Would Dodgers-Angels October ‘Freeway Series’ Be Good for Baseball?

If it sounds like a scenario ripped straight from a Hollywood script, maybe that's fitting: the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels clashing in the World Series. Angeleno pitted against Angeleno. Tinseltown abuzz with October intrigue.

It's never happened before. In fact, in the last quarter-century, L.A.'s MLB clubs have made just two World Series appearances between them: the Dodgers in 1988 and the Angels in 2002.

Both teams emerged victorious, but they haven't squared off against each other.

As they meet for a four-game interleague interlude pregnant with playoff implications, it's as good a time as any to ask the question: Is this the year an all-SoCal Fall Classic finally happens? Could be.

Entering play Tuesday, the Dodgers, one season removed from a trip to the NLCS, held a 1.5-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

The Angels, meanwhile, owned the second-best record in baseball after defeating the Dodgers 5-0 Monday night behind Garrett Richards and are nipping at the heels of the Oakland A's.

The playoffs are always a crapshoot. Right now, though, it seems at least plausible that the ultimate Freeway Series might materialize.

ESPN.com's Mark Saxon likes the odds. "Maybe this is the year the I-5 freeway becomes the traffic-clogged conduit for the Fall Classic?" Saxon opined. "The signs are as promising as ever." 

Certainly that would be good news for Southern California baseball fans. Would it be equally good for baseball?

Put another way: Do World Series featuring regional rivals command more attention and higher ratings? Does geographic proximity automatically equal intrigue?

Not necessarily.

In 1989, the Giants and A's met in the so-called Bay Bridge Series. The Loma Prieta earthquake provided most of the drama when it interrupted play, but ultimately viewers weren't enthralled as the A's cruised to an easy sweep.

The '89 Series drew a 29 share from Nielsen Media Research, per Baseball-Almanac.com, by far the lowest at the time since records began being kept in 1973.

The previous year, the A's played the Dodgers in the World Series, and the share, or percent of total TV viewers tuned to a specific program, was 39.

The following year, in 1990, when the Cincinnati Reds swept the A's, it jumped back to 36.

A decade later, the New York Yankees faced the New York Mets in an all-Big Apple affair.

Despite the perennial popularity of the Yankees, the underdog appeal of the Mets and the massive size of the market, the 2000 Subway Series drew a 21 share, down from 26 in '99 and '01 (both of those series also featured the Yankees).

Clearly, then, the mere fact that two clubs can bus between parks and share overlapping fanbases does not guarantee widespread interest.

Would a Freeway Series buck the trend? There are reasons to think it might.

First off, Los Angeles is a market unlike any other. Combine the populations of Los Angeles County, where the Dodgers play, and Orange County, where the Angels hang their halos, and you've got more than 13 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If any place can rival New York for sheer number of eyeballs, it's L.A.

More importantly, though, a Dodgers-Angels World Series would showcase a handful of the game's most exciting talents.

You're saying you wouldn't tune in to watch Clayton Kershaw battle Mike Trout? Yasiel Puig bat-flipping against Jered Weaver?

Before the current series kicked off, MLB.com's Lyle Spencer asked Trout about Puig. As five-tool players, the two are often compared.

"The similar parts are we play hard and love the game," Trout said, adding, "He's a great talent, exciting to watch."

They both are. And then some.

L.A. is known for its stars, and right now its baseball teams are glistening brightly. Will they get a chance to shine under the brightest lights?

We're a few months and a lot of games away from answering that question. For now, it's simply fun to close your eyes and imagine the movie.

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Will Andrew McCutchen’s Injury Sink the Pirates’ Playoff Hopes?

There is a moment when a star player winces, or staggers or crumples in pain, and an entire fanbase holds its collective breath. Sometimes it's nothing, sometimes it's everything.

Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans, the injury suffered by MVP center fielder Andrew McCutchen doesn't sound like nothing. 

McCutchen's fateful wince came while taking a swing Sunday in the eighth inning of the Pirates' 3-2 extra-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He clutched his left side as he hobbled up the first-base line (though in typical McCutchen fashion, the hack resulted in a sacrifice fly). Ultimately, he had to be helped off the field.

"I thought I was cramping," McCutchen later told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I never really have had any problems in that area."

Looks like more than a cramp. Citing an unnamed source—the Pirates had yet to release any official word on McCutchen's status as of Monday night—the Post-Gazette's Ron Cook wrote that McCutchen is "expected" to be placed on the 15-day DL and "could be out at least three weeks or a month because of what appeared to be a serious oblique muscle injury."

Again, that's yet to be confirmed. If it is true, it'd spell big, possibly ship-sinking, trouble for the Pirates, who looked to be on course for the postseason.

McCutchen's value cannot be overstated. At the time of his injury, he owned a .311/.411/.536 slash line to go along with 17 home runs, 67 RBI and 17 stolen bases. If he wasn't the front-runner to win a second consecutive NL MVP award, he was squarely in the conversation.

Now, the Bucs are faced with the prospect of sailing on without their superstar for at least the foreseeable future. It won't be easy.

Entering play Tuesday Pittsburgh is locked in a tight three-way battle in the NL Central. Just 1.5 games separate the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and third-place Pirates, and the second-place Cardinals sit in the middle, one game off the pace.

All three teams could technically qualify for the postseason. But in this era of the one-game Wild Card play-in, it's all about winning the division and punching a guaranteed ticket to the first-round best-of-five series.

Last year Pittsburgh broke through, finishing 94-68 and making the playoffs for the first time since 1992. It won the Wild Card Game but lost, 3-2, in the division series to the Cardinals. 

This season was a chance to build on that success. To reclaim forgotten treasure.

It could still happen. Even if McCutchen does miss a month, he'd return in time for the stretch run. The trick will be for the Pirates to keep their heads above water in the meantime.

The Bucs do boast decent outfield depth. Josh Harrison (.304/.342/.497 with 10 HR) has been a revelation, and Starling Marte, who has experience in center field, is eligible to come off of the seven-day concussion DL on Tuesday, per Howard Burns of the Pittsburgh Business Times. 

Pittsburgh could also try to pull off a post-deadline desperation deal, as Tom Gatto of Sporting News speculated:

Will the Bucs try to acquire an outfield bat, such as the Phillies' Marlon Byrd, in a waiver trade? Byrd might be too expensive, both in terms of players and contract. [He] has an $8 million option for 2015 that he reportedly wants picked up if he's traded, plus an $8 million vesting option for 2016.

Let's be real, though. Without McCutchen, the Pirates simply aren't serious contenders. 

A little solace for the hand-wringing Pittsburgh faithful: McCutchen isn't injury-prone. He's played at least 154 games every season since 2010, the very definition of durable.

That can change in a hurry, but it may bode well for the MVP's chances of getting back sooner rather than later.

He'd better. Pirates fans can only hold their breath for so long.

 

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

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Justin Verlander Tosses Ball to Kate Upton During Tigers vs. Yankees Game

Justin Verlander is in the midst of a wildly inconsistent year, especially by his lofty standards, but his game off the diamond is clearly not lacking. 

For the uninitiated, the Detroit Tigers right-hander is dating Kate Upton, the two-time Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model, and during Monday's game against the New York Yankees, he showed why: 

Using a free baseball to woo the ladies has been done before, but Verlander just took it to another level. 

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MLB Players Who Could Be Moved on Waivers

Even though the July 31 trade deadline has passed, there is still a chance for some big-name stars to change teams via waivers.

Which top players have a chance of clearing waivers and heading to a new team?

Find out as Bleacher Report's MLB Lead Columnist Scott Miller breaks down which high-profile athletes have a realistic chance of being moved by the end of August.

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St. Louis Cardinals Clubhouse Appears Void of Leadership

The St. Louis Cardinals were active at the non-waiver trade deadline this season.  The moves shook up the clubhouse by sending two clubhouse favorites, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for John Lackey and Corey Littrell.  News reports quickly surfaced, such as this one from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, that players were unhappy with the deal.

The Cardinals have struggled at the plate.  One of the most glaring examples was Craig, who saw a dramatic decline from his former production.  Meanwhile, the team's top prospect, Oscar Taveras, continued to struggle in a part-time role.  General manager John Mozeliak saw the opportunity to eliminate the platoon in right field while also bolstering his pitching staff.  

Many assumed it would be Taveras who would be on the move.

Joe Buck suggested during a Fox Sports 1 telecast this weekend that Taveras is not well liked among Cardinal players.  Joe Strauss, who covers the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, echoed those sentiments when he joined local CBS Sports Radio 920's morning show, "The Morning After," via Brendan Marks.

Strauss states that players don't appreciate the lack of work ethic from the youngster.  He also casts stones at Taveras' sense of entitlement, which appears to be based on his pedigree.  Each of these things are concerning for fans.

Lost in the shuffle is the throwaway comment from Buck and Tom Verducci that the Cardinals lack the leadership of someone who can say something directly to Taveras.  Indeed, that is the major difference between this Cardinals team and those of years past.

The veterans on this club are a bit different.  They are players, like Adam Wainwright, who show tremendous support to each other.  They are the strong and silent types, like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.  Gone are the Chris Carpenters and Lance Berkmans.  

Most significantly, gone is Albert Pujols.

Pujols, possibly more than most players, seemed to be the leader who would pull guys aside.  He would address their work ethic.  He set the example, and he expected players to follow it.  He was often the voice of reason within the clubhouse.

Molina needs to be that player now.  A protege of Pujols while he was in St. Louis, Molina blossomed under the tutelage of Albert.  He has proven to be the field general the young pitching staff so desperately needs.  

The Cardinals need a leader.  The Cardinals need someone willing to get in the face of the young guys and tell them what is expected of them when they wear the Birds on the Bat.  The Cardinals need someone to step into that role.

That someone likely needs to be Yadier Molina.

 

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball.

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Tigers’ Ezequiel Carrera Lays out for a Catch in Center Field vs. Yankees

Detroit Tigers center fielder Ezequiel Carrera laid out for an incredible over-the-shoulder catch with the bases loaded on a ball hit to the warning track by the New York Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury. 

Unfortunately, despite Carrera's efforts, Ichiro Suzuki still scored. But this catch is one of the more impressive athletic displays we've seen all season. 

[MLB]

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Jarrod Parker Injury: Updates on A’s Pitcher’s Recovery from Tommy John Surgery

The Oakland Athletics have one of the top rotations in MLB, but it could be better with a healthy Jarrod Parker. Fortunately, the young right-hander is on his way back from Tommy John surgery.   

According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Parker was cleared to make some throws for the first time since the surgery:

While this is just one step on a long road to recovery, it is certainly encouraging to see the rehab going well.

Parker has already posted two great seasons with the Athletics, totaling a 3.73 ERA, a WHIP of 1.24 and 25 wins in 61 starts. Unfortunately, he is out for the year after tearing his UCL for the second time.

As someone who has gone through this process before, he explained the biggest issues with sitting out the whole season, via Gabe Kapler of Fox Sports:

I think going through this rehab process, the biggest challenge is watching and wishing you were on the field with your teammates. It's easy to let the feelings or thoughts of being 'left out' creep into your mind and will challenge your demeanor, work ethic and overall general mood.

This certainly has to be difficult for him this season as the Athletics have had plenty of fun without him. With two months remaining in the year, the squad has posted the best record in baseball and is now a favorite to win the World Series after acquiring lefty ace Jon Lester at the non-waiver deadline.

While Parker will not be able to help the team in 2014, he appears to be on track to be back to his usual, dominant self for the 2015 season. No matter what happens for the rest of this year, Oakland should still feel happy to have a player of this ability under team control for a few more seasons.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter

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FanGraphs Is Convinced Javier Baez Is Headed for Superstardom

Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago confirmed early on Monday that Chicago Cubs shortstop prospect Javier Baez will be called up and will make his major league debut at second base on Tuesday night in Colorado. This signifies the beginning of a new era in Cubs baseball and should provide fans some excitement over the rest of the season. 

Cubs fans aren't the only people who are convinced of Baez's potential moving forward. The very popular baseball stat site FanGraphs also appears convinced that the Cubs middle infielder will be a star in the very near future. 

FanGraphs puts together "Oliver Five-Year Projections" for prospects based on a number of factors. Among the factors used in the Oliver projection are the past three seasons of player data, aging, regression and the major league transition among others. It is generally regarded as the most accurate predictor of a minor leaguer's numbers once he reaches the pros. 

The Oliver projection for Baez on FanGraphs is rather generous and predicts he will put up some gaudy power numbers. It is important to remember that these projections essentially mean that Baez has the potential to put up these numbers, so he should be close to them. However, it does not guarantee he will fill out his stat line as completely as the Oliver projection says he will.

Here are the numbers that FanGraphs projects Baez to produce over the next five seasons, including this season (combined between the minors and majors).

Season Age G PA HR R RBI SB
2014 21 143 600 35 79 98 12
2015 22 143 600 40 84 107 12
2016 23 143 600 43 88 114 12
2017 24 143 600 45 90 118 12
2018 25 143 600 46 91 120 12

Clearly, projections aren't going to do anything to squelch Cubs fans' optimism for Baez. If he can come close to those projections and other top prospects can step up in the ways they're supposed to, the Cubs have a very bright future ahead of them.

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Best Back-to-School Gadgets for 2014

Every weekday, our friends at Faveable compile a list of awesome gadgets and gear that men would love to discover.

livescribe-pen-2gb-model

Welcome back to another edition of partnered content at OhGizmo! from Faveable. This time around Faveable editors focus on must-have back to school gadgets. And it’s not really just for bragging rights, you really need the latest tech and right gadgets to excel in your class these days. The shortlisted items by Faveable include pen-sized scanner, solar backpack, bluetooth headphone, virtual keyboard, smartwatch, and more. Featured image above is of Livescribe smartpen to take your own notes, record the lecture and have it backed up in the cloud automatically. Find out more about the top picks by hitting the link below.

Check out: Entering Grad School? This is the Tech You’ll Need

The post Best Back-to-School Gadgets for 2014 appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Royals’ Wade Davis Finally Allows Extra-Base Hit in 44th Appearance of Season

Four months into the 2014 season, Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis finally surrendered his first extra-base hit of the year, allowing Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki to hit a double in Thursday's game, per The Kansas City Star.

Through his first 43 appearances of the season, Davis allowed only 19 singles, albeit with 19 walks mixed in.

The streak finally ended in appearance No. 44, but Davis still managed to earn his 20th hold of the season and then added No. 21 on Friday.

Having now pitched in 45 games this season, Davis owns a remarkable 0.95 ERA and 0.85 WHIP with 73 strikeouts over 47.1 innings for a 13.9 K/9 mark.

Of the 185 batters he's faced, 39.5 percent have struck out, while just one (.05 percent) has managed an extra-base hit. 

Among pitchers who have thrown 20-plus innings this season, Davis ranks sixth in the majors with the aforementioned K/9 of 13.9. Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is the runaway leader with an insane 17.6 K/9.

A failed starting pitcher, Davis showed glimpses of his potential dominance with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, posting a 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.1 K/9 over 70.1 innings while working strictly as a reliever.

Following the trade best known for Royals pitcher James Shields and Rays outfielder Wil Myers, Davis entered the Kansas City rotation last season and made 24 of his 31 appearances as a starter. The results were disastrous, as he posted a 5.32 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over 135.1 miserable innings.

Properly cast again this season, Davis has been one of the most valuable relievers in all of baseball. Per FanGraphs.com, his 1.9 wins above replacement (WAR) is good for fifth among all relief pitchers.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Boston Red Sox’s Top 10 Prospects After Week 18

The Boston Red Sox have turned some pages in the wake of the recent transactions made by the franchise up to, and including, the 2014 MLB trade deadline.

Speculation has surrounded Boston regarding what the team will do after sending away a sizable portion of its roster—much of which was carried over from the Red Sox's championship team a season ago.

With these departures and some new additions, the Red Sox have indeed changed the direction in which the team is heading. There have been some major league-ready upgrades, but we should look to the younger players when determining how Boston will look next season and beyond.

Prospects are the name of the game for the Red Sox. Many of these players figure to be critical components for Boston in coming years.

Fortunately, the Red Sox have a deep and talented pool from which to choose. Had Boston's minor league system been relatively thin, the future of this franchise could easily be viewed as grim when considering the inevitable outcome of the 2014 season.

But this is not the case. Boston can boast of a strong farm system that will unquestionably influence the decisions that general manager Ben Cherington and Co. have to make moving forward.

In this slideshow, we take a detailed look at the Red Sox's top 10 prospects. To do this, we shall use the ranking list provided by SoxProspects.com and provide added insight and evaluation of each of these players listed.

Some have risen. Others have dropped.

Let's figure out why.

Begin Slideshow

Matt Cain to Undergo Season-Ending Surgery on Injured Elbow

Matt Cain's disappointing 2014 campaign is officially over, with the San Francisco Giants starting pitcher set to have season-ending surgery on his injured elbow.     

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the news Monday:

The 29-year-old has been on the disabled list since July 21 after dealing with lingering elbow trouble throughout the year. His last start of the season was nearly a month ago, July 9, in a 5-2 win over the Oakland Athletics.

As the San Jose Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic pointed out at the time, Cain had been no stranger to the DL, which led many Giants fans to expect the worst this time around:

Giants manager Bruce Bochy alluded to the fact that the decision to undergo season-ending surgery is the result of Cain's sustained injury problems. The team was left with no other recourse than to have him go under the knife.  

"It’s been frustrating for him," said Bochy, per Pavlovic. "Matt’s been battling this for a while. It’s time. He could keep trying to push it but it’s inevitable, it looks like. Let’s have this done and get him ready for spring training."  

This season was Cain's worst in his decade with San Francisco. In 15 starts, he posted career highs in ERA (4.18) and FIP (4.59) and a career low in ERA+ (82), according to Baseball-Reference.com. His WAR was 0.0. 

The good news for the Giants is that they have Jake Peavy, who they acquired via trade with the Red Sox on July 26, to take Cain's spot in the rotation. The bad news is that he's gone 17 starts without a win, per ESPN Stats & Info:

In two starts with San Francisco, Peavy has gone 13 innings, giving up eight runs—seven earned—on 10 hits. Now that Cain is officially out for the season, the Giants will be calling upon the former Cy Young Award winner to help close the gap on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. San Francisco sits two games back heading into Monday night's games.

For Cain, the focus is strictly on 2015. He's not that far removed from being one of the NL's best pitchers. With months to rehab from surgery and get ready for spring training, Cain may be able to find that magic again and reassert himself as a dominant starter.

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Giants’ Juan Perez Yanks Sunglasses off His Hat While Making Running Catch

San Francisco Giants left fielder Juan Perez is pretty good at multitasking.

In the third inning of Monday afternoon's game between the Giants and the New York Mets, Perez showed great concentration by chasing down a fly ball off the bat of Curtis Granderson. Making the catch by itself was no easy task, but Perez upped the degree of difficulty by removing his sunglasses from his hat while running.

Here's a better look at the smooth move:

As you can see in the video, he was able to laugh about it with his teammate.

[MLB.com]

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Tigers vs. Yankees Live Blog: Instant Reactions and Analysis

The Detroit Tigers had an opportunity to break through in the second inning, but the New York Yankees scored first and took a 2-1 lead they would preserve through the final pitch.

David Robertson sealed off an impressive outing by Brandon McCarthy, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning and allowed just one run in six innings.

The highlight of the game came in the bottom of the third, when Ezequiel Carrera robbed Jacoby Ellsbury of a few RBIs with a diving catch on the warning track. That play kept the Tigers within striking distance, but the big bats couldn't string together enough hits against McCarthy and the Yankees bullpen.

The Yankees, who are tied with Toronto in the loss column, trail the Blue Jays by just one game for the second American League Wild Card. Detroit's lead over Kansas City in the AL Central slips to 4.5 games after the loss.

The Yankees and Tigers will face off again tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the second game of four. David Price will take the mound for the first time as a Tiger, and he will face Hiroki Kuroda.

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Major Post-Deadline Moves the Atlanta Braves Could Still Make

By acquiring two players from the Chicago Cubs in a move prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, the Atlanta Braves addressed two of their roster needs.

James Russell is the lefty reliever Atlanta was coveting. Although, to be fair, that is pretty much in name only. He throws left-handed and had been on the list of available lefties who could be had prior to the deadline. However, he isn't having nearly the season as someone like Tony Sipp or Andrew Miller is. Also, and most alarmingly, Russell has not been good when facing left-handed batters.

In 2013, he was masterful at the task. In 115 at-bats, the vast majority of his duties, lefties managed just a .543 OPS against Russell. In 2014, the story is far more bleak. In 65 at-bats, roughly half of his workload, lefty opponents are walloping Russell to the tune of an .889 OPS. The difference is astounding.

The other player coming over in the deal is utility man Emilio Bonifacio. Having just returned from an extended stint on the disabled list, Bonifacio is batting .279 with 15 steals in 280 at-bats on the year. He is also capable of playing all over the diamond, which greatly helps a lineup like Atlanta's.

Of course, Bonifacio is not the stellar bat good enough to garner everyday playing time, and Russell is clearly not pitching like a shutdown, matchup lefty.

There are still a few more moves the Braves could make in August to set themselves up for a successful playoff push.

 

August Trade Reminder: Any player Atlanta wishes to obtain must either pass completely through waivers or not be claimed by anyone with a worse record than the Braves. If the player in question is placed on waivers from an American League club, though, he would have to be passed over by every AL team AND any NL club with a worse record in order to reach Atlanta.

Begin Slideshow

Why Javier Baez Is Hyped as MLB’s Next Power-Hitting Infield Phenom

It’s finally happening: Javier Baez is getting called up.

According to Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com (via Twitter), Baez will join the Chicago Cubs before Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

The 21-year-old middle infielder gets the call after a strong showing at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .260/.323/.510 with 23 home runs, 24 doubles and 80 RBI in 434 plate appearances.

With the news of Baez’s upcoming promotion, it’s safe to say the Cubs front office was pleased with the developmental strides made by Baez over the last two-plus months, as it's giving him a crack at the major leagues a bit earlier than expected.

Before Baez—Prospect Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect—makes his highly anticipated debut Tuesday, here’s what you need to know about one of the game’s top prospects.

 

Background

The Cubs selected Baez with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville, Florida), targeting him for his elite bat speed, power potential and high-end athleticism.

Since that day, Baez has done nothing but rake.

After appearing in only five games between the rookie and short-season levels in his 2011 professional debut, Baez received an aggressive promotion to Low-A Peoria the following year for his full-season debut, though not before a lengthy stay at extended spring training.

Though he was young for the level at 19, Baez ripped through the Midwest League with a .333/.383/.596 batting line, 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 57 games. The youngster’s overwhelming success led to a late-season promotion to High-A Daytona, where Baez was challenged (as expected) and struggled to the tune of a .188/.244/.400 batting line with four bombs and a 21-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 games.

Between both levels, Baez posted an impressive .888 OPS with 16 home runs and 24 stolen bases. However, his raw approach and pitch recognition showed during that time, highlighted by his 69-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 321 plate appearances.

In 2013, Baez established himself as one of baseball’s premier prospects, largely a result of his otherworldly production during the second half of the season at Double-A Tennessee.

Baez began the year back with Daytona in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, where he mastered the level by batting .274/.338/.535 with 17 bombs and 19 doubles in 76 games. The performance resulted in a midseason promotion to Double-A Tennessee, and Baez rewarded the organization for its decision with a monster second half. Specifically, in 54 games at Tennessee, Baez, 20 at the time, batted a robust .294/.346/.638 with 20 home runs, 15 doubles and 54 RBI in 240 plate appearances.

After an impressive showing during spring training this year that featured five home runs in 18 games, Baez got off to a painfully slow start at Triple-A Iowa, batting just .215/.279/.401 with a 66-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 47 games.

Since then, however, the right-handed slugger has found his groove at the plate, evidenced by his .296/.357/.597 batting line, 16 home runs and vastly improved 64-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last 57 games.

On the day before learning of his promotion, the 21-year-old went 2-for-3 with a pair of solo home runs for Iowa, giving him five in his last 10 games and 12 since the beginning of July.

 

Baez’s Future

Few players in the sport are as naturally gifted as Baez, who possesses absolutely insane bat speed as well as the raw power to jump the yard to all fields with ease. However, showing elite raw power comes as naturally as striking out for Baez, and the two likely will be intertwined for the duration of his career.

During his minor league career, he batted .278/.336/.545 with 76 home runs in 1,350 plate appearances over 319 games. That being said, Baez also posted an ugly 350-88 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span, meaning he struck out 25.9 percent of the time.

Baez’s swing-and-miss issues stem from his hyper-aggressive approach and all-or-nothing swing, as he’s known to swing with the same ferocity in an 0-2 count as he does in an advantageous count. That’s simply part of Baez’s game, but considering his age and quick rise through the minor leagues, there’s still plenty of time for him to refine his approach.

Furthermore, Baez’s tendency to yank the ball to his pull side might lead to a tough adjustment period—specifically, in the form of a high strikeout rate—upon reaching the major leagues. If we look at his 2014 spray chart with Triple-A Iowa, courtesy of MLBFarm.com, we see that Baez tends to roll over too many pitches to the left side.

When he’s at his best at the plate, Baez consistently drives the ball with authority back up the middle and to the opposite field, just as he did in this year’s All-Star Futures Game when he launched a booming opposite-field home run on a hanging breaking ball from Lucas Giolito.

Still, even if Baez’s penchant for whiffing and pulling the ball carries over to the major leagues—which it will, even if only initially—the slugger’s combination of raw power and blinding bat speed should produce multiple seasons with 25-plus home runs, possibly even 30-plus once he settles in at the highest level.

Therefore, the development of Baez’s hit tool and plate discipline will ultimately determine whether he’s an All-Star-caliber player or simply a power-oriented middle infielder.

At the time of his promotion, Baez’s strikeout rate at Iowa sat at a career-worst 30 percent. However, it’s worth noting that the 21-year-old also posted the best walk rate of his career at 7.8 percent, an improvement over his previous career-best mark of 7.2 percent that he achieved in 2013.

So even if Baez struggles to begin his career and posts a lower-than-expected batting average, the fact that he’s been able to make subtle improvements since reaching more advanced levels bodes well for his capacity to make meaningful adjustments in the major leagues.

And that brings us to Baez’s defense.

Though he’s handled shortstop for a majority of his professional career, that’s unlikely to be the case in The Show, as the Cubs have Starlin Castro under contract through 2019. Plus, the acquisition of prospect Addison Russell, who came over in early July from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel deal, clouds Baez’s future at the position, as Russell’s tools and all-around game are better suited from a career at the position. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Cubs plan to deploy Baez at the keystone on Tuesday.

Speaking with Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago (via Hardball Talk) late last month, general manager Jed Hoyer touched on the possibility of Baez playing second base once he joins the Cubs.

“The Baez second-base thing is really more big-picture than anything else,” Hoyer said. “We want to increase his versatility. We thought it was the right thing to do to start putting him there.”

Even though he saw a healthy chunk of playing time at second base during spring training, Baez was only moved to the position full time last month in the wake of Arismendy Alcantara’s promotion to the major leagues. In 16 games at the keystone before the news of his call-up, Baez had committed only two errors.

From Hoyer (via Hardball Talk):

We went into the year thinking we would move him around a bit earlier, and he struggled offensively.

We thought it was going to be the wrong time to have this guy worry about a defensive change. (So) we held off on it, and really waited until he got going offensively. We’re pretty proud of what he’s done this year. In some ways, it’s been ideal for him.

He really built on every single month, until the last three or four weeks, when he’s been outstanding. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see that trajectory.

In the minor leagues, you want to see guys finishing strong. You want to see them conquer that level, and his ability to fight through what was a difficult start has been really impressive.

In general, Baez’s defense has vastly improved this season, as he committed just 15 errors in 101 games between both middle infield positions. In 2013, Baez had a whopping 44 errors in 123 games at shortstop.

While it’s clear that Baez still has learning to do and won’t be a perfect player in the early stages of his big league career, the 21-year-old slugger has the potential to post an .800 OPS without trying—because that’s how special his bat is—while playing an up-the-middle position. Even if he appears overmatched against major league pitching, Baez’s combination of natural talent and his capacity to make adjustments throughout his professional career should make him a long-term impact player for the Cubs.

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Mariners’ Robinson Cano Hits 400th Double of Career

Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano hit his 400th career double in Thursday's game against the Cleveland Indians, per the Mariners' official Twitter feed.

The double, a shot to left field off of Indians starter Zach McAllister, was Cano's 25th of the 2014 season, his first year with Seattle.

He signed with the Mariners as a free agent this past offseason after spending the first nine years of his MLB career with the New York Yankees.

The six-time All-Star has a career .311 batting average, but he got off to a slow start in Seattle, hitting only .254 through April 19. From April 20 through the end of May, Cano posted a .362 batting average, albeit with just one home run over a span of 150 plate appearances. His batting average crossed above the .300 mark May 12 and has only fallen below once since that time—for two innings in a May 16 game against the Twins.

Though his power has been surprisingly absent this season, Cano—who has just eight home runs this year—has been a model of consistency throughout his career. He played in more than 120 games in each of his nine seasons for the Yankees, with a batting average above .300 in seven of the nine campaigns. He reached 150 hits, 30 doubles and double-digit home runs in all nine campaigns.

Despite parting ways with the franchise at the age of 31, Cano amassed 1,649 hits as a Yankee, which is good for 15th on the all-time franchise hits list. His 375 doubles put him eighth on the Yankees' franchise list in that category. Former teammate and longtime double-play partner Derek Jeter is the Bronx Bombers' all-time leader in both hits and doubles.

 

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless specifically noted otherwise.

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White Sox’s Paul Konerko Reaches 4,000 Total Bases for Career

With a fourth-inning double in Thursday's game against the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox designated hitter Paul Konerko became the first player in franchise history to record 4,000 total bases in a White Sox uniform, per MLB Milestones on Twitter.

Konerko started his career in 1997 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he played just 55 games between the 1997 and 1998 seasons before being acquired by the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the '98 campaign. He only appeared in 26 games for the Reds from July through September, as he still didn't have a regular role. 

In all, Konerko played in 81 National League games in 1997-1998, batting a modest .214 with seven home runs, 29 RBI and 73 total bases. He was then traded to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfielder Mike Cameron, who would go on to have a fine career of his own.

Despite playing in the country's third-largest market since 1999, Konerko has long been one of the more underrated players in the game. Now in his 16th season with the White Sox, he is ranked in the franchise’s top 10 in a number of offensive categories. 

In addition to being the franchise leader in total bases, Konerko is second in games played with 2,247, just behind Luke Appling's 2,422. Konerko ranks third in hits (2,286), trailing Nellie Fox (2,470) and Appling (2,749).  

The 38-year-old is also third in doubles (405), trailing Appling (440) and recent Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas (447).  Plus, he trails only Thomas for the franchise lead in home runs with 432 to Thomas' 448.

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless specifically noted otherwise.

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Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper Must Match the Hype in 2014 Pennant Race

It seems silly to claim that the Washington Nationals, despite being 60-49 and in first place in the NL East, have been a bit disappointing for a second straight season. But considering the amount of talent on the roster and their inability to pull away from the Atlanta Braves, who sit just 3.5 games back, maybe it's not.

Such is the case with great expectations. When big things are anticipated, standards get raised. If performance doesn't meet that lofty bar, even a solid season—like the one the Nationals are having—can feel a little bit like a disappointing one.

And of course, it's impossible to discuss Washington and expectations without honing in on the much-hyped duo of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who will need to live up to all those expectations and all that hype down the stretch to ensure that Washington returns to October.

This is especially true with the Nationals hosting a one-game makeup on Monday evening against their Maryland neighbors, the Baltimore Orioles, who currently sit atop the AL East and have a better record (62-48) amid much lower expectations.

Now, to be fair, Strasburg is having himself a pretty great season and doesn't necessarily deserve to be lumped into the same bin of disappointment that Harper is in at the moment.

The 26-year-old right-hander has been completely healthy for the first time in his five-year career, putting him on pace for his first 200-inning campaign. He also leads the Senior Circuit with 177 strikeouts (in 151.1 innings) and just hurled seven scoreless with 10 strikeouts on Sunday (albeit against the woeful Philadelphia Phillies).

Harper, meanwhile, has been hurt and much less impactful, having played in just 50 of the club's 109 games so far—that's less than half, according to the back of this here napkin—due to April surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

When he has been on the field, Harper has struggled (.259/.342/.374); off the field, well, he's managed to rub folks the wrong way, including his own manager and an outfield mate.

Over the final two months of 2014, one thing should be clear: Harper's performance is of greater importance to the Nationals than Strasburg's.

That table shows that Washington's dynamite pitching staff—both the deep rotation and dynamic bullpen—is among the very best in baseball. In each of the statistical categories listed, the Nationals' arms rank in (or, in one case, just barely outside) the top 10 in the sport.

Strasburg hasn't always been lights out, but he also hasn't needed to be, thanks to fellow five-men mates like fellow right-handers Jordan Zimmermann (3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), Doug Fister (2.68, 1.09) and Tanner Roark (2.74, 1.08), as well as a relief corps of setup men Drew Storen (1.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and Tyler Clippard (1.72, 1.06) in front of closer Rafael Soriano (1.87, 0.95).

Still, as good as Strasburg has been, he's prone to the more-than-occasional blowup, particularly on the road, where he owns a 4.68 ERA and 1.41 WHIP versus a 2.41 ERA and 1.06 WHIP at home.

As nice as it is that he leads the rotation with a 2.74 FIP, the actual results do count:

Before getting back to Harper, let's not forget that this actually is Strasburg's first real shot at a pennant race after the Braves ran away with the East last year following the Nationals infamously shutting down Strasburg in late 2012 as part of his recovery from Tommy John surgery as they were headed to the playoffs.

That puts a bit more pressure on Strasburg to deliver over his final 10 or so starts and in October, should the Nationals get there.

Washington's bats, by comparison, have more room for improvement. The offense isn't as futile as it was for much of 2013—the Nationals were smack dab in the middle of the pack with the 16th-most runs scored in a down year last season—but the sticks haven't been as consistent or potent as the arms overall.

Whereas the pitching staff was more or less in the top 10 in the categories mentioned above, the lineup can make that claim in only one stat (runs per game).

That's not to say that this club couldn't get by without Harper hitting his stride. After all, Washington gets above-average production from outfielder Jayson Werth (128 wRC+), third baseman Antony Rendon (125), and first baseman Adam LaRoche (123), while center fielder Denard Span (112) shortstop Ian Desmond (103), and catcher Wilson Ramos (103) chip in with their fair share.

As for Harper? Well, his weight runs created plus is exactly 100, which means he has been utterly and exactly league average to this point.

Here's where it's worth pointing out that the Nationals don't have a dominant presence in their lineup to match what they put on the mound most nights. That's where Harper has an opportunity.

It might be a lot to ask a 21-year-old to be the best batter in what is already a solid offense, but then again, Harper not only has been hyped up as being that kind of hitter all along, he's also shown he can be. At least, for stretches of time.

Here's what Harper did over the second half of 2012, his first season in the majors:

And here are his numbers at the start of 2013, before he injured his left knee while violently crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13, after which his health and production dropped off precipitously. 

So, yes, despite more than a little criticism that Harper hasn't been all he's cracked up to be, it's easy to see that he could be again. Remember, he missed more than two months for that torn thumb ligament, the sort of injury that takes time to fully recover from, especially with regard to the mechanics and leverage of a baseball swing. No wonder Harper has spent the past few weeks tinkering with his stance, as James Wagner of the Washington Post reported.

Heck, on Friday, Harper actually tried to shake things up by bunting, which led manager Matt Williams to say the following, via Adam Kilgore of the Post:

More often than not, I would like to see him swing the bat. He just has the opportunity to do something special. If he feels like the guy is playing him back far enough that he can do that, and get on base in the right situation, okay. Then again, there’s times where I want him to swing, too. The last couple of times he's tried to do it, we'd rather see him let it fly and see what he can do. Hit a leadoff double or hit one over the fence. He certainly has that capability.

Even if Harper is not going to emerge in 2014 as the middle-of-the-order monster that so many have been expecting, he still can add a lot to Washington's one-through-nine merely by being productive, especially at a time when Ryan Zimmerman's latest hamstring injury has his return up in the air.

To this point, the Nationals' .658 OPS from left field—Harper's primary position—ranks seventh-worst in MLB. That's down because of Harper's own shortcomings this season, as well as his injury, which forced the club to rely on the likes of Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen and Scott Hairston more than it otherwise would have.

While expectations can be an anchor, the good news for the Nationals is that Strasburg and Harper have been dealing with the sky-high kind for a long, long time by now. The other good news? Both have had flashes or even extended periods of brilliance in their still-young careers.

For the Nationals' sake, Strasburg and, especially, Harper could use another one of those down the stretch of the regular season to help the club get to the playoffs. And a big October wouldn't hurt, either.

After all, why bother with expectations if they're not great?

 

Statistics are accurate through August 3 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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Javier Baez Promoted by Cubs: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The Chicago Cubs haven't had a playoff contender to look forward to come August and September in some time, but the winds of change are blowing in the Windy City. Maybe not for this season, but the organization is loaded with promising young talents in the farm system.   

And Cubs fans will be getting an extended look at one of them this season, as dynamic prospect Javier Baez will be joining the team:

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports has more on what Baez has done in his young career thus far:

Baez, 21, was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Baseball America ranked him as the fifth best prospect in baseball coming into the season, saying he 'profiles as an all-star-caliber, 30-homer infielder.' Baez hit .282/.341/.578 with 34 doubles, 37 home runs and 20 stolen bases split between High Class-A and Double-A in 2013.

In 104 Triple-A games this season, Baez is hitting .260/.323/.510 with 24 doubles and 23 home runs. He hit .229/.285/.424 with 11 homers and a 33.7 percent strikeout rate in his first 66 games of the year, but has put up a .315/.384/.657 batting line with 12 homers and a 23.8 percent strikeout in 38 games since.

The man swings a mean bat, and in mid-July, Keith Law of ESPN Insider (subscription required) noted that he "still has the minors' best bat speed, with great wrist and forearm strength that translates into huge all-fields power."

And he is just one of many exciting young prospects in the Cubs' system.

Kris Bryant is arguably the best slugger in the minors at the moment. Recent addition Addison Russell—who came over from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel trade—is a star in the making at shortstop and one of the reasons Baez has recently moved from shortstop to second base. If Jorge Soler can overcome some injury woes, he'll be one of the most exciting outfield prospects in all of baseball.

The Cubs also have talented younger players already on the roster. Anthony Rizzo is just 24 and is hitting .286 with 25 homers, 60 RBI and 74 runs scored. Starlin Castro is also just 24 and has been rejuvenated this season, hitting .277 with 11 homers and 59 RBI. 

Baez is going to have to adjust to playing second base in the majors, of course. He'll face an adjustment period against MLB pitching too. Arismendy Alcantara still deserves a long, hard look at second base. Baez might even get some time at third.

But there's no question that he is one of the game's most exciting young prospects, and Cubs fans have absolutely been clamoring to see what he can do with the big club. Now he has his first chance to prove he's worthy of the hype.

 

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