew up in the countryside, where I’d spend hours walking through the fields on my own, or climbing to the top of trees and hiding there all day in a lofty lookout position. Yet I’m also a tech-geek and love social media. The two have existed in tension for me over the years. Losing my iPhone was a wake-up call that silence and solitude need to be carved out in my daily and weekly routine, like sacred rituals, or else they just won’t happen.

I do spend a lot of time alone, yet with my “outboard brain” ever present, it’s not truly solitude. When I’m alone I’m not in physical conversation with anyone (unless I’m talking to myself, which naturally I’d never admit to . . .), but I’m not truly silent, as I am constantly tweeting, texting and emailing. Mobile tech has made silence and solitude both unfashionable and unnecessary; they’ve become the two ugly sisters of modern society. Online connectivity numbs the need to feel either, so why would we? Yet they have a power that many through the ages, of all faiths and none, have realised we desperately need.

In the light of my phone-dropping experience, I decided I needed to restart a ritual that I have loved since my teens but gradually given less time to: the silent retreat – going away to a spiritually inspiring location, which for me usually constitutes a monastery or convent, switching everything off except my wristwatch, and being totally silent for at least 24 hours. Initially it always feels like sudden immersion in water: a shock, painful. The struggle kicks up within me. Then it feels like a gradual stripping; facing my inner world, seeing it increasingly laid bare without the layers of busyness to conceal it. Finally, I settle in and my soul inhales the fresh air of quiet space, feeling life rush into every exhausted corner of my mind and heart.

I would love to practise this ritual every week, but realistically I’ll aim for monthly. If you’ve never braved a day or two of this, it’s formative indeed. Scary at first, but life-changing in its potential to bring clarity, courage and creativity. As a society, we usually avoid silence and solitude. Yet I believe they might be the medicine that we need most.

They stand as faithful guardians to keep us in tune with our inner selves in the constant, connective chaos of an exciting but relentless digital age. 

Vicky Beeching is a theologian, writer and broadcaster researching the ethics of online technology

 

Stop, think, chew

Julian Baggini

I don’t miss the major rituals of Christian life. Weddings, births, deaths and remembrances are no less moving for the loss of a man in a dress and a little incense. Indeed, some secular equivalents can be even more powerful. The United States demonstrated this with its first-anniversary commemoration of 9/11, in which a Ground Zero ceremony consisting almost entirely of the recitation of the names of those lost had a profound, understated emotional resonance that no church service could match.

Where I think we atheists can be at a disadvantage is in the loss of the small, everyday rituals of prayer. When this is understood as intercession, I take it to be a kind of pure nonsense we are better off without. But prayer at its best is much more than this. Prayer offers an opportunity to reflect on our quotidian weaknesses, frequent failings, large and small. This should not be a prompt to self-flagellation, but an encouragement to do better tomorrow, humbly accepting that “better” will never be more than barely good enough.

Prayer also provides an opportunity to cultivate appropriate gratitude. We are not always lucky, and there is a kind of religious mania that leads people to thank God for whatever happens in their lives, no matter how horrendous. Nevertheless, most of us would do better to think more of what we do have than to dwell on what we don’t. Even if the grass really is greener on the other side, looking longingly at it too much just makes our own perfectly adequate fields look browner than they are.

I do not, however, think that the way to achieve this is to replace religious rituals with secular ones. There is nothing to stop us saying a secular grace, for instance, but to most of us it would sound artificial and contrived. It’s not that you need someone to thank in order to feel thankful – just that without the obligations of faith and the weight of history, self-created rituals of grace ring hollow.

A more promising alternative is to replace prayer with a regular period of quiet re­flection. But without the religious imperative to maintaining the habit, this, too, is something that few of us, I think, are likely to sustain.

Rather than looking for secular surrogates, we should look for other ways to cultivate the virtues that ritual promotes. Such practices need to be at least as embedded in our daily routines as prayers are for believers.

The key is simply to attend as much to how we do things as to what we do. Take eating. We do not need to say grace to get into the habit of being grateful for what we have. Indeed, if we cultivate a proper sense of appreciation, we could do better than those autopilot believers who parrot their grace before mindlessly chowing down. There is nothing special we need do to achieve this, no incantation we need repeat before lifting fork to mouth. All we need do is to practise a kind of mindfulness when we eat.

It shouldn’t stop with ingestion. Our attitudes to waste can also help foster gratitude. It may have become a cliché that those who lived through the war never threw away a scrap, but our disposable generation would do well to recapture the sense of thankfulness that sat behind their zealous hatred of waste. Principled opposition to waste can become a convenient excuse for gluttony, so sometimes it is better to leave food uneaten than it is to overstuff an already full belly. But the casualness with which too many of us discard excess food reflects and reinforces a distasteful lack of gratitude that we would do well to counter.

Rituals are of use only to the extent that they encourage good habits of thought and behaviour. Their strength is in the way in which they weave themselves into the warp and weft of daily life. Their weakness is that they can become automatic and in some sense exist slightly to one side, in special, set-aside moments and places. A more direct method of appropriating their benefits is to attend directly to our own habits and build the right ones.

What this does not give us is any sense of the numinous. This is another loss, one that we should accept as inevitable, but that is not without compensation. Secular habits of gratitude and self-appraisal can give us a more acute sense of the value of the here and now. The immanent world can be the source of as much deep feeling as the transcendent. The poignant sense that all will pass and nothing will last is what roots true gratitude and a desire to make the most of our lives rather than squander our time on things that don’t matter, such as petty grievances and feuds.

So, although religious rituals belong to a form of life that may cultivate certain important ethical emotions, they also distract us with what seem like glimpses of another world. Unbelievers should replace rituals with good habits, and so take regular reflection more deeply into the fabric of everyday, mortal life. 

Julian Baggini’s books include “The Virtues of the Table” (Granta Books, £14.99). He will appear at the Salon London Breakfast at the Latitude Festival later this month

Ranking All 30 MLB Teams by Available Trade Assets

Just ask Billy Beane and Theo Epstein—the MLB trade season is officially underway. 

As the swap between the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs clearly demonstrated, teams must be willing to part with premier prospects in order to land the top names on the trade market. What follows is a ranking of all 30 MLB clubs based on their available trade assets.

The teams are broken down into two groups: buyers and sellers. For the buyers, the top trade chips are prospects. All prospect rankings are courtesy of Bleacher Report's Top 100 Prospects list. For sellers, the most valuable pieces are disposable and often high-priced veterans.

Now, it's time to see which teams are in the best and worst positions to pull off a major deal between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

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San Francisco Giants’ Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint

With the trade deadline approaching, the San Francisco Giants find themselves in a bit of a predicament. 

Back on June 8, the club was 42-21 and ruled the baseball world. Since, the Giants have suffered through a huge collapse and lost their 9.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. 

Now, at 49-40, general manager Brian Sabean has a decision to make.

Should he make some moves to help his club get back on track? If so, what positions should he look to target? Or do the Giants already have the right pieces to make a playoff run?

Here is the strategy the Giants should take leading up to the deadline.

 

Improve Top of the Order

With Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro both out with injuries, the Giants have not gotten much production from the top of the lineup. The Giants need to bring in table-setters to help spark the offense and score some runs.

Ben Zobrist could be a great addition for the Giants. He can play all over and hit virtually anywhere in the order. 

As a switch-hitter with a little bit of speed, Zobrist would be a perfect fit in the 2-slot. 

If the Giants really want to make a splash, they would look to acquire Daniel Murphy.

Murphy is hitting .294 this year with a .344 OBP and 11 stolen bags. He would be a nice No. 2 hitter and help to move runners over for the heart of the order.

The Giants desperately need some reinforcements to come in and give the Giants a lift. Dealing for Zobrist or Murphy could be the solution to the offensive woes.

 

Bolster the Bullpen

With Sergio Romo blowing saves left and right, his days as a closer may be long gone. 

During their “June Swoon,” the Giants pitching staff turned in a 4.31 ERA as the typically reliable bullpen began to crumble. The Giants couldn’t hold a lead, as Romo blew three saves and finished the month with a 9.72 ERA. 

Sabean has added pieces to the bullpen in the past, and that is exactly what he should do again this year. 

The San Diego Padres, at 40-49, are sure to be sellers before July 31 and could deal their closer, Huston Street. The Padres have a great bullpen with Joaquin Benoit and Street as the eighth- and ninth-inning guys. However, according to Hayden Kane of Fansided, the Padres won’t trade both relievers and are more likely to keep Benoit.

If Street is available, the Giants should go for him.

Street is 22-for-23 on saves this year, with his only blemish coming against the Giants this past weekend. 

Trading within the division can be tricky. If the Giants can’t pull it off, Steve Cishek of the Marlins would be another solid option. 

The sidearmer has converted 19 of 21 saves opportunities this season and allowed just one home run, a big improvement from the seven that Romo has given up.

The bottom line is the Giants cannot afford to give up leads late in the game. Cishek would be a great addition to the back end of the bullpen and help put up zeros late in the game. 

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

Stock Up, Stock Down for Yankees’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 14

Back on June 12, I wrote a piece breaking down the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the New York Yankees' top 10 prospects. Now, nearly a month later, let's see whether the stocks of these players have shifted up or down.

My rankings, based on my own opinion, went as follows:

  1. Gary Sanchez C
  2. Slade Heathcott OF
  3. Mason Williams OF
  4. Eric Jagielo 3B
  5. Tyler Austin 1B/3B/OF
  6. Gregory Bird 1B
  7. Aaron Judge OF
  8. Luis Severino RHP
  9. Peter O'Brien C/1B/3B/OF
  10. Ian Clarkin LHP

With the first half of the minor league season having gone by and the second half already in full swing, it is now time to check back in with these players to see how their respective seasons have progressed. Based on stats from the time of my original article and their overall seasons, I will determine whether or not each player's stock has fallen, risen or remained even.

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Gerrit Cole Injury: Updates on Pirates Pitcher’s Lat and Return

Gerrit Cole is headed back to the disabled list. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates' 23-year-old right-hander was removed from Friday's startjust his second one back after missing most of June with a shoulder injuryafter five innings with a sore right lat, and on Monday, he was officially placed on the DL. 

Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the news: 

When Cole originally suffered the injury, it didn't sound too serious. 

"It's all good," he told reporters, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook. "There's no pain. It just started to get a little tight. We just erred on the side of caution."

If true, the Pirates are likely just continuing to be cautious with their 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick, especially with the All-Star break coming up. 

Still, seeing their star pitcher land on the DL for the second time in a month has to be frustrating for Buccos fans. Cole sports a 3.78 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, but when healthy, he is much better than those numbers indicate. 

With Wandy Rodriguez lost for the season and Francisco Liriano still working his way back from an oblique injury, Pittsburgh doesn't currently sport great depth in its starting rotation. 

Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke have all pitched very well, but getting Cole healthy for the stretch run will be important for the Pirates, who sit 1.5 games back in the NL wild-card standings.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Manny Machado’s Return to Stardom Is Very Bad News for AL East

The AL East's status right now should be something along the lines of "none too thrilled," for it looks like the first-place Baltimore Orioles have made a major acquisition.

And they did it without even picking up the phone. All they had to do was get the good Manny Machado back.

Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy provided the key muscle for the Orioles on Monday night against the Washington Nationals, hitting back-to-back homers in the top of the 11th to push the O's toward an 8-2 victory. Their heroics aside, however, Baltimore's big-hitting star at Nationals Park was its 22-year-old (by a day) third baseman.

Machado began with three hits in his first three at-bats against Nationals fireballer Stephen Strasburg, and then added two more hits in extras. The finale for the day was a two-run homer off Aaron Barrett that capped Baltimore's six-run 11th-inning rally.

There's usually a bit of history to discuss in times like this. Sure enough, here's ESPN Stats & Info with what Machado was able to accomplish Monday night:

Of Machado's five hits, my personal favorite was the fourth. It involved him taking a pitch that was ticketed for the dirt and golfing it into left field for a single. That's the kind of hit you get only when you're hot.

And Machado is nothing if not hot.

After collecting five hits Monday night, Machado is now 9-for-17 (.529) in three games since returning from a (well-deserved) five-game suspension stemming from his antics against the Oakland A's last month. Look back even further through June 22, and Machado is 19-for-47 (.404) in his last 11 games.

In the process, he's raised his average from .224 to .261 and his OPS from .597 to .712. As such, his postgame comment about his bat "getting there" after a slow start is a bit of an understatement.

Small sample sizes and all, but we're past the point where we have to treat this hot stretch as the work of some upstart. Machado broke into the league in 2012 and has done this kind of thing before.

And therein lies what's so scary for the AL East: When Machado hits, he's one of the best players in baseball.

That's what Machado proved in the first half of 2013, when he started strong to the tune of a .310 average, an .807 OPS and a league-leading 39 doubles.

According to FanGraphs, here's where he ranked among qualified position players in wins above replacement:

Yup. Top five. Or "arguably" top five if you want to take his tie with David Wright into account. Either way, pretty impressive stuff.

Machado's bat was a big part of the equation. The other big part is what he was doing with his glove, as even Andrelton Simmons wasn't Machado's equal in terms of defensive value in the first half of 2013.

And just as Machado has shown that his bat still has plenty of life in it, he's shown that his glove is still dandy as well.

He made not one, but two fine defensive plays at the hot corner against the Nationals on Monday, and we're just a couple of days removed from Machado's defense playing a starring role on national television Saturday night at Fenway Park:

Though he's logged significantly less time than the players around him, you can still look at the defensive leaderboards at FanGraphs and find Machado tied for fourth among third basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved.

The numbers, therefore, are still syncing up with the eye test: Machado is amazing.

As for what the Orioles can do with a version of Machado who's amazing at third and plenty good at the plate, they're not being secretive about it. In the 11 games he's been hot, the Orioles are 7-4 (.636).

This is nothing new, mind you. The Orioles went 33-18 with Machado in the lineup after they called him up late in 2012, and then 53-43 when he was at his best in the first half of 2013. 

When Machado's good, the Orioles are good. That's obviously simplifying things a bit, but it's not too much of a stretch as far as correlation and causation go. Great players do tend to help their teams win games, and Machado is certainly a great player when he's right.

Goodness knows these are things that the other teams in the AL East don't want to think about. Specifically, the two teams that are trying to catch the 49-40 Orioles in the standings: the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.

The Blue Jays (47-43 as of publication) are already reeling, entering the week with losses in 19 of their last 28 games. And where it looks like the Orioles are welcoming back their best player, the Blue Jays just put arguably their own best player on the shelf. Slugging first baseman Edwin Encarnacion could be out as long as a month with a leg injury.

The Yankees (45-43) aren't much better off in the injury department, as Ivan Nova has already been lost for the year and there's a chance Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia could be next. They've acquired Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help pick up the slack, but their defense isn't much better than the defense that helped kill McCarthy's ERA in Arizona.

For now, Machado's return to superstar form is very much a welcome sight for the Orioles. But given what's going on in Toronto and New York, it could be much more than that in the long run.

It could be what allows the Orioles to run away with the AL East.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jered Weaver Injury: Updates on Angels Pitcher’s Back and Return

Los Angeles Angels All-Star starting pitcher Jered Weaver exited Monday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a back injury.

The Angels' official Twitter account reported the news:

After the Angles' 5-2 win over the Blue Jays, manager Mike Scioscia talked about the injury via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

The right-hander echoed a similar sentiment according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:

Weaver pitched two perfect innings and struck out one batter before leaving the mound for the evening, suggesting this may be more than a precautionary move. Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star offered some more context on Weaver's abrupt departure from Monday's contest at Angel Stadium of Anaheim:

It's unclear whether this most recent ailment is related to the lower back strain that sent Weaver to the 15-day disabled list in May 2012.

The 31-year-old veteran has a 9-6 record this year and has been making adjustments to accommodate for a lack of power-pitching prowess.

"Well, the velocity is not quite there like it used to be," said Weaver, per USA Today's Joe Haakenson. "I'm not 23 anymore, but getting a feel for the hitters, making adjustments as the league adjusts to you, I think I've been pretty good at that."

After an excellent month of May in which Weaver posted a 1.98 ERA, though, he followed that with a 3.99 ERA in June, then got rocked in his previous appearance on July 1 for five earned runs versus the Chicago White Sox. He is still having a stellar season overall, but rest may be necessary for Weaver to become more consistent down the stretch of the regular season.

The good news is that the All-Star break is approaching and the Angels are in a great spot, firmly in second in the American League West division behind only the Oakland Athletics. Thus, Weaver has some time to recuperate and return rejuvenated—should he miss his next scheduled start.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Chances of Possible Atlanta Braves Trades Actually Happening

Even with a disappointing showing on the National League All-Star Game roster, the Atlanta Braves are feeling good. Winners of nine of its past 10 ballgames heading into Monday night, Atlanta has hung on to its NL East division lead over the equally hot Washington Nationals.

Of course, there is still a lot of work to do for Atlanta to sit atop the division at season's end as well.

The easiest way for a team to get better midseason is to make a big trade. The Oakland Athletics were the first team to take the plunge in 2014, trading a couple of their very best prospects for arguably the top two starting pitchers available on the market.

This move was bad news for all other trade-market buyers for two reasons.

First, the A's grabbed the most attainable pitching assets on the market in Chicago's Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Both men were pitching phenomenally before the move, even with one of the poorer teams in the league playing behind them.

After those two, the starting pitching market is much more worrisome. David Price may get traded; Cliff Lee is probably available if someone wants to eat a lot of money. Maybe someone could tear Jon Lester away from Boston if the Sox don't plan on re-signing him anyway. There just aren't a lot of guys certain to be moved now.

And the other problem the A's brought to the doorsteps of competitors was setting the price for pitching. By giving up their top minor league asset, as well as two other useful pieces, Oakland raised the bar for what every other seller is looking to obtain now.

Luckily for Atlanta, starting pitching is not a specific target for the trade deadline. Although Gavin Floyd is lost for the year, Alex Wood has slid in to replace him, just as he did to start the season. Depth is no longer a luxury, but the Braves do also still have David Hale in the majors as a sixth starting option.

Where this team needs to make its mark is in the bullpen. Shae Simmons has been fantastic since being called up earlier this season, but the rest of the bullpen has not lived up to expectations.

A trade for a bullpen arm can come from anywhere and shouldn't cost very much. The San Diego Padres have multiple pieces in the pen that are expendable for a team not going anywhere this season. Other scuffling teams will also be looking to move relievers in an attempt to grab extra assets.

Based on need, availability and what it will cost, the likelihood of Atlanta trading for a reliever is very high. Call it 70 percent.

Of course, the lineup may be a bigger place of need than even the bullpen is. Despite scoring in double figures twice during this recent streak, Atlanta currently has one of the worst offenses in baseball.

It is easy to see why.

Other than Freddie Freeman, the rest of this team has been questionable. Evan Gattisthe only other player who has consistently hit this season, is on the disabled list; Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella cannot even slug .370; Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons each have an OPS sitting well below .700.

Maybe the call-up of prospect Christian Bethancourt will spark this team for the long haul, but based on his minor league hitting numbers, that seems highly unlikely.

Instead, the Braves need to make a move to add a bat. Fortunately for them, there are myriad options on the trade market to fill lineup holes...if the Braves are willing to bite the bullet on certain parameters.

With the realization that at least one or all out of Johnson, the elder Upton and La Stella are not everyday players, Atlanta has room to add either an infielder or an outfielder (or preferably both).

The targets come in the form of versatile veterans on losing clubs: Martin Prado in Arizona (still owed $22 million after this season), Aaron Hill in Arizona (owed $24 million more after this year), Emilio Bonifacio in Chicago (currently injured with no timetable for his return), Chase Headley in San Diego (having perhaps his worst season as a pro), Ben Zobrist in Tampa (will cost a ransom to obtain).

The list goes on. There are the likes of Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. Any type of bat Atlanta desires could be had if the Braves meet the demands from the other side.

With the combination of so many trade possibilities and the anemic performance by the team's offense, the likelihood of Atlanta trading for a bat is comfortably high. However, because it will cost more than obtaining a reliever, either in what will have to be given up or in what will be taken back monetarily, the chances are only 55 percent.

If it was always easy to fill every hole a team has, there would be no excitement this time of year.

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MLB Power Rankings 2014: Where Every Team Stands as All-Star Game Approaches

The word parity gets thrown around far too often in sports, but it truly does apply to the 2014 MLB season.

Entering play Monday, there were the six first-place teams and 17 teams within 10 games of them. Given the extra wild-card spot in the playoffs now, it will be difficult to separate some of the buyers and sellers when the trade deadline rolls around.

With that in mind, here is a look at the updated power rankings with the All-Star Game right around the corner. 

 

No. 28 Chicago Cubs

Look at this as something of a therapy session, Cubs fans (and honestly, don’t all Cubs fans need some type of therapy?). 

Trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel was the final nail in the coffin to the 2014 season, but the future is about as bright as it comes in the majors. Starlin Castro is heading to the All-Star Game, and Anthony Rizzo is one of the candidates in the final fan vote, and they represent just two of the building blocks in the organization.

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus pointed out just how many prospects are waiting in the wings after the acquisition of Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics:

Hammel was never supposed to be anything more than a one-year rental, and Chicago got the most it possibly could out of him. Samardzija is certainly a bit more painful because he realistically could have been a building block, but the prospects weren’t going to peak at the same time as the 29-year-old hurler. 

With Russell, Castro, Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler, among others, the Cubs won’t be this low for long in these power rankings. Now all they have to do is find some young pitching.

 

No. 16 New York Yankees

The New York Yankees stand out on this list simply because they aren’t supposed to be in the bottom half.

After all, it’s the Yankees.

They are looking up at the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays in a unusually weak American League East and still have a chance to make a postseason push, but they rank in the bottom half of the majors in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The pitching, outside of Masahiro Tanaka, has been just as mediocre, if not worse. Now it looks as if C.C. Sabathia is out for the year as well, as manager Joe Girardi said, via Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News: “I’m sure surgery is possible. They’ve got to talk about it and determine what’s next.”

New York is just mired in mediocrity, and it doesn’t look like things will improve much as the year continues. 

This season is and was all about Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, but it just doesn’t feel right that he may not make the playoffs in his final season.

 

No. 1 Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics are going to be more than well represented at the All-Star Game.

They have seven All-Stars if you want to get technical about it. Samardzija was elected to the National League team as a Cub, so we are going to count him here. Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle round out the rest of the list.

The A’s were arguably the best team in the majors before acquiring two pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs. Now they are even better.

Oakland’s rotation will include Samardzija, Hammel, Kazmir and Sonny Gray, which is simply unfair. It will be incredibly difficult for anyone to top that in a playoff series, where pitching is so important.

The thought here is that the Detroit Tigers may represent the biggest challenge in the American League going forward, but that is only if Justin Verlander returns to his typical incredible form.

Oakland is second in the majors in ERA, and the no-name lineup leads the league in runs and is third in the Moneyball favorite on-base percentage. 

There is simply more talent in this club than any other in the league.

 

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NL All Stars 2014: Underrated Stars Who Deserved to Start

The 2014 National League All-Star voting got plenty of things right with the elected starters, but that doesn't mean the roster isn't open to a healthy helping of criticism.

Fan voting isn't a perfect science—OK, it's not really a science at all—and there is often a brief lag time between when a player starts performing at an All-Star level and when he firmly entrenches himself in the public consciousness.

Every player elected to the roster is a talent worthy of consideration, and generally the fans are spot-on in their picks. However, there are still a few players who deserve some more love for the way they've played this season.

Let's break down the top NL players who deserved a second look from voters prior to the Midsummer Classic.

 

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers

The St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina won the popularity contest at this position. He has six Gold Gloves and will be appearing in his sixth All-Star Game at Target Field. The 31-year-old's stats are just about as good as ever, but they pale in comparison to Jonathan Lucroy's numbers.

Lucroy is also worth an astonishing 4.4 wins above replacement (WAR) this season; Molina is worth a mere 1.8.

What makes this snub even more painful is how much Lucroy has battled through just to get to Target Field.

In 2012, Lucroy was hitting .345 with five home runs and 30 RBI through May 27 before a hand injury kept him out until late July. He had another great offensive season as a catcher in 2013, belting 18 home runs and tallying 82 RBI on the season, but still received no love from the voters.

Molina can lean on his defensive chops in most arguments, but baseball author John Dewan notes that Lucroy is comparable in at least one aspect of the catching game:

Lucroy will enjoy his time rubbing elbows with the NL elite in the dugout, but if he keeps up the stellar plate appearances, he will be in full gear at All-Star Games for years to come.

 

Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

It took some time for Dee Gordon to get comfortable at second base, let alone play at an All-Star level. He was a middling shortstop in the Dodgers organization and didn't play at second base in the major leagues until the 2013 season. He also had a lot of trouble hitting the ball, denying fans the chance to see his best talents.

Things have finally fallen into place for Gordon in 2014. His production at the plate has taken a huge leap forward from last season.

He's seeing the ball well and getting on base early and often in games. The Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley is the starter at second base and is having another fine season. The six-time All-Star is batting .286 with six home runs and 40 RBI, but he is a shell of his former self.

Gordon is fresh, young and exciting. He also has that one unteachable talent that is the envy of any athlete who lacks the gift: speed.

Gordon leads the league with 42 stolen bases and nine triples. He's one of those players who doesn't seem to need to get a read on pitchers; his fast feet will take care of everything. He's also found a mentor in Chone Figgins in L.A., via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

"Figgins and Gordon work on their bunting together, often before most of their teammates show up at the stadium. Figgins talks to Gordon in the dugout during games, making sure his mind doesn't wander after a disappointing at-bat."

Utley is indeed a great second baseman, but Gordon's skills could wreak havoc in an All-Star Game. Just imagine him leading off with all those sluggers following up.

 

Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Todd Frazier indeed deserved the nod at the hot corner over the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez, who seems to have been elected based on reputation rather than output this season.

Frazier is sixth among NL position players with a 3.6 WAR and fourth in home runs. Frazier has also demonstrated he's a rare blend of power and speed, chipping in with 13 stolen bases on the year.

Despite trailing in the voting at his position, Frazier was happy just to be in the conversation in the lead-up to the All-Star Game.

"I think it's really cool even to be considered,” he said, via C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I wish we had about two more weeks left. You never know, things can happen. Maybe we'll get the Cincinnati fans to keep going, keep pushing."

The fans' push wasn't good enough, but those around the league knew that this All-Star Game wouldn't be complete without Frazier's name on the roster.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Ricky Nolasco Injury: Updates on Twins Pitcher’s Elbow and Return

Currently mired in one of his worst statistical seasons at the major league level, it was revealed on Monday that Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco is dealing with an apparent elbow injury.   

Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com provides details on the injury for Nolasco:

Bollinger shared more information about the supposed recurring issue:

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press details what the next step is for Nolasco and he also spoke with a member of the Twins front office:

Nolasco, signed to a four-year, $49 million free-agent deal during the offseason, left the team on Monday and flew back to the Twin Cities. The Twins’ Opening Day starter was due to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday, when he will be examined by Twins medical director Dr. John Steubs.

According to Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony, Nolasco had not sought treatment from the club’s training staff all year. Nolasco mentioned the elbow issue during a Monday meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.

“After some coaxing he finally admitted he’s been struggling since spring training with a bit of a sore elbow,” Antony said. “He said he can’t get loose more than anything. Said it gets tight. Some days it’s better than others. (Sunday) he had a real difficult time getting loose, so we called it a day after two innings.”

The Twins signed Nolasco to a lucrative deal during the offseason, but he has yet to live up to the four-year contract. The 31-year-old currently holds a 5-7 record with a career high in ERA (5.90) this season.

In his final start with the Twins prior to the apparent injury, he gave up six earned runs in just two innings pitched. That final start sparked some controversial comments from manager Ron Gardenhire, per Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com:

It starts with him. He's got to do a better job. The bottom line is he needs to figure out something because today wasn't any good at all. He didn't do anything. He didn't locate anything. They were all over every pitch. We have to figure out where we go next. That's what we're going to do and do here.

Whether the injury is similar to the one he had in 2007 when he pitched in just five games before ending his season, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press provides more details:

In a year where several starting pitchers have gone down with elbow injuries, Zachary D. Rymer of Bleacher Report wasn't shocked by the report about Nolasco:

The Twins are scuffling late in the season. They're already nine games under .500 at 39-48 and well outside of the AL Central race. Though the status of Nolasco is not known at this point, they might be better off to allow him full time to recover from the injury.

Nolasco has shown potential during his career, but has clearly struggled this season. If the elbow issues really are the root of the problem, the three years remaining on the contract might be equally as rough if they push him to return quickly.

Looking up at surging teams like the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, getting back into the race will be difficult. But with the way that Nolasco has pitched this season, making sure he returns to full health should be of the utmost importance.

 

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AL All-Stars 2014: Biggest Snubs from the Junior Circuit

Perhaps the only thing more certain about the 2014 MLB All-Star Game heading into the year than the presence of Derek Jeter in the starting lineup was the fact that there would be a notable list of players left off the respective rosters.

After all, there is for every All-Star Game in every single sport every single year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest snubs from the American League side. For the purpose of this exercise, the players on the final fan vote are not considered snubs, and all stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com entering play Monday.

 

Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman, Detroit Tigers

Remember when the Detroit Tigers traded slugger Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, and it looked like their lineup may suffer because of it?

Not so much.

Kinsler’s name is littered all over the American League leaderboard. His 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR) rank fourth among AL position players, his 1.3 defensive WAR ranks sixth, his 60 runs scored rank second, his 107 hits are good enough for fifth, his 170 total bases rank eighth, his 26 doubles rank second and his 39 extra-base hits rank seventh.

His .302 batting average pairs nicely with his 11 home runs and 45 RBI as well.

Kinsler breathed life into Detroit’s offense and is a major reason why the Tigers have a stranglehold on the American League Central. Yes, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are within striking distance, but assuming good health, Detroit is going to win that division.

Kinsler is a superstar on defense and with the bat in his hands, and he deserves to be in the All-Star Game.

 

Wade Davis, Relief Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out just why Wade Davis should be an All-Star:

Davis is one of baseballs best setup men, sitting with a 1.23 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He has 16 holds against two blown saves. Get this: He hasnt allowed a single extra-base hit all season and is holding opposing hitters to a .120/.234/.120 line.

It’s not fair for Davis, but the deck is simply stacked against him when it comes to earning a spot on the roster.

He plays for Kansas City, so he isn’t in the spotlight very often. What’s more, he is a setup man, which is simply not as sexy of a position as closer in many baseball circles.

Davis is a strikeout machine who just doesn’t allow solid contact. If we are truly working under the assumption that this game means something with World Series home-field lingering over it, National League hitters will be relieved that they don’t have to face him with the game on line.

 

Erick Aybar, Shortstop, Los Angeles Angels

Erick Aybar’s name is not on this list to say that Jeter should or shouldn’t be in the game. There will be plenty of that type of debate throughout the week leading up to the event, and it’s really not the worst thing in the world if an all-time great player gets the All-Star recognition one last time from the fans and the media for an incredible career.

After all, we are still talking about what basically amounts to an exhibition game, even if World Series home-field advantage is on the line.

Jeter’s merits aside, Aybar deserves to be at the All-Star Game. In a Los Angeles Angels lineup that has so many marquee names in it, Aybar stands out on defense and offense. He does a little bit of everything and has a .278 batting average, .315 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage.

Throw in 21 doubles, three triples, six home runs, 43 RBI, 45 runs and 11 steals, and it’s clear what type of impact player we are discussing.

His head coach, Mike Scioscia, certainly thinks Aybar should be there, via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

He should be an All-Star. ... There is no doubt he’s playing at the level he’s capable of defensively. This guy is a premium defender. And as he’s gotten into the season and gotten healthy, you are seeing his offensive side.

Hard to argue with the manager.

 

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2014 MLB All-Star Snubs: Most Noticeable Absences from NL and AL Rosters

Every year, there are numerous notable MLB players who didn't see their names included in the All-Star Game festivities. 2014 is no different.

While the fans tend to get it right for the most part, not every deserving player can get in, and there are bound to be apparent snubs. This year, there seem to be both young, up-and-coming players as well as experienced, household names who failed to see their names called.

Here's a look at the top-two snubs from both leagues.

 

National League Snubs

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has gone from a highly touted prospect to a staple of the Cubs lineup, but he still missed out on his first-ever All-Star appearance.

The 24-year-old has made a name for himself as one of the National League's top power hitters. His 17 home runs are tied for third-best in the NL, and he also ranks in the top 10 in walks, times on base and at-bats per home run. 

To be fair, you can't argue with having Rizzo behind starting NL first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and reserve first baseman Freddie Freeman. Both are two of the top power hitters in the league. But there's no doubt that Rizzo deserves a ticket to Minnesota for this year's festivities.

Although Rizzo was snubbed, he's not out yet—Rizzo tweeted that he can still be included with the NL Final Vote:

If the fans don't get Rizzo into the All-Star Game with the final spot, he'll have an extra chip on his shoulder until the voting next year.

 

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

Anthony Rendon of the Nationals joins Rizzo as youngsters who deserved their first appearance in the All-Star Game but will have to hold out for the NL Final Vote.

Rendon's resume is hard to deny: He ranks fifth in the league in runs scored, fourth in triples, ninth in extra base hits and just outside of the top 10 with 21 doubles. His versatility in starting at second base, then switching to third when Ryan Zimmerman got injured, then back to second has been crucial for Washington.

In fact, playing two positions may have actually hurt Rendon's chances of getting in at either second or third base with the fan vote. 

Alas, Scott Allen of The Washington Post brought the good news that Rendon will rock a mullet in the All-Star Game should he win the vote:

If his immense stats aren't enough to get him in, that mullet should be.

 

American League Snubs

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers

Three All-Star selections in Ian Kinsler's career simply doesn't do his first eight years in the league justice, but his snubbing in 2014 was undoubtedly the worst yet.

His WAR is fourth-best in the AL among all position players and tops for his position. Second in runs scored, fifth in hits, second in doubles and seventh in extra-base hits in the AL certainly sounds like an All-Star.

Many players don't respond well when traded unexpectedly from a contending team, and Kinsler's departure from Texas was tough. But he settled in quickly in Detroit, and has turned into one of the top sluggers on a club that is gunning for another deep postseason run.

Whether Kinsler is recognized with an All-Star selection or not, the Tigers have one of the best hitting second basemen in their lineup as they chase a World Series this October.

 

Chris Sale, P, Chicago White Sox

When it comes to All-Star snubs, you won't hear about any more than Chris Sale.

The 25-year-old has dazzled in his fourth season, posting an 8-1 record with a 2.16 ERA and nearing the top of the charts in almost every statistical category in the AL. If it weren't for a wealth of premier pitchers nestled in the AL this year, Sale would have been an easy pick.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura was quick to question Red Sox manager John Farrell, who is managing the AL All-Stars, for not selecting Sale, per David Laurila:

Sale will still have his shot to get into the All-Star Game with the AL Final Vote, and with the uproar over his snubbing, he has a good chance to win the vote. But if he doesn't, his absence from the game will be quite noticeable. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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Athletics’ Brandon Moss Has Team’s Highest RBI Total Before Break Since 2000

With 62 RBI heading into Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss has his team's highest RBI total before the All-Star break since 2000, per the A's' official Twitter account.

Oddly enough, the A's had three players top 62 RBI before the break in 2000, with Jason Giambi (78 RBI) leading the way, followed by Ben Grieve (65) and Miguel Tejada (63).

Though the A's have had plenty of team success since 2000, they've largely relied on pitching, defense and a balanced lineup.

Giambi famously left Oakland to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, and Tejada left for the Baltimore Orioles following the 2003 campaign. Around the same time, third baseman Eric Chavez started to decline, morphing from a borderline superstar into a glove-oriented player who still offered a bit of pop with the bat.

Fortunately for the Oakland faithful, the lack of offensive firepower appears to be a thing of the past. Moss already has 19 home runs this season, and he has an outside shot to reach 70 RBI before the All-Star break, needing eight more over the next seven games. While his .272 batting average is nothing special, his .530 slugging percentage is exceptional for a player who logs half of his games in the cavernous O.co Coliseum.

Joining Moss in the race toward superstardom are third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Donaldson is in the midst of an awful slump that has sunk his numbers, but he was a fringe MVP candidate last season and is still on pace for 35 home runs and 114 RBI in 2014. Cespedes, meanwhile, is on pace for 26 homers and 101 RBI.

If one of the three emerging stars reaches 100 RBI—seemingly a near certainty—he'll become the first Athletic since Frank Thomas in 2006 to hit the century mark.

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Athletics’ Brandon Moss Has Team’s Highest RBI Total Before Break Since 2000

With 62 RBI heading into Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss has his team's highest RBI total before the All-Star break since 2000, per the A's' official Twitter account.

Oddly enough, the A's had three players top 62 RBI before the break in 2000, with Jason Giambi (78 RBI) leading the way, followed by Ben Grieve (65) and Miguel Tejada (63).

Though the A's have had plenty of team success since 2000, they've largely relied on pitching, defense and a balanced lineup.

Giambi famously left Oakland to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, and Tejada left for the Baltimore Orioles following the 2003 campaign. Around the same time, third baseman Eric Chavez started to decline, morphing from a borderline superstar into a glove-oriented player who still offered a bit of pop with the bat.

Fortunately for the Oakland faithful, the lack of offensive firepower appears to be a thing of the past. Moss already has 19 home runs this season, and he has an outside shot to reach 70 RBI before the All-Star break, needing eight more over the next seven games. While his .272 batting average is nothing special, his .530 slugging percentage is exceptional for a player who logs half of his games in the cavernous O.co Coliseum.

Joining Moss in the race toward superstardom are third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Donaldson is in the midst of an awful slump that has sunk his numbers, but he was a fringe MVP candidate last season and is still on pace for 35 home runs and 114 RBI in 2014. Cespedes, meanwhile, is on pace for 26 homers and 101 RBI.

If one of the three emerging stars reaches 100 RBI—seemingly a near certainty—he'll become the first Athletic since Frank Thomas in 2006 to hit the century mark.

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Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista Is Right to Call MLB’s Replay System ‘A Joke’

When MLB announced the implementation of a new replay system before the 2014 season, it was widely assumed that this initiative would make wrong game-changing calls a thing of the past.

But the replay system has not worked as advertised, often upholding calls on the field despite video footage showing enough evidence for those calls to be overturned.

The Toronto Blue Jays have already been on the receiving end of several of these questionable calls that the replay system has upheld. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Jose Bautista blasting the entire concept of video review after having yet another challenge go against his team.

"This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes," Bautista told reporters following a game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, via Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. “I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident.”

These frustrations stemmed from a play in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game. With the Blue Jays losing 3-1 to the A’s and Melky Cabrera on base, Bautista hit a two-out double that Cabrera tried to score on, only to be called out at home. Toronto challenged the call and despite replays showing Cabrera appearing to dodge the tag from A’s catcher Derek Norris, the call at the plate was upheld.

Had that call been overturned, the Blue Jays would’ve made it a 3-2 game with the tying run standing at second base.

“I feel like a chance for Adam Lind to tie the game in the eighth inning was taken away from him,” said Bautista.

Like mentioned above, this wasn’t the first time Toronto has run afoul of the replay system.

Just days before this latest incident, the Blue Jays had two replay challenges go against them during the same game against the Milwaukee Brewers. On the first play, Munenori Kawasaki had appeared to dodge a tag but was called out by the umpire. The call was still upheld despite replays showing that Kawasaki might have dodged the tag. On the second play, Steve Tolleson was called safe by the umpire after a steal attempt. But the Brewers challenged the call, and it was overturned.

The main problem with the replay system is that it requires sufficient evidence before being allowed to overturn a call. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen so far, there is no clear-cut definition of what is considered to be sufficient evidence.

A video replay might appear to show that a call on the field was wrong, but umpires in the replay center might not treat that as sufficient evidence and still uphold the call. The whole process is still much too judgmental.

Until the umpires looking at the replays let technology do the work and start making calls based on what the video shows, the whole concept of the replay system remains unclear and only invites further criticism.

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