Braves Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark

As we arrive at the three-quarter mark in the 2014 baseball season, let’s take a look at how the different parts of the Atlanta Braves measure up.

The team’s recent collapse in the standings has been well-publicized, and perhaps assigning some letter grades to each part of the team can help us find out which parts are pulling their weight and which parts are not.

 

Offense

The Atlanta offense has been offensive this season. Despite being ranked 22nd in baseball with a .244 team batting average, as well as 22nd in on-base percentage and 26th in slugging percentage, the Braves rank just 28th in runs scored.

They’re not hitting or getting on base or hitting for power, and all of that is conspiring to keep their runners from crossing home plate.

While all of the Braves offensive numbers are way down from last season, perhaps one of the most glaring drops comes in the power department. Last year, Atlanta led the National League in home runs with 181 and ranked second in the NL in slugging percentage (.402).

This season, through 118 games, they’ve hit just 94 home runs with a .369 slugging percentage—both numbers are in the bottom third of the league.

When a team goes from the top of the league in home run and extra-base hit production to the bottom third, the result is never going to be good.

Just about everything continues to go wrong for Atlanta’s offense, and that earns it a grade of C- at the three-quarter mark. The Braves are still a team above .500, but they're sinking fast.

 

Defense

If we go by the standard metrics of fielding and look at fielding percentage, then Atlanta’s .985 number this year is right in line with the .986 number it put up last year. Both years, the Braves ranked in the top third in the National League.

If we take a look at an advanced stat, like Defensive Runs Saved, then we see a couple of bright spots and a bunch of not-so-bright spots.

Jason Heyward is leading baseball with 31 DRS. Andrelton Simmons, last year’s DRS leader, is ninth with 14 Defensive Runs Saved. Every other lineup regular has a negative DRS number, with Chris Johnson and his negative 15 DRS bringing up the rear.

So there’s been good defense and bad defense, but overall, it’s been only slightly above average. The Braves aren’t committing an inordinate amount of errors, but they’re also not completing all the plays they could turn into outs.

I’ll assign a grade of B- to a solid, but inconsistent, Braves defense.

 

Rotation

If you had assigned the Atlanta rotation a grade in spring training, it would have been a “P,” for panic, with the expectation that a solid F would not be unexpected for the first month of the season. The Braves had just lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, and the team was readying itself to fill in with the inexperienced arms of Alex Wood and David Hale, plus the veteran carcass of Aaron Harang.

If you gave the Atlanta rotation a grade after the season’s first month, it would have been an A+, something completely unexpected. The Braves' spectacular rotation carried them to one of the best records in baseball through the end of April.

So how is that starting pitching holding up now? It’s still looking pretty good. Despite losing another starter for the season to injury (Gavin Floyd), and the head-scratching struggles of Mike Minor, the remainder of the Atlanta rotation has collectively performed better (3.45 ERA) than they did last season (3.51 ERA). Both of those ERA numbers rank in the top third in the National League.

Considering that three-fifths of the expected rotation is out for the year, the remaining bunch has held it together very well and continued Atlanta’s tradition of strong starting pitching. They get a grade of A at the three-quarter mark.

 

Bullpen

Last season, Atlanta had the best bullpen ERA in baseball—a spectacular 2.46 mark. This year, that number is almost a run higher at 3.32.

That’s still good enough for the top third in the National League, and it’s better than the average Major League bullpen, but it’s not that dominant, shutdown force it was last year.

Strangely, the problem with the bullpen has been in tie games. When the Braves are leading in a game, they have a 2.08 bullpen ERA. When they’re behind, they have a 2.88 ERA. But when the game is tied, the Atlanta pen ERA balloons to 5.04.

At least they’re protecting the lead, but their failure when the game is tied is troubling. That leads to a grade of C+ for the bullpen.

 

Manager and General Manager

Surprisingly, when Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Jeff Schultz did an informal poll in his column last week of who is to blame for the Braves' struggles, manager Fredi Gonzalez was ranked third (out of three), behind general manager Frank Wren and the Braves players.

As one high-priced player after another fails to live up to their contracts with the Braves, Wren is being held more and more accountable.

The Braves' lack of a leadoff hitter, or effective left-handed setup man, or effective bench, have fans pointing the finger at Wren and his poor roster construction. Having to release Dan Uggla, who is still owed over $15 million, did not sit well with the Atlanta faithful. And the prospect of someday soon having to do the same with B.J. Upton is leading to an extreme pessimism about the Braves front office and their decisions of which players to hand big contracts to.

On the other hand, Wren has done a good job of finding replacements for the injured rotation arms—signing Ervin Santana in spring training and finding Aaron Harang in a shoebox in his garage. Wren also made a decent morale trade at the deadline by acquiring a lefty reliever and a bench upgrade.

It’s really hard to lay the blame for players not performing up to expectations at the feet of a manager or a general manager. But every team that struggles will ultimately blame the folks who built the team and run the team.

There’s some good and some bad from both Gonzalez and Wren, so I’ll give them each a grade of C at the three-quarter mark.

 

Stats for this story are through the games of August 11 and are sourced from ESPN and FanGraphs.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Joe Kelly Proving He Can Be Big Part of Red Sox’s Future

The Boston Red Sox have a bevy of quality pitching prospects, but when the non-waiver trade deadline came around on July 31, Boston chose to trade for a starting pitcher as part of its return package.

That pitcher was Joe Kelly, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals and immediately became the second-most seasoned veteran in Boston's rotation behind Clay Buchholz. That's a stunning turnaround for a team that had Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy as part of its rotation just a week before the deadline.

While Kelly only has 273 major league innings under his belt entering Tuesday night, he's shown through two starts with Boston that he has a chance to stay in the rotation long term. Even better, he's tied to the Red Sox through 2018, giving the team cost certainty, flexibility and a long-term asset to leverage.

The right-hander's calling card is ground-ball percentage. Hurlers with high ground-ball tendencies can have that feature work for and against them.

As FanGraphs notes, someone who gives up grounders will frequently give up more hits but limit the impact of these hits. Grounders are more difficult to field than fly balls, but fly balls travel a farther distance and are more likely than grounders to result in extra bases.

Kelly has induced 56.6 percent of all contact onto the ground, easy pickings for the defense to scoop up and record outs. Out of all starters with at least 40 innings pitched this season, Kelly ranks eighth in all of baseball in ground-ball percentage.

If Kelly can be backed by a solid infield defense, the value he can return to the club as a quality arm is notable.

He'll never be known as a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by his career 6.0 strikeouts-per-nine rate, and he could stand to trim his career 3.1 walk rate, but as long as he limits the damage done by extra bases, there's a role for Kelly in the rotation. Maybe he'll never be an ace, but there's significant value in someone's ability to generate outs and eat innings in the middle of a rotation.

So far, Kelly has delivered as a stable pitcher for Boston. He's given up three runs across his two starts for the club, totaling 13 innings while punching out six and walking seven. It must be said, however, that his two opponents were the Cincinnati Reds and the Cardinals, his former team. What happens when Kelly starts making his way through AL lineups and the designated hitter on a regular basis?

Given Boston's wealth of young starting pitching and questions about Kelly's ultimate effectiveness, it's possible that the Red Sox may view Kelly as a future reliever, a role he has some experience in already.

The 26-year-old could contribute greatly out of the bullpen if that is the case. Pitchers tend to experience an uptick in velocity when moving from the rotation to the bullpen, as Brad Johnson of Fake Teams writes. This is because the pitchers do not need to conserve their arm for long stints and know they will be in the game for only one or two innings at a time, which allows for extra effort with each delivery.

Kelly's fastball has checked in at an average of 94.7 mph over his career thus far, per FanGraphs. Combine an uptick in velocity plus his ground-ball profile, and Kelly could emerge as a weapon in the bullpen that shuts down power bats and induces double plays in a role much like Burke Badenhop's for Boston this season.

If Kelly can work on reducing his walks and elevate his strikeout rate, he could be remarkably similar to John Lackey, whom St. Louis received in exchange for Kelly and Allen Craig, as Brett Cowett of Fire Brand of the American League writes. Kelly is young enough that there is a real possibility he can make the minimal improvements necessary to justify Lackey comparisons.

Thus far, Kelly is proving he can be a big part of what Boston is building for 2015 and beyond.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report’s Guide to Acing Your 2014 Fantasy Baseball Home Stretch

More than four months after Opening Day, the long, treacherous baseball season still runs rampant. As MLB squads prepare for a postseason run, fantasy baseball owners hope to accomplish the same result.

It seems like ages since we all assembled our predraft cheat sheets. Remember when the crisp spring air discharged a scent of endless possibilities? Those were the days when Danny Salazar and Gerrit Cole held the whole fantasy world in their hands. 

Now, many once-hopeful mangers have helplessly watched their fake teams sink into peril while others engage in the fight of their lives. Or they're just trying to sneak into third place to get their money back. Either works.

This is the time of year where fantasy fatigue strikes hardest. Owners have endured the daily grind of filing a lineup since April, and the summer sun is smiling, tempting them to shut down the computer and go outside. Not to mention this other popular sport that steals baseball's thunder.

You've come this far, so don't stop now. Postseason play is close in head-to-head formats, and the clock is also ticking on rotisserie gamers to amass those precious points. We're rounding the closing lap, but there's still time to catch a second wind.

To provide owners with that extra boost, here is a late-season fantasy guide containing tips to help end the year in style. Not sure how to approach trading with the deadline nearing? Want some waiver-wire suggestions, injury news and possible September call-ups to monitor?

We got you covered. Here's everything you need to finish the 2014 season strong.

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Inside the Hype, Doubts of Minor League Baseball’s Home Run King

FRISCO, Texas — Joey Gallo, the Texas Rangers’ hulky Double-A third baseman, described leading the minor leagues in home runs last season as “kind of a one-of-kind thing,” then shrugged indifferently at the prospect of repeating the feat this year to become the first to do so since 1972-73 (note: Kevin Witt played in Japan in 2005, leading the minors in homers in 2004 and 2006).

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” the 6’5”, 230-pounder said one afternoon last week while seated in the Frisco RoughRiders’ dugout. Entering Wednesday's play, the 20-year-old has belted 38 homers between Frisco and Myrtle Beach of the High-A Carolina League. That is good for just one behind Kris Bryant, third baseman for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa club in the Pacific Coast League. Bryant hit No. 39 on Tuesday evening.

Gallo said his sole interest in the race is competing with a familiar face from back home in Las Vegas. The 22-year-old Bryant played alongside Gallo’s older brother while growing up, and their fathers work together operating a baseball instructional school.

Gallo would become the first to go back to back with minor league home run crowns since Jim Fuller of the Baltimore Orioles organization, and Fuller played at Triple-A and Double-A those years. It’s difficult to say that would earn more fame than hitting a promotional Chevy truck during batting practice before this year’s All-Star Futures Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.

There are other numbers that have intrigued Gallo watchers since he entered pro ball as the 39th overall pick in the supplemental round in 2012. His strikeout rate of 36.8 percent in 2013, his first full season of pro ball, prompted detailed scrutiny. The figure has dropped overall this season to 32.9 percent, but it’s 40.4 for his 53 games with Frisco.

Consider that last year’s major league leader in strikeouts, Chris Carter of the Houston Astros, fanned in 36.2 percent of his plate appearances. Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn, the 2012 pacesetter, struck out 34.2 percent of the time that year and has gone down swinging in 28.5 percent of his plate appearances during his career.

“I always tell people I could shorten up and chop balls to shortstop all day and strike out only 20 percent of the time,” Gallo said, “but I’m going to go up and keep trying to drive the ball. I’ve always had one swing my whole life, so it’s kind of the swing I know.”

The splits of Gallo’s .249 batting average with Frisco are .268 against right-handers and .188 against lefties. With 78.8 percent of his at-bats coming against righties, 76.5 percent of his homers have come against them but only 68.1 percent of his strikeouts.

Mike Daly, senior director of Texas’ minor league operations, expressed satisfaction with Gallo’s season.

“His size, his strength—he has as much bat speed as anybody in baseball,” Daly said. “I think Joey will even tell you he was chasing home runs [last year]. Just controlling the strike zone better is something Joey knew he had to work on, like the great hitters do.”

Todd Guggiana, the amateur scout who has covered Las Vegas for Texas since 1997, echoed Daly’s stance.

“He’s surpassed what we’d thought,” said Guggiana, based in Long Beach, California. “He’s going to strike out. He’s a bigger guy. They’re going to have more holes in their swing.”

Gallo could also oddly lead two leagues in homers this year. The 21 that he hit for Myrtle Beach are four ahead of Winston-Salem’s Courtney Hawkins with 19 games left. His 17 for Frisco trail Corpus Christi’s Telvin Nash by one with 18 games remaining.

If he wins the Carolina League title despite leaving in mid-June, Gallo said, “That would be pretty crazy.”

According to Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News, the most recent hitter to achieve that double was Fred Sington in 1934 in the Class B Southeastern League and Class C Middle Atlantic League. Sington’s accomplishment came with an asterisk. The Southeastern League folded in late May that year, and he topped that home run “race” with six.

Gallo also pitched in high school, at Bishop Gorman, and reportedly hit 100 mph. He might have been drafted higher if projected as a pitcher but indicated he wanted to play every day.

Another contemporary from Gallo’s youth baseball days in Vegas is Washington Nationals All-Star Bryce Harper, 21. They didn’t play for the same high school but were hitting-pitching teammates on club and select teams.

“No one would catch Bryce except Joey,” his father, Tony Gallo, said. “No one would catch Joey except Bryce.”

More name-dropping: Gallo works out in the offseason back home with the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Giambi and the Colorado Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki.

As for the windshield-smashing episode in Minnesota, Gallo said he didn’t see the ball hit. He was still hitting and got wind of what happened a few minutes later from the surrounding media.

“Then on the big screen, they showed the truck,” Gallo said. “I felt bad.”

He would have felt worse if the shot had struck his parents, who happened to be standing in the nearby plaza. Tony Gallo estimated he and wife Laura were about 15 feet away.

“I’m really amazed no one got hit because most people were just milling around,” said Tony, a former Montreal Expos minor leaguer who is a full-time pitching instructor. “I told them that was my son.”

Then, during the game, Gallo hit one past the truck.

With Tony involved in baseball instruction and Laura being a computer analyst, the Gallos often send their son CDs that show differences in his swing.

“Sometimes, he tries to do a little too much,” Tony said. “There’s a little bit of pressure on him; he knows he’s a top prospect. Then he backs off, and he gets on another hot streak.”

If you think a third baseman of Gallo’s size is unusual, he was a 6’4” shortstop as a junior at Bishop Gorman. (Bryant plays third at 6’5”, 215.) Gallo was moved to third under the assumption no big league organization would draft a shortstop that large.

He said he wants to stay at third, and Daly said the Rangers want him there. Gallo has played two games at first base for Frisco at the request of the Rangers’ hierarchy.

RoughRiders manager Jason Wood, a former major league infielder, said Gallo’s size hasn’t hurt his agility at third and he has also looked comfortable at first.

Wood said Gallo, who hit a walk-off homer in his Frisco debut in June, has accepted all that’s required of a newcomer. That includes sharing a seat on the bus.

“On long road trips, that’s not something you really want to do,” Wood said. “Big Joey has to sit with somebody.”

Gallo’s season has been followed closely by Rangers fans who have seen Texas plummet this year from no worse than a postseason contender during the past four campaigns—with two World Series appearances—to contending for the majors’ worst record.

Eric Nadel, Rangers radio broadcaster since 1979, said he has sensed minimal fan clamoring to promote Gallo to the majors when rosters expand September 1 since there’s no postseason berth on the line.

“People are more educated about 40-man roster status and the fact that it might be better for the player not to see big league pitching at this stage of his career,” Nadel said.

Gallo isn’t on Texas’ 40-man roster, and Frisco will play at least a week into September in the Texas League playoffs.

“When Joey’s ready, he will certainly move up,” Daly said. “Things always tend to work out.”

Said Gallo: “They don’t ever talk about that with me. I wouldn’t think it would be anytime this year. Finish out here at least and see how that goes.”

Fraley reported that Rangers general manager Jon Daniels on Sunday addressed the possibility of a September call-up, expressing his belief that the slugger needed more time.

If fans must wait until 2015 to feast their eyes on Gallo's light-tower power, we'll then see if it's ultimately worth the wait.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Full MLB Award Predictions at the 3-Quarter Mark of the 2014 Season

The 2014 Major League Baseball season has reached the final turn. As the 30 clubs make their way down the stretch toward the end of the line, individual players are wrapping up impressive campaigns that soon enough could result in an after-season award.

Yes, it's time again to check in with an update of the 10 prominent individual award races as the final quarter of the season plays out. Back around the All-Star break a month ago, when the season was a little more than halfway through, we took a look at the battles for the very same awards.

Another quarter of the year has gone a long way toward clarifying where things stand in each league in the chases for Manager of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award winner and MVP. Also included? A batch of honorable mentions for all five categories.

Even though there isn't much time left in 2014, a lot still can change between now and the end of the season. That last turn sometimes can be a doozy.

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Dodgers Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark

Three quarters of the 2014 MLB season are in the books, and the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a comfortable position.

After scuffling out of the gates and being unable to win more than three games in a row until the end of July, the Boys in Blue have seemingly hit their stride at long last.

The team with the highest payroll in baseball owns the best record in the National League and leads the San Francisco Giants by a season-high six games in the NL West entering Wednesday.

A balanced lineup and dominant starting rotation have been the main factors behind the Dodgers' success so far. However, Los Angeles still has cause for concern as the team enters the home stretch of the regular season.

The following slides evaluate the Dodgers from a variety of perspectives based on the club's performance through the first 75 percent of the schedule.

 

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A’s Will Need Josh Donaldson’s Raw Power More Than Ever Down the Stretch

The Oakland A’s put an end to the Kansas City Royals’ eight-game winning streak on Tuesday night, as they exploded for 11 runs on 20 hits to back another strong outing from left-hander Jon Lester.

But the A’s star of the game was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of late-inning home runs and four RBI—one of his finest performances of the season.

Donaldson’s second homer, which came in the eighth inning off left-hander Bruce Chen, was his 25th of the season, a new career high for the 28-year-old All-Star after hitting 24 during his breakout 2013 campaign.

And with slugger Yoenis Cespedes and his 17 home runs with Oakland no longer in the picture, the A’s will need Donaldson to fill his shoes in the power department down the stretch.

The A’s offense has struggled since trading Cespedes at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, averaging a little more than three runs per game and hitting just six home runs in their previous 11 games entering Tuesday.

Those six long balls didn’t come from the A’s usual power hitters either; Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt chipped in with two apiece, while Eric Sogard and Derek Norris both added one.

 

Therefore, it was refreshing to see Donaldson jump the yard twice Tuesday, especially because they were his first home runs since July 30, his last game playing alongside Cespedes.

After the win, Donaldson acknowledged that the team is still adjusting to a Cespedes-less lineup (via Jane Lee of MLB.com):

"It's one of those things where you're still trying to get the feel for the lineup just because there obviously has been some change," Donaldson said. "I believe we have a good lineup and that we'll continue to have success.”

While the A’s offense collectively is still trying to get a feel for the lineup, Donaldson’s bat has warmed up in a big way this month. His multi-hit performance on Tuesday extended his hitting streak to nine games, during which he’s batting .406 with five extra-base hits, seven RBI and three stolen bases. However, his uptick in production extends well beyond the past nine games.

Donaldson showed plenty of power during the first half of the season—as in before the All-Star break—hitting 20 home runs and posting a .449 slugging percentage in 92 games, but his .238 batting average and .317 on-base percentage both were way, way down compared to his 2013 numbers (.301 AVG, .384 OBP).

Since then, however, Donaldson has been a more complete offensive player, batting .326/.434/.581 with five home runs, seven doubles, 19 RBI and nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (18) over 24 games. Additionally, the right-handed batter’s strong second half has pushed his batting average to .250 or better for the first time since June 29.

Donaldson's ZIPS projections, per FanGraphs, for the remainder of the season calls for him to hit six more home runs and accrue 24 RBI over the A’s final 41 games, though that already seems inaccurate after his two-homer, four-RBI outburst on Tuesday. In general, it’s hard to believe Donaldson would hit only four additional bombs in his next 40 games.

Furthermore, Donaldson’s batting average on balls in play this season (.270) is down considerably compared to his 2013 BABIP (.333) and career average (.299).

ZIPS believes he’ll post a .284 BABIP over the rest of the season, which is fair given his aforementioned totals. However, Donaldson has proved to be a streaky hitter in the past, which means there’s also a realistic chance he’ll blow past that projection.

Though I can’t confirm it, I would guess that the A’s decision to trade Cespedes at the deadline at least had something to do with the fact that Donaldson, going by the numbers, has underproduced this season and was therefore poised for a strong finish.

Either way, the A's All-Star third baseman couldn’t have picked a better time to finally find his groove at the plate.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Will Dodgers-Giants Rivalry Mean Something Huge for 1st Time in a Decade?

The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers don't need a tight race to hate each other. They barely need oxygen for that.

The dislike comes naturally for these two old, old rivals who cut the same path across the continent and have engaged in more fist-clenching, brow-wiping grudge matches than you could cram into a Web series, let alone an article.

That being said, a tight race doesn't hurt. Especially when it's been a while.

And it has been a while. Since 2005, the Giants and Dodgers have never been fewer than seven games apart when one team won the division. 

In other words, the rivalry has been mostly one-sided, though the winning side has fluctuated. We've seen the Dodgers make postseason runs. We've seen the Giants win World Series.

What we haven't seen since the George W. Bush administration is S.F. and L.A. locked in a good old-fashioned National League West battle.

Will 2014 buck the trend and reignite the rivalry? Maybe.

The Giants started the season on a tear and by June 7 had built a 9.5-game lead. Since then the Orange and Black have returned to earth in a big way—going a paltry 21-34—while the Dodgers (32-31 at the time) have recovered from an uneven start to pace the pack.

Entering play Wednesday, Los Angeles owned a six-game division lead over San Francisco. The Giants have lost five in a row—including a 3-2 extra-inning loss Tuesday to the Chicago White Sox—while the Dodgers have won three straight.

So it's easy to dismiss the rivalry for yet another year. But it isn't over yet.

The two clubs will meet six more times in September, meaning even if the Giants fail to make much headway in the next few weeks, they could still make a move. 

Right now, San Francisco leads the season series 7-6, though all of the Giants' wins against their SoCal nemesis came in the first half.

"Obviously it's something," skipper Don Mattingly told CBSSports.com's Janie McCauley after the Dodgers swept the Giants in late July. "That's all it is at that point because you have a lot of baseball to play. We're going to see these guys again. They're not going anywhere."

True enough. But if San Francisco wants to make the stretch run matter, it'll have to recapture that intangible something. That magic.

If it does, it'll be good for California fans, and good for the game's longest-running tete-a-tete.

Consider: The two franchises first locked horns in 1889 (during the Benjamin Harrison administration) when the New York Giants of the National League met the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association in a best-of-11 playoff matchup that technically predates the World Series. 

Since then the teams have met in countless fraught situations. They've shared a stadium-full of memorable moments.

They've followed each other across the country, from the Big Apple to the Golden State in 1957. And they've fostered the ultimate love-hate relationship.

 

The last respectable Giants-Dodgers race, though, came in 2004, when L.A. finished 93-69 and S.F. went 91-71. The scramble came down to the penultimate game, which the Dodgers won on a Steve Finley grand slam. 

Since then, the teams have taken turns basking in the limelight—particularly the Giants, who hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy in 2010 and 2012 but didn't face serious competition from the Dodgers during either run.

Los Angeles, on the other hand, made it to the NLCS in 2013 but never had to fret about the Giants, who finished a disappointing 76-86.

Now, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies all out if it, the division belongs to the Giants and Dodgers.

Or, more accurately, one of them.

That's a decidedly good thing, according to MLB.com's Richard Justice:

Baseball is better when the Dodgers and Giants are both good. They've been going at one another for around 120 years, and the games today have as much emotion and intensity as they did back in the days of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. They remain two of the sport's cornerstone franchises, both playing to packed houses, both occupying large places in the hearts and minds of their local citizens.

Oh, sure, one squad could slip in as a wild-card qualifier, rendering the winner-take-all narrative moot. But that comes with a one-game playoff, the mother of all crapshoots.

Clearly, the pressure is on to win the NL West outright—and, in the process, to squash a longtime rival.

The Giants and Dodgers don't need to be in a race to hate each other. For the rest of us, it'd be a lot cooler if they were.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

San Francisco Giants Pay Tribute to Robin Williams with Moment of Silence

The San Francisco Giants observed a moment of silence for Robin Williams before Tuesday night's game with the Chicago White Sox:

The Giants also showed a video tribute of the comedian that included a clip from Mrs. Doubtfire, which was both filmed in and took place in San Francisco.

Upon the actor's passing, team president Larry Baer released a statement:

We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Robin Williams. Robin was a true artist who brought joy to the world through his brilliance, humor, talent and love for our community. We lost one of our greatest fans today and he will be deeply missed by the Giants family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Robin's family and the entire community during this difficult time.

Williams was a huge Giants fan, appearing before Game 1 of the 2010 National League Division Series to pump up the crowd at AT&T Park.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jayson Werth Charged with Reckless Driving: Latest Details and Reaction

Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth was reportedly charged with misdemeanor reckless driving in Virginia stemming from an incident over the summer, per NBCWashington.com.

Court documents from Fairfax County, Virginia, revealed that the 35-year-old was driving 105 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. Werth was originally due in court on Aug. 8, but that has since been moved back to Nov. 12.

John Dever, who serves as the senior director for baseball information for the Nationals, released a statement on behalf of the team.

"The Washington Nationals have been in communication with right fielder Jayson Werth regarding this situation for multiple weeks," it read. "Jayson is cooperating with the authorities. As it is an ongoing legal matter, the team has no further comment."

Jesse Spector of Sporting News questioned whether it was a wise move to drive 50 mph over the speed limit in Virginia:

Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe viewed this through the narrative surrounding Bryce Harper and his supposed inability to follow the baseball norms:

For Werth, this is another blow in an already tough week. MASN's Dan Kolko reported the veteran had an MRI on his ailing shoulder earlier in the day:

"He is not reacting well. We'll try to treat him again, get him going again. He feels sore today," Nationals manager Matt Williams said, per Bill Ladson of MLB.com. "I don't think it's a DL-type situation. I don't think there isn't any major issue. I think it's inflamed and sore."

Through 112 games this year, Werth is hitting .279/.370/.430 with 12 home runs and 63 runs batted in. Those numbers are almost all down from where they were at the end of last year. His shoulder injury, coupled with his age, is likely to blame for much of that regression.

Once he and the team know the severity of his shoulder issue, they'll have a better idea for how to handle him for the rest of the regular season to ensure he remains an offensive threat.

After Tuesday night's win over the New York Mets, Washington holds a five-game lead over the Atlanta Braves. Missing Werth won't necessarily signal a Nationals decline, but in the event they make the postseason, they'll certainly want him on the field.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Deal Of The Day: 95% Off On The Award-Winning MacLovin Bundle

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A MacLovin Bundle? What’s not to like? For $39 you can get your virtual hands on $861 worth of stuff for the Mac. That’s 8 applications, including Cinemagraph Pro ($100 value) and djay (a $20 value), as well as access to the OS X App Masterclass, a $500 value. With that eCourse, you’ll get 22 hours of instruction to learn how to code for the Mac. Learn Xcode and Objective C all the while editing some sweet footage with Cinemagraph Pro, DJ’ing with djay, as well as creating HTML 5 content with Hype2. All this for $39? What are you waiting for?

[ 95% Off On The Award-Winning MacLovin Bundle ]

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OhGizmo! Review: The Herbalizer Stationary Vaporizer

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Over the last few months we’ve been looking at an increasing assortment of vaporizers of all shapes and price points, from the stationaries to the portables. It’s been a fascinating and eye-opening journey because we’ve come to realize just what a wide impact on vapour quality and flavour each different device has. So when we were offered the opportunity to review the Herbalizer, the most expensive vaporizer on the market, we were stoked. After all, who wouldn’t want to see what a $729 vaporizer can do? Designed by two former NASA engineers, the Herbie promises unparalleled temperature control, consistent extraction, instant heat-up times, and a host of other features that help justify its premium price. It’s billed as the “first SmartVape”, and is designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA. The company is clearly going after the Volcano, and they’ve come out with guns blazing. Did they manage? Does the Herbalizer live up to its promise? Read on to find out.

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The Hardware
The first thing you notice when you get the Herbalizer is the quality of the packaging: it’s premium. This goes a long way to give you an idea of the kind of attention to detail they’ve put into this product, and gives you an unboxing experience that will have you feeling good about your expense from the moment you break the seal.

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The Herbie itself is rather small, measuring some 10 9 inches across and looking somewhat like an alien egg. Beneath it, still in the box, is a compartment with four pre-assembled balloons, each in their individual packaging, as well as the power cord. That’s it. There are very few accessories, nothing to assemble, and everything is ready to go from the moment you open the box. The idea is to get you from the box to the vaping in as little time as possible.

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The unit is made from plastic, and features two nested lids to make space for what they’re calling a “mezzanine”. This is just an area where you can keep some herbs, some aromatherapy oils, a cleaning brush and some aromatherapy pads (more on that later). The vaping deck has a color LCD screen, two buttons (to pick the operation mode), a fan button, and a temperature rocker. It’s dead simple and there isn’t even an on/off switch; opening the lid turns the device on. Towards the bottom of the deck is the magnetic herb chamber holder, right above the patented halogen heating element. The herb holder itself has two rubber rings that allow you to hold it while it’s hot. Finally, there’s a silicone hose with a metal tip that wraps around, and stores within the periphery of the deck. Everything you need is right there, and you don’t need to assemble anything aside from connecting the hose or the balloon to the herb chamber.

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Build quality on the lids is unfortunately not as perfect as we would have liked. Although minor, they don’t close flush and leave a little gap. It doesn’t affect operation in any way, but it’s a noticeable blemish on a premium product. We suspect that the plastic craftsmanship makes for some unwanted friction in the hinges, resulting in imperfect closure. But at this price we might have expected a sturdier and more reliable metal construction. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter because the meat of the product is in its operation.

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The Operation
The heart of the Herbalizer is in its patented heating element. Featuring a powerful 300W halogen heating lamp, the machine is capable of reaching its target temperature in as little as 5 seconds! This is compared to the several seconds to several minutes other devices can take. More importantly, an advanced microcontroller is able to regulate and maintain target temperature with as little as 5F in variation. While the company was developing the product, I was told that testing of other devices revealed temperature fluctuations of as much as 80F in some cases, which (as we’ll explain shortly) can make it harder to get the kind of buzz you’re after.

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You see, cannabis contains a myriad of molecules. While most people only think of THC, there are in fact a bunch of different cannabinoids and terpenoids and other compounds that contribute in different ways to how you feel after vaping. Each one of these molecules has a different vaporization temperature, and achieving and maintaining consistent vaping temps makes it possible to control more precisely the mixture of compounds you inhale. This point is crucial, and is the reason the Herbalizer is so different from other vaporizers: by controlling the temperature in this way, you can select how you want to feel. Looking for a picker-upper? Something that will have you be more alert? Stick with the lower tier of temperatures. Want something more relaxing, maybe to help you sleep? Pick the middle temperatures for a “balanced” high. And finally, if you’re looking for an intense high, crank the temps up to the higher third. Each zone is clearly defined on the LCD screen.

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What’s more, the precise and consistent temperature makes for a much more efficient extraction process. We found that we were able to get about 50% more use from the same quantity of herbs than we could with other vapes. When a lower temperature range no longer produced any discernible vapour, increasing the temp slightly once again released vapour from the as-yet-unvaporized compounds remaining in the herbs. And we have to say, vapor flavour is wonderful, especially at the lower temperatures. As you gradually increase, you start noticing more complex aromas that linger in the nose, and it actually becomes possible to achieve some very consistent “tiers” of vapour.

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Now, getting this vapour into your lungs can be done in any of three ways: by filling up one of the preassembled balloons, by using the whip or by simply going “freestyle”, which just means filling up your room with whatever comes out. We enjoyed the balloons very much, in particular because of the silicone valve, which could be opened and closed with a simple pinch of the fingers. Really, this is an outstanding feature, especially when compared to other vaporizers that either simply don’t have any valve, or feature switch operated valves that are much harder to access (only in comparison to these). We found that we could keep the bag full of vapour for hours, and take hits whenever we felt like without any effort.

The unit also features an aromatherapy mode. This works by soaking up one of the two porous metal pads with essential oils and placing it in the designated pad holder towards the front of the mezzanine. A strategically placed vent then directs warm air over the pad, releasing aromas in your dwelling for as long as you want. There’s a timer function that will shut things down after a preset time, if you want to fall asleep while being surrounded by soothing smells, for example. During our testing we found that this feature worked well… if not fantastically well. We would have liked for a stronger smell to fill the room, but this could be due to there being too much ventilation where we were. Either that, or maybe the circulated air needs to be slightly hotter, we’re not sure. Whatever the case, it does work and maybe our reservations are related to unrealistic expectations.

Operation using the whip is straightforward and efficient. The fan should be turned on while you’re pulling, otherwise you won’t get much vapor, but this also means you need to manually turn it off when you’re done if you don’t want to fill up your room with the smell or waste anything. Not a problem, really, but we still preferred balloon operation.

Conclusion
The Herbalizer is without a doubt a premium product. The experience of using it is like no other we’ve come across. It’s dead simple to operate and ridiculously quick to go from “off”, to a balloon full of vapor. There are no accessories to mess around with, and nothing to assemble or connect, really. The heating element is powerful enough to quickly reach and effectively maintain target temperatures, which makes for much higher quality vapor and a more efficient extraction process. More importantly, being able to select how you feel, through this granular temperature control, is wonderful. It seems like a gimmick, but it does work, we can attest to that.

The device looks great, and will attract comments and attention more than most other similar offerings. Yes, there are some minor construction flaws, but they’re aesthetic and affect the operation in no way at all. And sure, it’s an expensive product to own, but if you’re looking for a (perhaps “the”) superior vaping experience, the Herbalizer should satisfy you in spades.

PROS
+ Super quick heat-up times (5 seconds!)
+ Consistent extraction temperatures
+ More efficient extraction, making for less wastage
+ Premium look and operation

CONS
- Rather expensive
- Plastic hinges cause lids not to close properly

MSRP: $729 with a 2 year warranty, and a 5 year Quality Guarantee on the Limited Edition.

[ It can be purchased HERE at VaporNation ]

The post OhGizmo! Review: The Herbalizer Stationary Vaporizer appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Cincinnati Reds: Bryan Price’s Smartest Moves of the 2014 Season

It's been a tough first season as manager of the Cincinnati Reds for Bryan Price, but he has made a few very good decisions this season that have kept his team in contention.

Although this is a team that has made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, it's tough to blame Price for the team's "disappointing" season. The team's season is by no means over, but it hasn't been what fans had hoped for. Injuries to nearly every player on the roster have made for some tough times.

Price has made plenty of head-scratching decisions this season, especially during games. However, fans need to give credit where it's due. Without some of the decisions he has made this season, this team wouldn't be above .500.

Keep reading to find out what some of Price's best decisions have been.

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Yasiel Puig Angrily Flips Bat and Nearly Hits Matt Kemp in On-Deck Circle

We've seen Yasiel Puig work the bat flip after home runs, doubles and even long fly balls that are caught. But this is a new one. 

In the third inning of the Dodgers-Braves game, Mike Minor induced a first-pitch lazy fly ball from Puig, and the star outfielder wasn't happy with himself. So he flipped his bat and took off toward first base. 

But Puig likely underestimated his strength, as it flew all the way toward Matt Kemp, who had to move to avoid being hit by the flying bat. 

Yasiel Puig. Only he can make pop-ups exciting. 

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Felix Hernandez’s Historic Season Deserves Kershaw-Like Attention

Felix Hernandez is having a historically good season, arguably the best of his 10-year career with the Seattle Mariners.

Unfortunately, with Clayton Kershaw having another Cy Young-caliber year for the large-market Los Angeles Dodgers, King Felix hasn’t received the league-wide attention he deserves.

Felix’s assault on baseball’s record books continued Monday night, as the 28-year-old right-hander allowed one run on three hits over seven innings at home against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk. The performance extended his major-league-record streak to 16 games in which he’s logged seven or more innings and allowed two or fewer runs.

On the season, Hernandez owns a 13-3 record with a 1.95 ERA and 194-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 180.1 innings, and he’s held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average and .505 OPS.

His seven innings pitched in the game gave Hernandez 2,005 for his career, making him the youngest pitcher since 28-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1993 to reach the 2,000-inning mark, per Greg Johns of MLB.com.

Catcher Mike Zunino spoke about the Mariners ace after the game, via Johns:

"It's something else," Zunino said of the streak. "But he is something else. That's all you can say. He's got the best stuff right now and he's pitching, too. When you have a combination of both, it's pretty hard to score multiple runs off him."

During his impressive streak, Hernandez has been virtually untouchable, posting a 9-2 record to go along with a 1.41 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 121 innings. Opposing hitters are batting a paltry .165/.203/.233 during that span.

Furthermore, Hernandez would set new career highs in several categories if the season ended today, including strikeouts (9.68), walks (1.60) and home runs (0.35) per nine innings, ERA (1.95) and FIP (2.07).

So, why aren’t people talking about King Felix’s incredible season like they are Kershaw’s?

On paper, Felix’s numbers admittedly aren’t quite as impressive as Kershaw’s, but they’re also not far behind.

The first thing that stands out is Hernandez’s 180.1 innings pitched compared to Kershaw’s 136.1, which highlights the right-hander’s durability and that he’s sustained his overall success over a longer period of time. And not to detract from Kershaw’s remarkable season, but his numbers, specifically his strikeout and walk rates, might be slightly inflated due to the smaller sample size.

That being said, Hernandez ranks second behind Kershaw (among all qualified pitchers) in several categories, including ERA and FIP.

Compared to other American League hurlers, however, it’s clear that nobody has been better than the Mariners ace. And if the remainder of the regular season unfolds as expected, the right-hander should take home his second Cy Young Award.

Hernandez’s impact also extends well beyond his impressive numbers; when he’s the on the mound, the Mariners are simply a better team.

The M’s offense has scored three or more runs in 19 of Hernandez’s 25 starts this season, and the right-hander owns a 13-0 record and 2.04 ERA in those games. Overall, the team is 17-8 with Felix on the bump, per Baseball Reference.

Seattle’s win over the Blue Jays on Monday puts it one game back of the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card spot with a 63-55 overall record, with a 38.2 percent chance of reaching the postseason, per Baseball Prospectus’ calculations, via MLB.com.

Hopefully it doesn’t take a playoff berth to make people realize how insanely good King Felix has been this season.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Tigers’ David Price 1st in Majors to Reach 200 Strikeouts in 2014

Detroit Tigers pitcher David Price is the first hurler to reach the 200-strikeout mark this season, having hit the milestone with his first punchout in a six-K performance during Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Price hardly turned in his best outing in a game that would ultimately last 19 innings, as he surrendered three runs over six frames in his second appearance since being traded by the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the six strikeouts would represent a nice total for nearly any other pitcher, the big lefty has only failed to reach that mark in two of his 25 outings this season. He fanned 10 batters in his Tigers debut last week, marking his 10th double-digit strikeout game of the season.

Though Price was long positioned to win the race to 200 punchouts, the competition this season was unusually stiff. Heading into Tuesday's slate of games, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez sits at 194 strikeouts after a strong outing Monday against the Blue Jays, followed by Corey Kluber (187), Stephen Strasburg (186), Max Scherzer (182), Yu Darvish and Johnny Cueto (181).

Darvish, who leads all qualified starters with a 11.35 K/9, has been held back by the fact that he's only made 22 appearances. Notably absent from the top of the list is all-world Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who ranks second with a 10.76 K/9 but has only started 19 games because of an April injury.

Price's 9.96 K/9 is good for seventh in the majors, trailing Strasburg's 10.71, Jake Odorizzi's 10.20, Chris Sale's 10.18 and Scherzer's 10.17, in addition to the league-leading marks posted by Kershaw and Darvish.

Price, who previously reached the 200-strikeout mark in 2011 (218) and 2012 (205), has already matched the second-highest total of his career and will soon enough set a personal best.

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Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton Sets Franchise Record for Multi-Homer Games

With a pair of long balls in Monday's 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton recorded the 13th multi-homer game of his career, setting a new franchise record, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The previous mark of 12 was held by Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who played for the Marlins from 2006 through July of 2012. Ramirez and Stanton are now tied at 148 for second place on the Marlins' all-time home runs list, trailing Dan Uggla (154) by only six.

Uggla and Ramirez homered in the same game 22 times, a then-MLB record for a double-play combo that has since been broken by the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

When it comes to Stanton, there's been no shortage of statistics to quantify his achievements, as the young slugger seems to be paving a path to Cooperstown.

Per Lee Sinins of Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, Stanton's 148 career homers are a record through the age of 24 among players who primarily play(ed) right field. Former record-holder Mel Ott, who spent his entire 22-year career with the New York Giants, retired in 1947 with 511 career home runs to his name.

Stanton seems to be headed for a similar total, if not more. While the quantity of his home runs is no doubt impressive, the quality—or should we say distance—is what really stands out.

Stanton has incredibly slugged seven homers of 450 feet or longer this season, eclipsing the number recorded by any team, per ESPN Stats & Info. Only the San Francisco Giants (five) are even close to Stanton's individual total, as no other club—besides, of course, the Marlins—has produced more than three.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Stanton is on fire entering Tuesday's game, with five home runs and eight RBI in his last five games. Even with ace Adam Wainwright scheduled to take the hill Tuesday, the Cards probably want to tread cautiously.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yankees’ Ichiro Suzuki Passes George Sisler on All-Time Hits List

While another member of the New York Yankees has received plenty of attention for his ascension on MLB's all-time hits list, Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is quietly embarking on his own journey to surpass some of the legends of the game.

With a single in Saturday's contest against the Cleveland Indians, Suzuki passed Hall of Famer George Sisler for 48th place on the hits list, recording No. 2,811 of his career. After adding a double in Sunday's series finale, Suzuki stands at 2,812, 27 shy of Charlie Gehringer in 47th place.

Now limited to a part-time role, the 40-year-old former superstar faces an uphill battle to join the vaunted 3,000-hits club, which has just 28 members.

However, whether or not he reaches the milestone, Suzuki has already cemented his place in the Hall of Fame, as he didn't begin his MLB career until the age of 27, when he memorably took home AL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors for the 116-win Seattle Mariners.

Had he not spent the first nine years (1992-2000) of his career with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan, Suzuki would have long ago passed 3,000 hits and might even be preparing to make a run at 4,000.

In fact, had he joined MLB when first ready, Suzuki might already have 4,000 career hits. Though he wouldn't have reached the highest level at age 18 as he did in Japan, Suzuki would have benefited from MLB's longer season of 162 games, compared to just 144 in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

Playing in the Japan Pacific League, Suzuki recorded just 36 hits between his first two years, before bursting onto the scene with a 210-hit campaign in 1994, a season he started at the age of 20. Given that the 1994 season—in which he posted a .385/.445/.549 slash line—stands as one of Suzuki's best in Japan, he may well have already been good enough to thrive in Major League Baseball.

There's a line of thinking that Suzuki never could have registered 1,278 hits (his career total in NPB) through his age-26 season in the United States. However, his career arc in Japan hints otherwise, as Suzuki was quite clearly a superstar by the age of 20.

While we'll never know what could have been, Suzuki's total of 4,090 hits between NPB and MLB is one of the more impressive accomplishments in recent baseball history.

 

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

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Blue Jays’ Melky Cabrera Achieves Slew of Rare Feats in 19-Inning Marathon

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera had an unusual Sunday, recording five walks and three hits in his team's 19-inning marathon with the Detroit Tigers.

Per MLB Stat of the Day, Cabrera became the first player in major-league history with five walks and three hits in the same game. He also became the 105th player since 1914 to record a five-walk game, as the feat isn't quite as rare as you might expect.

The "Melkman" is the first player since Rod Carew on May 12, 1972 to reach base safely eight times in one game, according to MLB Stat of the Day.

As busy as his day was, Cabrera somehow failed to cross the plate, though he did drive in a lone run with a seventh-inning single, his second hit of the contest.

After Cabrera started the game with just one hit in three-at bats, the RBI single began a stretch of seven consecutive plate appearances in which he reached base. He walked in the ninth inning and singled in the 12th, before drawing walks (two intentional) in each of his final four plate appearances.

Toronto ultimately won 6-5 in 19 innings, thanks to a walk-off RBI single from star outfielder Jose Bautista. The game, which saw each team use eight pitchers, was the longest in the 38-year history of the Blue Jays franchise, per ESPN Stats & Info.

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Yankees’ Derek Jeter Moves into 6th Place on All-Time Hits List

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter moved into sixth place on MLB's all-time hits list Saturday, passing fellow shortstop Honus Wagner, per MLB Milestones on Twitter.

For the milestone hit, No. 3,431 of his career, Jeter dribbled a little bouncer to the left side of the infield in the sixth inning of Saturday's game against the Cleveland Indians.

Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall attempted to field the ball bare-handed but was unable to do so. With Jeter standing on first base, manager Joe Girardi stepped out onto the field and called timeout to retrieve the Cooperstown-bound bat and baseball as the Yankee Stadium crowd stood and applauded their captain for yet another milestone.

Wagner, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1936, played 21 major league seasons from 1897 to 1917 for the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates. 

After spending three years in Louisville, Wagner was traded to the Pirates before the start of the 1900 season, and he would spend the rest of his career in the Steel City. He amassed 2,970 hits as a member of the Pirates, ranking second on the all-time franchise hits list behind only the great Roberto Clemente, who had an even 3,000 hits during his storied career.

At the time of his retirement in 1917, Wagner was the MLB all-time hits leader with 3,430. Nearly a century later, only six men have been able to surpass that total.

In addition to Jeter, who added his 3,432nd hit Monday against the Baltimore Orioles, the players ahead of Wagner are Tris Speaker (3,515), Stan Musial (3,630), Hank Aaron (3,771), Ty Cobb (4,191) and Pete Rose (4,256).

Jeter has now found his final place on the all-time hits list, barring a change of heart to return to the diamond in 2015. The Yankees have 44 games left in 2014, and Jeter would need nearly two hits per contest to catch Tris Speaker.

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

NOTE:  MLB.com lists Wagner with 3,430 hits, while Baseball-Reference.com lists him at 3,420. For an explanation of the 10-hit difference, refer to this article posted on Baseball-Reference.com.

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