Andrew Miller Hinting at Future as Boston Red Sox Closer

The Boston Red Sox have had a very disappointing 2014 season.

Their offense, projected to be one of baseball's best before the year began, ranks just 26th in the majors in runs scored with 354. Their rotation, which boasts veteran depth and promising rookie contributors, ranks at just 23rd in baseball, with a collective ERA of 4.11. And the Red Sox's fielding—so good a year ago—has been noticeably poorer this year, as is evidenced by the 56 errors Boston has committed so far.

Yet amid all of the poor performances that have led to Boston's 42-51 record, the back end of the bullpen has been phenomenal. All-Star closer Koji Uehara has been a huge part of that, of course, and has further solidified his reputation as one of the best relievers in baseball.

But left-handed setup man Andrew Miller is having just as impressive a year, and it's Miller who could serve as the Red Sox's closer of the future.

When you think of where Miller was just a few seasons ago, his transformation is fairly remarkable.

When the Red Sox acquired Miller before the 2011 season, they took him on as a major reclamation project and as a starting pitcher. Miller has always had phenomenal stuff, but a lack of command plagued him throughout his career as a starter.

After posting a 5.54 ERA for the Red Sox in 2011—a year in which he made 12 starts—Miller transitioned into a reliever role, where he's been ever since.

Miller was good in relief in 2012 and 2013, striking out a ton of batters and posting a solid ERA, but he was still walking around five batters per nine innings. That prevented him from truly reaching the upper echelon of elite relievers in the game despite some eye-popping strikeout numbers (99 in 71 innings).

This year, however, Miller has dropped his walk rate to a career-low 2.78, and the effect that's had on his stat line is dramatic. Take a look at how Miller stacks up to the average reliever this year:

Those numbers are why FanGraphs has Miller as the 10th-most valuable reliever in the game this year, tied with Pat Neshek, Uehara and Steve Cishek with a 1.3 fWAR and less than half a win behind FanGraphs' third-best reliever, Aroldis Chapman. Uehara earned the All-Star nod because he's the closer, but Miller deserves to be there, too.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, both Uehara and Miller are free agents after the season. While you have to assume Boston would like to bring both back, one or both could be traded at the deadline this season, and retaining the services of both could prove quite expensive.

Yet as crazy as it sounds, while Miller and Uehara have been equally efficient this season, and while Uehara has been better for longer and on a brighter stage, there's reason to prefer Miller moving forward.

Perhaps most obviously, Miller is just 29, while Uehara is 39 and generally not able to pitch back-to-back games. Uehara has a history of shoulder trouble, while Miller's injuries generally haven't been related to his arm. And while Miller walks more batters than Uehara, he also strikes out more batters and induces more ground balls.

It's fair to argue that we don't know that Miller will be able to hold down the ninth inning with regularity, but we also don't know that he can't. And while there's some additional mental pressure that comes with closing out games, it's not like Miller isn't used to pitching in high-leverage situations with the game on the line regularly.

Bringing back Uehara and Miller for another run in 2015 is something the Red Sox would be wise to consider, but if they can truly only retain one, it would be perfectly reasonable for them to choose Miller over their standout closer. At best, Uehara probably has one or two seasons remaining, while Miller could pitch for the better part of the next decade.

While major contracts for relievers are rarely a good idea, a three-year contract for Miller could make sense for both sides. Miller hinted to Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal that he'd like to return to Boston, but the two sides haven't discussed a deal so far.

Perhaps Miller prefers to close and will seek that opportunity elsewhere. He's certainly earned it with his performance over the past three years.

But the odds are decent that Miller will get that chance in Boston in fairly short order, too. And if Miller is to serve as the Red Sox closer in the future, the Red Sox will be in good hands.

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MLB Teams That Are Foolish to Consider Themselves Trade Deadline Buyers

No team likes to consider itself out of contention, especially when the standings say that, with a hot streak and a bit of luck, a team could find itself leading in its league's respective playoff race.

Only seven of MLB's 30 teams sit at least 10 games out of a playoff berth, and with so many clubs still believing that they've got a chance to play meaningful baseball in October, even the most astute and experienced general manager can fall victim to poor decision-making.

For the teams on this list, adding veteran pieces to the puzzle as the July 31 trade deadline approaches—and jettisoning younger talent to acquire them—would be prime examples of smart people making bad decisions.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all standings and statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of July 11.

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2014 MLB All-Star Roster: Complete Lineups for American and National Leagues

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition, and the 2014 edition of the MLB All-Star Game has the unenviable honor of trying to live up to the high standards of the annual event.

Fortunately for hardcore and casual fans alike, the rosters for both the American and National Leagues are stacked with elite hitters and dominant pitchers. The game should be a fierce battle with home-field advantage in the World Series on the line.

Here are the complete rosters for the AL and NL and a focus on the player whom baseball fans are most excited to see in action.

 

Player to Watch: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

A cadre of pitchers could steal the show in the All-Star Game, and several hitters have the power to dominate the headlines, but no one possesses the game-changing abilities of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

While many fans immediately think of his consistency and power at the plate, McCutchen is arguably the best outfielder in the sport. With a unique mixture of speed and awareness in the field, he can cover an incredible amount of ground and make breathtaking catches.

The Pirates' official Twitter account talked about where he ranks amongst the all-time Pittsburgh greats:

That speed also helps him on the basepaths. McCutchen has racked up 15 stolen bases this season and looks to be on pace to meet his season average of 23. He may look to use his baserunning ability during the actual All-Star Game.

When asked about the honor of making the Midsummer Classic, McCutchen told Tom Singer of MLB.com about going with his teammates and being voted as a starter:

It's definitely an honor and I'm happy I will have some guys accompanying me there…It takes us winning to get that recognition, and we've done that the last couple of years. It's good to see. Being in the All-Star Game is enough in itself. Being No. 1 [in voting for outfielders] is a plus, really cool.

ESPN’s Stats and Info department shared a great image of just how hot McCutchen has been since June 1:

McCutchen picked up right where he left off last season. He has compiled a .321 batting average, 15 home runs, 59 RBI, 53 runs and a .419 on-base percentage in 91 games this season. He looks to be on pace to match or surpass almost all of his regular-season averages.

In his three previous All-Star Game appearances, though, McCutchen has only managed one hit in five at-bats. It could be time for the Pittsburgh star to buck the trend and take the game over for the National League.

With 46 extra-base hits in 2014, McCutchen has the ability to change the game with one swing of his bat.

Predicted stat line: 2 at-bats, 2 hits, 1 RBI, 1 run, 1 stolen base

 

*Stats via MLB.com.

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MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game 2014: Full List of Participants

Most fans will be looking forward to the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, but on Sunday, July 13, another exciting tradition will be rekindled during the MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game.

Some of the biggest names in baseball history will join forces with some of the top personalities from other sports and from the world of entertainment in a celebrity softball game. With the event taking place in Minnesota, there is a local feel to the stars participating.

Here is the full list of participants and the star to watch on Sunday.

 

 

Star to Watch: Jim Thome

There are few baseball players to ever grace the major leagues who made an impact on more lives than former first baseman and designated hitter Jim Thome.

As a former member of the Minnesota Twins, Thome was a perfect fit for this celebrity softball game.

Thome only spent a year and a half with Minnesota, but like every team he played for, he became a fan favorite and an example of how to play baseball the right way. With country-born strength and a positive attitude, Thome was a great leader in any locker room.

KARE-TV Sports Director Eric Perkins talked about his excitement to see Thome in the softball game but pondered if he could be doing more during the festivities:

When asked about bringing back stars from the past, Twins President Dave St. Peter told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com about the franchise’s efforts with its alumni:

I think the history and the tradition is always something that's always been important to us. I think you try to accentuate that when you have opportunities such as Opening Day, the postseason or an All-Star Game. At the end of the day, it's a celebration of baseball, but also about the history of the players in that town, and you can't do that without the Olivas, or the Carews, or the Hrbeks or even the Radkes and Mientkiewiczs.

Thome has not played in the majors since 2012, but he put together an amazing career. He spent 22 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and the Twins.

Over the course of his career, Thome belted 612 home runs, added another 1,699 RBI and made the All-Star team five times. The crowd will explode when Thome’s name is called Sunday, and it will be a feel-good moment for the franchise and the player.

Thome isn’t too far removed from his career, either, which will make him a very dangerous player in the softball game. While he is one of the most genuine people in the sport, he has a competitive side and will unleash it on the celebrity game.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Thome put one in the seats for old time's sake.

 

*Stats via MLB.com.

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MLB All-Star Lineup 2014: Predicting Stars Likely to Shine at Target Field

Predicting the MVP of the MLB All-Star Game is like sticking your hand in a beehive and trying to guess which of the little suckers is going to sting you first.

There's probably some rhyme or reason to it, but mostly, it's pretty random.

Nevertheless, we'll take a look at the list below and try to focus on three players most likely to do damage on Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

Yasiel Puig

Puig is a man of the moment. He's proved that time and time again in his brief major league career. In this, his first opportunity to shine bright at the Midsummer Classic, expect Puig to stand out in a major way.

Whether it's by hitting a big home run or by making a sparkling defensive play, Puig has the tools to not only give fans some memorable moments, but to win the game's Most Valuable Player Award.

 

Jose Abreu

Hands down, the best rookie so far this season is Abreu. In fact, according to this tweet from ESPN Stats & Info, Abreu's rookie campaign is set to be one of the best of all time.

He has since hit his 28th home run. At the rate he's going, he could have 30 by Tuesday.

Abreu has the type of demeanor that makes you believe he could handle the spotlight the All-Star Game brings. Longtime Chicago White Sox player and former All-Star Paul Konerko talked about his 27-year-old teammate.

Abreu will not participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday, but he might put on his own display during the game.

 

Carlos Gomez

There are several ways to impact a game. Like Puig, Gomez has the skills to be a factor in almost every aspect. How dynamic is the National League outfield with Gomez, Puig and Andrew McCutchen?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more athletic threesome in any outfieldAll-Star Game or traditional rosters.

The 28-year-old has really come into his own over the last two years. Aside from hitting 24 home runs last season and 13 in the first half of this campaign, Gomez has stolen 15 bases and made several amazing plays in the outfield.

He is a showman and a good bet to play well on Tuesday.

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MLB All-Star Lineup 2014: Predicting Stars Likely to Shine at Target Field

Predicting the MVP of the MLB All-Star Game is like sticking your hand in a beehive and trying to guess which of the little suckers is going to sting you first.

There's probably some rhyme or reason to it, but mostly, it's pretty random.

Nevertheless, we'll take a look at the list below and try to focus on three players most likely to do damage on Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

Yasiel Puig

Puig is a man of the moment. He's proved that time and time again in his brief major league career. In this, his first opportunity to shine bright at the Midsummer Classic, expect Puig to stand out in a major way.

Whether it's by hitting a big home run or by making a sparkling defensive play, Puig has the tools to not only give fans some memorable moments, but to win the game's Most Valuable Player Award.

 

Jose Abreu

Hands down, the best rookie so far this season is Abreu. In fact, according to this tweet from ESPN Stats & Info, Abreu's rookie campaign is set to be one of the best of all time.

He has since hit his 28th home run. At the rate he's going, he could have 30 by Tuesday.

Abreu has the type of demeanor that makes you believe he could handle the spotlight the All-Star Game brings. Longtime Chicago White Sox player and former All-Star Paul Konerko talked about his 27-year-old teammate.

Abreu will not participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday, but he might put on his own display during the game.

 

Carlos Gomez

There are several ways to impact a game. Like Puig, Gomez has the skills to be a factor in almost every aspect. How dynamic is the National League outfield with Gomez, Puig and Andrew McCutchen?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more athletic threesome in any outfieldAll-Star Game or traditional rosters.

The 28-year-old has really come into his own over the last two years. Aside from hitting 24 home runs last season and 13 in the first half of this campaign, Gomez has stolen 15 bases and made several amazing plays in the outfield.

He is a showman and a good bet to play well on Tuesday.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2014 MLB All-Star Game: First-Time Selections Who Will Become Mainstays

The 2014 MLB All-Star Game will take place Tuesday from Target Field in Minneapolis. While Derek Jeter will be participating in his 14th and final All-Star Game, there's a large group of players who will be making their debuts in the Midsummer Classic.

At least three of them figure to be perennial All-Stars in their careers, provided injuries or other issues don't derail their careers.

 

Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

Most knew that Jose Abreu projected as a big-time power hitter, but almost no one expected the 27-year-old Cuban to be this good. Abreu has been one of the lone bright spots in a dim season for the Chicago White Sox. Through 78 games, he is tied for the major league lead in home runs with 28. 

Unless Abreu inexplicably doesn't play in the second half of the season, or forgets how to hit, he seemingly has the American League Rookie of the Year wrapped up. While he is an old rookie, he's still young enough to play another 10-plus years at a high level in the major leagues.

Bet on Abreu playing in a good number of All-Star games during that time.

Abreu's teammate, veteran and multiple-time All-Star Paul Konerko, had this to say about the beastly rookie, per longtime baseball writer, Peter Gammons:

 

Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

Despite the fact that Tanaka is headed for the disabled list with an elbow injury that could be serious, there's no disputing he was as good as advertised in the first half of the season for the New York Yankees.

The 25-year-old Japanese star is 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA and a WHIP of 1.01 in 18 starts. Assuming his arm checks out and nothing career-altering has taken place, this season was just the beginning of a stellar career in the majors.

At 25, he arrived in the majors with enough maturity and youth to have a long and stellar run in the Bronx. That will likely include regular appearances in the All-Star Game.

We can only hope Tanaka's injury doesn't deprive fans of seeing what he could become.

 

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

Without question, Puig is one of the most electrifying and polarizing players in the game today. When you mix in his natural charisma with his immense talent, Puig looks like the type of player who will be amongst the top five vote-getters for the next 10 years.

The 6'2", 235-pound freakishly gifted athlete is having an even better year in 2014 than he did last season.

Through 86 games, Puig is hitting .307 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI. If he doesn't miss any time, he could eclipse the 100-RBI mark for the first time in his career. That will likely be the first of many times he accomplishes that feat.

As well, this will be the first of several All-Star appearances.

 

All player stats and info per Baseball Reference.

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MLB Futures Game 2014: Top Prospects to Watch in Annual Showcase

All-Star Week isn't only for Major League Baseball veterans.

The 2014 Futures Game kicks off Sunday's action at Target Field with many of the world's most talented up-and-coming players set to take center stage.

According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, 27 of the Top 100 Prospects will partake in the action, as the U.S. Team takes on the World Team. He also notes that of the 23 players who aren't ranked, 20 of them are in their respective team's Top 20 Prospects lists.

That's a whole lot of young talent on one field.

So, which players should we be on the lookout for once the game commences? Let's take a look.

 

Francisco Lindor

Lindor hails from Puerto Rico and will be taking the field for the World Team on Sunday.

He's ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect on MLB.com, No. 1 shortstop and No. 1 prospect of the Cleveland Indians. Lindor was drafted by Cleveland in the first round in 2011 and currently plays for the Akron RubberDucks.

This year with Akron, Lindor is batting .282 with 89 hits, 11 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 45 RBI. A quick baserunner, he's also accumulated 23 steals.

Lindor's speed makes him dangerous on defense as well. His instincts are phenomenal, and paired with his quickness and strong arm, he's no stranger to turning double plays, having racked up 58 this year.

According to this tweet from the Eastern League, he's on a major roll heading into the Futures Game:

Keep a keen eye on this potential future star.

 

Javier Baez

Baez has plenty in common with Lindor. Not only is he also from Puerto Rico and will be playing for the World Team at shortstop, but he was selected by the Chicago Cubs just one spot after Lindor in the 2011 draft.

Currently, Baez is MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect and No. 4 shortstop. He's also the No. 1 prospect of the Cubs and currently plays for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

This season, Baez has struggled at the plate a bit, as his average dipped to .240; however, his power is still very much on display. In 2014, he's accumulated 74 hits, 18 doubles and 14 home runs while recording 53 RBI.

The shortstop has looked better recently, and perhaps a recent addition in Iowa sparked his surge, according to Josh Norris of Baseball America:

Baez doesn't have a tremendous amount of speed—and may eventually be moved to third base—but his good arm and solid glove have allowed him to remain at shortstop for now.

 

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard is one of many talented pitchers on the U.S. Team who has a chance to see some time on the mound on Sunday.

Ranked as MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect, No. 4 right-handed pitcher and the New York Mets' No. 1 prospect, Syndergaard's power is what allows him to excel on the mound.

The right-hander has a plus fastball that's capable of reaching upward of 96 mph on a consistent basis. His power also shows through on his curve and changeup, which could lead to a nice future three-pitch repertoire.

Syndergaard has nice control over his pitches despite standing at a towering 6'6" due to a repetitive delivery.

This season, he's struggled a bit with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. He's maintaining a 5.31 ERA in 16 starts, allowing 97 hits and 47 earned runs. However, his power on the mound has also been prevalent, as he's struck out 82 batters over that span.

Robert Brender of SNY.tv tweeted some strong praise for the pitcher after a dominant performance earlier this month:

Expect to see Syndergaard as a front-line starter in the near future.

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MLB All-Star Voting 2014: Full Results and Breakdown of Final Vote Spots

This season isn't looking too great for the Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox in the standings, but the two teams sure know how to engineer an online campaign to get their stars to the MLB All-Star Game.

The results are in, and the final two MLB All-Star roster spots are filled. The White Sox's Chris Sale and the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo were named as the winners of the online fan vote.

MLB's official Twitter account has the word:

Per Mark Newman of MLB.com, there were a total of 52.5 million votes cast for the candidates. Here's a look at the final order after the votes were cast.

The Chicago White Sox fans and media personnel deserve a ton of credit for getting Sale recognized. Obviously, Sale did his job on the field with an 8-1 record and an ERA of 2.08, but White Sox fans and media have proven to be a force in the Final Vote process.

This was the fourth time a member of the team has won the Final Vote. That's a record for the relatively new process of selecting the final two All-Stars.

Sale came away with 6.7 million votes to beat out the Detroit Tigers' Rick Porcello, the Houston Astros' Dallas Keuchel, the Los Angeles Angels' Garrett Richards and the Cleveland Indians' Corey Kluber.

Most believe the 25-year-old, hard-throwing left-hander should have been selected for the team conventionally, but he was one of the more notable snubs. The Final Vote effectively righted a wrong.

Check out how Sale's numbers compare to the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Clayton Kershaw:

This is Sale's third-straight All-Star selection.

He joins White Sox teammates Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez in representing the American League this year.

Anthony Rizzo had his own strong case to be part of the National League All-Star team before the Final Vote. Heading into Thursday, Rizzo's 20 home runs were second only to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton's 21 in the National League.

Still, Rizzo had to mount 8.8 million votes to beat out the Colorado Rockies' Justin Morneau, Miami Marlins' Casey McGehee, Atlanta Braves' Justin Upton and the Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon.

Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper says the fans got the right guy:

To go along with the 20 dingers, Rizzo is hitting .277 with 49 RBI and an OPS of .890. This is the first All-Star selection for the 24-year-old.

After word came down that Rizzo was the one selected to represent the Cubs and the National League, he tweeted this gratuitous message:

Some might shun the concept of allowing the fans to select two more spots on the All-Star rosters, but it's hard to criticize Rizzo or Sale's inclusion.

If the Final Vote continues to ensure that worthy players get recognized in the All-Star Game, then it would seem that the process is working just fine. Also, anything that encourages millions of baseball fans to participate can't be a bad thing.

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Biggest Takeaways from This Week’s MLB Action

The final weekend of the first half of the season is upon us, baseball fans. Unlike many years, the sport didn't coast into the All-Star break this time around. With big-time performances, major injuries and season-changing moves, the baseball world has been turned upside down as the vast majority of those immersed in the game take a few days off.

Here at Bleacher Report, we don't ever take time off from baseball. After watching the games, analyzing the numbers and dissecting the rumors, the most important narratives from the week have emerged.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the last week of MLB action.

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Is Tim Lincecum’s Recent Hot Stretch a Career Revival or Mirage?

Tim Lincecum did it again. The San Francisco Giants right-hander won his fourth straight start by holding the National League West rival Arizona Diamondbacks scoreless over seven innings at AT&T Park on Friday night.

The Giants won 5-0 to take the first of a three-game set. More importantly, the win kept San Francisco tied atop the division with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to the San Diego Padres, 6-3.

With Friday's outing in the books, Lincecum now has hurled a quality start in six of his past seven turns. Over that time, he's compiled a 1.86 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with 37 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.

Aside from the strikeouts (a mere 6.9 K/9), those digits look an awful lot like the Lincecum of old, back when he was winning consecutive Cy Youngs in 2008 and 2009 and was widely considered one of the very best arms in baseball for a handful of years.

And of course, this recent string has been built around that no-hitter Lincecum spun on June 25—his second in less than a year.

Despite all of the above, however, there are two reasons why this hot stretch is more mirage than late-career revival. Let's point 'em out here.

Lying and Underlying Numbers

It's no secret that Lincecum has lost more than a few ticks off his once high-90s heater and hasn't been all that good the past two seasons. So accepting that he's suddenly just regained his former glory simply isn't realistic.

In 65 starts across 2012-13, Lincecum posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. His 3.95 FIP (fielding independent pitching) in that time looks a little better, but his ERA- (ERA adjusted for ballpark and league average) was 132—32 percent worse than average.

So how do those same underlying numbers, and a few others, look in 2014? Here's a rundown of Lincecum's stats this year compared to the previous two:

The point? By some measures, like K/9, BB/9 and FIP, Lincecum actually is pitching similar to, if not slightly worse than, he did in 2013 and not that much better than he did in his disastrous 2012—but this is masked by his strong surface stats.

 

Offensive Opposition

One key factor in all of this, and which helps explain why Lincecum's traditional statistics look better this year: the competition. Or lack thereof.

Over this six-quality-starts-in-seven-outings period, here are his opponents, as well as a look at where they rank in a few offensive categories:

Clearly, Lincecum has been taking advantage of a very pitcher-friendly slate of late.

In fact, the Colorado Rockies offense is the only one that can be considered better than even below average, and that outing was in cozy AT&T Park and came with both Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado—two of the better Rockies hitters—on the disabled list.

Otherwise, Lincecum has faced the sorry one-through-nines of the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, as well as the the so-so lineup of the Arizona Diamondbacks twice, which to be fair is tougher for him than most other pitchers because of this: 

And to round things out, he's drawn the San Diego Padres, possessors of the worst offense in baseball—and perhaps baseball history—two times, the first of which was the no-hitter.

Skeptical much?

Bottom Line

Despite all the ragging on him above, Lincecum still can be an effective starter, as he's shown of late. He has the ability—if no longer the same raw stuff as when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball—to get through a lineup two, sometimes three times, and even dominate the opposition on occasion when everything is just so.

And he's certainly proved to be durable, having made at least 32 starts each of his six full major league seasons. That's not to be overlooked or underestimated, because pitching innings—even if they're only slightly better than league-average innings these days—is something that provides plenty of value.

Fact is, though, Lincecum is now 30 years old and has lost a lot on his fastball—more than two miles per hour since 2011—which requires him to be that much better when it comes to control and especially command.

And Lincecum showed that Friday, as Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told Steve Gilbert of MLB.com:

He's got great command and he threw multiple pitches where he wanted to throw them. He had good sequences, kept the ball down in the zone. There was a low strike zone tonight and he made good use of it and used our aggressiveness against us and shut us down.

As more of a finesse pitcher, trying to be so fine can work, but there's less room for error. When Lincecum's location is off just a little or he can't get a feel for one of his off-speed offerings in a given start, then he could be in for a long night. Or a short one, as it were. And let's face it: With a career walk rate of 3.5 per nine, control has never been one of Lincecum's fortes.

Lincecum himself realizes as much, recently telling Chris Haft of MLB.com:

The difference between being good and bad is very minute, especially at this level. That's why I always try to stay even-keeled. You can't get too excited about the good things because they're not that far away from being bad, and vice-versa. It just helps you keep things in perspective. 

The takeaway from Lincecum's recent performance, including Friday's scoreless victory, is that he's showing he can have success while pitching differently than he used to when he still could overpower hitters. He's making adjustments, and that's paying off. At least for now.

But this isn't the Tim Lincecum of old. If anything, it's simply an older Tim Lincecum.

 

Statistics 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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San Diego Padres Reportedly Interview Kim Ng for GM Position

The San Diego Padres took a major step toward possibly hiring the first female general manager ever after reportedly interviewing Kim Ng for their GM vacancy, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

Ng is among the highest-ranking women in baseball, serving as senior vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball. There has never been a female GM in MLB or any of the other major sports.

She was assistant GM of the New York Yankees from 1998-01 and had been the Los Angeles Dodgers' assistant GM for nine years before joining the commissioner's office.

Ng interviewed with the Padres in 2009 after Kevin Towers was fired. The job eventually went to Jed Hoyer.

The Padres are having a lot of trouble finding viable candidates, especially after A.J. Hinch and Omar Minaya removed themselves from consideration, per CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:

Ng is the eighth person the team has interviewed, per Jeff Sanders of The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Hinch, who serves as the team's assistant GM, told the AP that he "wished (the Padres) well in their search to find the right leader for them."

"In the meantime, my focus will be to continue to work in the best interest of the organization at an important time of the year," he added.

Writing for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Matt Calkins argued that Ng is more than simply a publicity ploy on the part of the Padres and that San Diego should seriously consider her for the position:

Some theorize that she is a token interview—MLB's way of trying to look progressive when, in reality, those positions were never within her reach. But that can't be the case. Not when Ng has achieved as much as she has with as many teams as she's worked for.

No, what is more likely true is that nobody has been willing to take a chance on her. Nobody wants to be the guy who got suckered into hiring a woman when it becomes evident she was in over her head.

Well, this is the Padres' chance to be bold. This is President Mike Dee's opportunity to make what would be both the correct and historical choice.

There's no question that hiring Ng would be a major gamble for San Diego. Appointing a new GM is always a leap of faith, but this would obviously be a much different situation.

The organization would be viewed as a joke by some critics who think that hiring a female GM is somehow beneath an MLB team.

However, the fact that Ng has continued to rise in a male-dominated field is a testament to her ability. She wouldn't have gotten as far as she has if she wasn't extremely good at her job.

The Padres have one winning season since 2008 and haven't made the playoffs since 2006. They clearly need an organizational shakeup, and maybe Ng is the person who can make that happen.

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Reds’ Billy Hamilton Uses Hesitation Move to Avoid Tag, Arrive at First on Bunt

"And that's an easy play...oh, he missed him!" 

The play-by-play announcer says it all, as Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton pulled off one of the most elusive moves of the season to avoid a tag from Pittsburgh's Gaby Sanchez and get on first. 

With what appeared to be an easy out coming, Hamilton did a full hesitation move to avoid the tag and dive for first base. 

[MLB]

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest on Marlon Byrd, Joakim Soria and More

The home stretch is always the most difficult.

In this instance, that refers to the complex machine that is the MLB trade rumor mill as the deadline looms at the end of July. It can also refer to the fact that the Midsummer Classic is upon us, meaning franchises are more willing to wheel and deal for the postseason push after the break.

And in a few rare instances, it refers to what will be a frantic few weeks for franchises that just suffered a major loss and will need to compensate for maneuvers.

For fans, though? It's party time, as the endless possibilities can breathe new life into any team, both in the short and long term. With rumors flying every which way, here is a look at some of the most notable recent updates.

 

Cardinals on the Hunt for Molina Replacement?

At 50-43 and in second place in an intense race in the NL Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals had little wiggle room for an injury to take away one of their elite players.

Alas, catcher Yadier Molina will miss perhaps the rest of the season after suffering a thumb injury, as explained by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A major loss at home plate, Molina was also finally turning things around in the batter's box, going 11-for-31 in his last 10 games. Tony Cruz, who has appeared in 22 games this season and is batting .241 with eight RBI, will take over as the starter.

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick provided some insight as to what the loss means:

As the Elias Sports Bureau notes, the Cardinals have a staff ERA of 3.53 with Molina and 3.81 without him over the past five seasons. They've erased 40.9 percent of opposing base stealers during that time frame, compared to 31.9 percent with all their non-Molina catchers.

"It's the equivalent of losing Adam Wainwright," said an American League scout. "Yadi is one guy in the lineup, but this affects 12 guys on the pitching staff. Tony Cruz is a great backup and I guarantee you he's learned a ton from Yadi just by osmosis. But there's no way he can replace Yadi offensively, and Yadi is by far the best defensive catcher in all of baseball. It's going to be a challenge."

Goold notes that, in an effort to better guarantee the position is secure going into a postseason push, general manager John Mozeliak and the front office will have "their eyes toward the market for available catchers."

Keep a close eye on the Cardinals, as Cruz's success will likely have a major impact on whether or not the franchise elects to make a move. The team was in a similar spot a season ago, and the demons of that situation—teams trying to steal great prospects knowing the deadline was very close—will certainly play a factor in a potential move.

 

Joakim Soria

A 30-year-old arm with 16 saves and a 2.76 ERA is, of course, a hot item on the market any year with the deadline on approach. 

Oh, and don't forget that said arm has fanned 40 batters and issued just four free passes.

This is where the Texas Rangers are with Joakim Soria at this point. He has managed to rise above what is a rather deep staff, and not only that, he touts a very favorable contract that pays him $5 million this year, with a team option next year for $7 million, per Spotrac.

Other teams obviously covet a contract like Soria's, especially those looking for a rental. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi says there are at least three teams on the prowl for his services:

From Soria's perspective, the best place to go if he is moved would be Los Angeles, as that gives him the best chance to remain a closer. But it's hard to imagine the Rangers, hanging out in fifth place in the AL West, would want to help out a division rival currently fighting with the Oakland A's for first place.

For his part, Soria is just focused on continuing to do his job well, as captured by Evan Grant of the Dallas News:

I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I don’t worry about it, it won’t be a distraction. It’s part of baseball. Rumors start and that’s it. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to have a second chance to be a Major Leaguer. How can I be frustrated over anything when I’ve been given a second chance.

Soria is but one rung on the free-agency ladder that includes names such as Jonathan Papelbon, so a deal will have to blow the Rangers away to come to fruition. That certainly does not mean it won't happen, though.

 

Marlon Byrd

At 36 years old and in possession of a rejuvenated bat and a two-year contract worth $8 million per year through 2016, per Spotrac, Marlon Byrd is living the good life with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of course, that won't stop teams from coming after Byrd, whose numbers continue to rise and show no signs of stopping at this juncture:

According to Crasnick, the Seattle Mariners, stuck in third place in the AL West, have shown a serious interest:

One problem: Byrd has a no-trade clause that covers four teams.

The Mariners are one of them.

Per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, the teams are the Mariners, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, although he does not view the clause as "ironclad."

“I don’t want to get traded,” he said Thursday in Milwaukee. “I signed a two-year deal here for a reason. The thought process was to retire as a Phillie. At the same time, this is a business and I know how it works. If trading me makes the organization better, I have to go with it.”

If a team like Seattle tries hard enough, there is an outside chance some traction can be gained. But Byrd is in rare form for his age and is quite content, so expect this saga to drag out right up to the deadline.

 

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Cleveland Indians’ Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint

The Cleveland Indians have some work to do at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline. The team currently sits at 45-46, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Detroit Tigers and 3.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild-card spot.

The Indians need help in a couple of different areas, including the starting rotation and the bench. Aside from those two areas, the team has a collection of players who are simply underperforming. For a team with limited funds, and limited willingness to give up top prospects, it can be difficult to bring in the pieces necessary to put themselves over the top.

In any event, the team needs to do something, and that's what I'm here to help sort out. Over the next few slides, I'll break down the club's biggest areas of need, their moveable pieces, some possible targets and even propose a few deals the Indians could look at to bolster their roster.

Let's get started.

 

All stats are current through play on July 10, 2014 and come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Cleveland Indians’ Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint

The Cleveland Indians have some work to do at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline. The team currently sits at 45-46, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Detroit Tigers and 3.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild-card spot.

The Indians need help in a couple of different areas, including the starting rotation and the bench. Aside from those two areas, the team has a collection of players who are simply underperforming. For a team with limited funds, and limited willingness to give up top prospects, it can be difficult to bring in the pieces necessary to put themselves over the top.

In any event, the team needs to do something, and that's what I'm here to help sort out. Over the next few slides, I'll break down the club's biggest areas of need, their moveable pieces, some possible targets and even propose a few deals the Indians could look at to bolster their roster.

Let's get started.

 

All stats are current through play on July 10, 2014 and come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Angels’ Mike Trout Fastest to 500 Hits in Franchise History

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout stormed his way into the record books Thursday night, using a four-hit performance against the Texas Rangers to become the fastest player in franchise history with 500 career hits, per Angels Director of Communications Eric Kay.

Trout reached the milestone in just 423 games, surpassing the record of 428 games previously held by Garret Anderson.

The 22-year-old outfielder entered Thursday's contest with 498 career hits and proceeded to fill out the box score in a 15-6 blowout victory. Not only did Trout record a hit in four of his five at-bats, but he also finished the night with a home run, three runs and four RBI.

Set to turn 23 August 7, Trout is already shaping up as a threat to take down Anderson's franchise record of 2,368 hits.

While never considered a true superstar, Anderson played for the Angels from 1994 to 2008 and was a productive hitter for most of that span. In addition to the franchise hits mark, he also holds Angels records for games (2,013), runs (1,024), RBI (1,292) and total bases (3,743), among others. His 272 home runs in a Halos uniform are good for second in franchise history, trailing only the 299 of retired slugger Tim Salmon.

Trout still has a ways to go before reaching Anderson in any of the counting stats, but he's the all-time franchise leader in both on-base percentage (.403) and slugging percentage (.553).

Even more impressive, Trout is responsible for the two best seasons in franchise history as measured by wins above replacement (WAR), having posted a 10.8 WAR in 2012 and 8.9 WAR in 2013, per Baseball-Reference.com.

Assuming he sticks around in Anaheim for the long haul, Trout could one day be the Angels' all-time leader in nearly every significant offensive category.

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5 Prospects the Cubs Should Give a Shot in the Second Half

It's no secret that the Chicago Cubs possess more exciting players in the minor leagues than they do in the major leagues. As sad as it is, most of the core of the team's future hasn't played a major league game yet.

While the Cubs have gotten mixed results from their top prospects, there are a select few who deserve a shot at the big leagues this season. 

If nothing else, calling up a couple of top prospects who are expected to be ready by Opening Day next season will let them take their lumps when it doesn't really matter. That isn't to say that they won't take their lumps in 2015, but it could really ease the transition process.

For these five prospects, promotions are in order by September at the latest.

Begin Slideshow

Deal Of The Day: 44% Off On MondoHub

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Some of you may remember we wrote about the MondoHub just last wednesday. It’s this massive 28-port USB hub, which should satisfy your USB-pluggin needs for years to come. 24 of these are USB 2.0, while 4 sport the considerably faster USB 3.0 variant. Each port can be switched on or off manually, and there’s even over current protection and the ports are hot-swappable. It’s a capable device that should sell for $99, actually sells for $62 on Amazon, and is being discounted down to $54.99 with this deal.

[ 44% Off On MondoHub ]

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2014 MLB All-Star Game: Complete Rosters and Predictions for Midsummer Classic

There are many traditions in baseball that make it America’s pastime, but none have the history and excitement associated with the MLB All-Star Game. The 2014 edition of the Midsummer Classic will live up to the lofty expectations.

With many of the top players in the league taking the field at the same time, fans will be treated to an amazing battle between the best pitchers in baseball and the elite hitters in the sport.

Here are the full rosters for both the National and American leagues and predictions for the 2014 MLB-All Star Game.

 

 

Breaking Down the 2014 All-Star Game

While the hitters on both rosters will make it difficult for opposing pitchers to shine during the All-Star Game, the vast array of top hurlers on either team will be the ultimate difference-maker.

Fans will be expecting elite batters like Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen and Yasiel Puig from the NL side and Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Jose Bautista from the AL side to dominate, but the pitching depth is even more impressive.

The key to victory for both teams will be the pitching.

On the American League side, look for starters like Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester and David Price to carry the team for most of the game. If the AL coaching staff can get two innings out of each elite pitcher, there will only be one inning for the relief pitchers to worry about.

While there is a strong cast of characters in the bullpen for the American League with Sean Doolittle, Greg Holland, Glen Perkins and Dellin Betances, the coaching staff would like to leave the ball in the hands of proven stars when possible.

As stellar as each reliever played to reach the All-Star Game, none have achieved the long-term success that will instill unquestioned confidence. Expect the AL to lean more on the starters than the relief pitchers.

Boston Red Sox manager and American League shot-caller John Farrell spoke about the importance of the game with Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com:

I will say having going through this the first time you’re handed an awful lot to make sure you include so it begins to narrow the selections quickly. You want to do what’s right for the individuals who’ve had great first halves of this season and then you look at what’s the best roster particularly when you look at the spare players or the extra players in event of a need late in a game. So that also factors into it as well. We have an obligation to do everything we can to win the game for home field advantage in October.

On the National League side, there is just as much pitching prowess. With bona fide stars like Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright all earning a spot on the roster, the NL coaching staff will be looking to get eight innings out of the top five starting pitchers.

Even if one or more of the starting pitchers falter, the NL has the superior bullpen. With anchors such as Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Francisco Rodriguez ready and willing to come in any time and dominate the opposing hitters, the American League has been put on notice.

The sheer offensive depth on each team will result in some offensive production, but fans shouldn’t expect a batting clinic during the 2014 All-Star Game. There is just too much skill on the mound for the score to get out of hand.

Expect the National League to use its bullpen advantage to stifle any momentum the AL builds and steal the show with the victory. All signs point to the NL having home-field advantage for the World Series.

Predicted Winner: National League, 5-3.

 

*Stats via MLB.com.

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