Explained: how to win a Tour de France sprint



The Tour de France reaches a climax this weekend as the cyclists head towards the Champs-Élysées final stage. Here's the theories, tactics and sprints behind the race to the finishing line. 

Australia's Michael Rogers celebrates before crossing the finish line at the end of the sixteenth stage of the Tour de France, July 22, 2014. Photo: AFP/ Eric Feferberg/Getty
Australia's Michael Rogers celebrates before crossing the finish line at the end of the sixteenth stage of the Tour de France, July 22, 2014. Photo: AFP/ Eric Feferberg/Getty

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It takes tactics, positioning and, ultimately, power.

The perfect sprint
In a perfect race, the best execution of a sprint win does not always come down to one rider. It is often the result of the work of teammates too. The back story to a winning sprint may have started hours before the finish line is in sight.

During the stage, riders who have little chance in the finale will try their luck to beat the pack by being part of a “breakaway” – they jump clear of the peloton and then hope to outrun the others to the line. But if any team wants the stage to end in a mass sprint, it will check the speed of this breakaway and typically calculate how quickly the riders in it could be reeled in. Catch them too soon and new attacks may go clear (meaning more work for the interested teams to chase down), leave it too late and the breakaway wins. In stage 15, this approach got tested when New Zealand rider Jack Bauer spent all day in the breakaway. He finally was caught just 20 metres from the finish line by the sprinters. The sport can sometimes be very cruel.

Commentators typically suggest that on flat terrain, the ideal controllable gap is roughly one minute per ten kilometres between a breakaway and the chasing pack. Towards the end of a stage, the interested teams supply riders to power into the wind and slowly close this gap down. The breakaway should then hopefully be caught with a handful of kilometres left to go.

At this point, the sprint-orientated teams deploy what is known as a leadout “train”. This train is made up of as many riders as possible from the same team. Each team member on the front then rides at a maximum effort before peeling off. The team’s designated sprinter is at the back of this train and is intentionally sheltered by the efforts of those riding in front to save his energy. It has been demonstrated that with four cyclists riding in a line, a rider positioned four men back only has to produce 64 per cent of the power of the rider at the very front.

If the leadout pace is high, the racing will be fast enough to discourage any late attacks from other riders. When viewing overhead TV footage, if the speed is high, the head of the main pack will have a pointed arrowhead-like shape to it. If the speed is at its highest though, you’ll see the peloton instead strung out into a very long, thin line. This is hard work for everyone but actually provides a safer and more controllable path for the riders through the final kilometres.

The penultimate rider in a sprint train is referred to as the leadout. This person puts in the last effort to position the sprinter sheltering behind. Ideally, the sprinter is then finally only exposed at the front with around 200 metres to go. When this happens, a winning sprinter like Mark Cavendish will cover this final portion in around 11 seconds.

Freelancing
If a sprinter doesn’t have the use of a leadout train – which does happen – he can “freelance”. This makes the opposition teams do the work before the sprinter leapfrogs around the group, hopefully ending up directly behind another sprinter with enough time to beat him to the finish line. In this case, a sprinter from one team effectively becomes the leadout for another.

On some occasions, no single team is able to control the final run to the line at all. From the air, the shape of the peleton in this case becomes broad at the front and spread across the full width of the road. When this happens, the chances of crashes are higher as rival leadout trains jostle for position and riders leap from wheel to wheel looking for shelter.

First week desperation
The first stage of this year’s Tour de France was unusual as it was likely going to result in a bunch sprint. The first rider past the post would not only get a stage win for their team but would also get to wear the yellow jersey as overall leader. With such a prestigious prize on the line, this meant more riders were involved and willing to take the risks, ramping up the chances for a crash.

Crashes normally occur when riders touch the wheels of other riders around them or lose control of their bicycles. In stage one this year, aggression played a part as Mark Cavendish and Australian Simon Gerrans battled to follow the wheel of Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan. Sometimes riders realise they have nowhere to go and have to delay their sprint or wait for a gap to open up. Some opt for more punchy tactics though, using shoulders, elbows or heads to force gaps to open up between them and other riders. In stage one, Cavendish was boxed in, tried to force his way out and took both men down.

One of the most dramatic examples of a sprint crash is the first stage in the 1994 event when a policeman who was manning the finish straight barriers decided to lean out to take a photo of the finish.But he underestimated both how fast and how close the riders were to him. Belgian Wilfried Nelissen (who had his head down) crashed into him and was thrown nearly 50 metres down the road with multiple broken bones. Another competitor, French cyclist Laurent Jalabert took the crash full-force in the face and his bicycle was destroyed in the impact.

Ultimately the perfect sprinter is a rider who expends as little energy as possible on the day, is deposited by others in the right place at the right time and has the ability to make fast judgement calls as the shape of the peloton changes around them. Marcel Kittel and his Giant Shimano team have shown everyone else how it’s done so far in 2014, but the prestige sprint stage on the Champs Élysées this weekend will give his rivals (Cavendish excepted) a final chance to put the theory into practice.

Bored Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez Videobomb Sideline Reporter



Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez were bored Monday night.

After a weekend of painful plunks to their respective left hands, the two Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves confined to the dugout for their away opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Like kids stuck inside on a rainy day, they fussed about restlessly before deciding to invent their own entertainment: annoying SportsNet LA reporter Alanna Rizzo.

The two men stuck their hands up and made faces during Rizzo’s live-air segment at the top of the sixth. Puig made a finger mustache, and Ramirez mouthed the lyrics to "Soul Man."

A professional to the end, Rizzo played along with the distraction.

"Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez continue to not leave me alone," Rizzo said.

Some people found Puig and Ramirez's gimmick entertaining.

Puig and Hanley are going to do the things Puig and Hanley do, but there comes a time when they need to let the other pros do their jobs.

The good news is that the kids might not be be cooped up for long. J.P. Hoornstra of InsideSoCal.com reports that Puig and Ramirez didn't suffer any broken bones after each was hit by a pitch over the weekend.

On Monday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Hoornstra and fellow reporters that Puig and Ramirez are sore and their timetable for return remains fluid.

"Hanley's sore. Yasiel is still a bit sore,” Mattingly said. "Hanley, we're not going to try to do anything with. Yasiel, as the day goes on, we'll see if he can do anything."

Please, Don. If they can play, get them back on the field. Do it for Alanna. When they're hurt, she hurts.

 

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Phillies Bullpen Keeps Busy During Rain Delay by Playing Bocce



Major League Baseball players have to find a way to keep busy during rain delays. While some choose to slide around on the tarp, others just sit back and relax. 

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has come up with a great way to have fun together: bocce.

This video was reportedly taken at Turner Field on July 20, when the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves had to endure a rain delay that lasted an hour and 39 minutes. Philadelphia relievers killed time by playing some bocce.

[YouTube, h/t SB Nation]

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on David Price, Alex Rios and More



With a mere nine days remaining until the MLB trade deadline on July 31, rumors are swirling around multiple contenders and pretenders around the league.

A few surprise teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are well outside of the mix and looking to move veteran players. Then there are franchises looking to make the postseason this year hoping to add those valuable assets.

As several division races heat up, the time is now for teams to make a move that can help them. Teams like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates are on the outside looking in with a chance to contend.

Here's a look at the latest rumors surrounding some of the biggest trade prospects in the MLB.

 

Winning Affecting Possible David Price Move for Rays

For a team like the Rays, this has been a disappointing season thus far. But with a five-game winning streak, all seems back to normal in Tampa Bay, right? Wrong.

Two straight series wins over the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins before and after the All-Star break would appear to be a great sign for the Rays. Unfortunately, all it has done is complicate matters for the franchise and David Price, in particular.

Buster Olney of ESPN (subscription required) provides the latest on rumors about the starting pitcher:

The Rays will factor many things into their decision as to whether to trade Price, including their place in the standings, how well they are playing, their need for prospects and Price's trade value, which gradually slides downward as he nears free agency. But one executive involved in the conversations with Tampa Bay believes that, ultimately, it's the potential buyers that will clarify the choice for the Rays with the quality of their offers. 

Will he stay or will he go? That's the question Tampa Bay must answer before July 31 while they also look to climb back into the AL East race.

Currently fourth in the division at 47-53, the Rays still have a shot to overtake every other team in the East. The Baltimore Orioles currently hold the lead but are without injured Matt Wieters, and the New York Yankees have question marks with Masahiro Tanaka.

Basically, what the decision will come down to now is simply how aggressive teams are in trying to acquire Price. The former Cy Young winner has been nearly flawless during July, pitching 31.2 innings over four starts while allowing just three earned runs, including his last two scoreless starts.

Making a swap for Price won't be easy, and it clearly won't be a given anymore with the Rays winning again. With Wil Myers reporting progress with his wrist injury and Chris Archer pitching well in three of his last four starts, the Rays have youth to get back into the chase.

Whether or not Price will be a part of that climb will be decided by July 31.

 

Alex Rios Among Potential Targets for Royals

He might not be showing the same power from years prior, but Alex Rios has still been a consistent force at the plate this season.

Unfortunately, his offensive prowess has been on the Texas Rangers, a team that was 3-14 during the month of July. That makes them dealers on the trade market and fifth in the AL West.

For the Kansas City Royals, the team is trying to make a push for their first postseason berth since winning the World Series in 1985. With a slumping offense, the Royals apparently have interest in Rios, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:

The Royals are looking for corner bats as they try to fix their offensive woes and get back into the AL Central race, and Rangers right fielder Alex Rios is one player they've considered.

Kansas City is 14th in the AL with a .687 OPS and 12th with 388 runs, so it understands it needs some help.

Heyman goes on to say that the Royals are also interested in other options like Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown, but Rios is a clear option for the team. With his consistency at the plate, the Rangers slugger might just be what Kansas City needs in the lineup.

Looking for their first playoff berth in nearly 20 years, the Royals will still have to overtake both the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. Following a sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City might be another fringe team like the Rays when the deadline comes.

 

A.J. Burnett Drawing Interest from Pirates

On the heels of a three-game winning streak, the Pirates are right back in the thick of the NL Central race. If they plan on overtaking both the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals along with holding off the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh will need help in the starting rotation.

Help might just be on the way in the form of a familiar face, as Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports:

During his two seasons with the Pirates, Burnett finished with a 26-21 record and never saw his ERA rise above 3.51 either year. He also collected over 180 strikeouts both seasons as he returned to form after three down seasons with the Yankees.

If the Pirates truly do have interest, it could wind up being huge for both sides. Burnett is currently on a Philadelphia Phillies team that is nowhere near a playoff spot and Pittsburgh needs help to get there.

While several other teams might be looking to add Burnett, the familiarity of Pittsburgh might be just what both sides need.

 

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MLB Teams with Prospects to Lure Rockies into Troy Tulowitzki Blockbuster



Imagine what would happen if the Colorado Rockies were to put Troy Tulowitzki up for sale. The chance to trade for the best shortstop and one of the very best players in all of Major League Baseball would turn 29 teams into a frenzied pack of teenage girls at a One Direction concert. Or something to that effect.

Other general managers might briefly consider offering their first-born as part of a deal for a chance to obtain a player who is still very much in his prime, plays a premium up-the-middle position and is among the most dangerous hitters in the game.

But which clubs actually could make a play for Tulowitzki based on their assets in the minor leagues?

Around Independence Day, the 29-year-old All-Star told Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post that he's open to the possibility of moving on from Colorado:

In Todd Helton, there's someone who's easy to look at his career here and how it played out. I have the utmost respect for Todd, but at the same time, I don't want to be the next in line as somebody who was here for a long time and didn't have a chance to win every single year. He played in a couple postseason games and went to one World Series. But that's not me. I want to be somewhere where there's a chance to be in the playoffs every single year.

What people need to understand about me is: Winning's my main priority. I've been around the game a little bit now, and I understand those years where we did win, how much more fun I had. And then there are years such as this.

By "this," Tulowitzki means yet another lost year in Denver. Just like in 2013, the Rockies got off to a hot start in April (16-12) only to fizzle out in May (12-14) and flatline in June (8-20) to the point where the season was over by the start of the second half.

With July off to a 4-12 start, Colorado sports the worst record in the National League at 40-59 entering play Tuesday.

As Dayn Perry of CBS Sports wrote earlier in July: "While it's hard to imagine his playing in another uniform, Tulowitzki easily becomes the star of the deadline—even a deadline that includes David Priceif the Rockies decide it's time to tear it down."

That "if" is the operative word. Because it seems like the Rockies ownership would prefer not to part with Tulowitzki, according to Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post.

Just because there have been rumors and speculation—not to mention more or less a blessing from the player himself—Tulowitzki isn't necessarily being traded between now and the deadline at month's end. But he could be at some point in the near future like the offseason, which is something he mentioned to Thomas Harding of MLB.com:

It's about wherever I get the best chance to win. Hopefully that is in Colorado, but if they feel like they have to go in a different direction and get young and that's where the organization is headed, then they will have to sit me down to talk about that. I would talk with them in the offseason.

Fact is, while trading Tulo might seem sacrilegious in Colorado, he is driving up his value in the middle of his best season yet, but he's also going on 30 years old (in October), remains an injury risk and has a ton of money left on his contract. In other words, his stock could plummet soon enough based on age and/or ailment.

So again: Which teams might be able to pick up the phone and entice the Rockies decision-makers with a legitimate offer built around prospects and/or young big leaguers?

Well, for starters, any such team would have to be a contender (or at least, capable of contending in short order) who not only possesses the prospects but also has a need at shortstop and possibly even the funds to absorb the $118 million owed to Tulo through at least the 2020 season (after which his deal calls for a $15 million option or $4 million buyout for 2021).

For example, the New York Yankees, who will have a gaping hole at the position after Derek Jeter retires at season's end, wouldn't easily fit this endeavor because they lack the farm system to put a worthwhile package together.

Meanwhile, the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates are out of the picture considering they couldn't take on such a massive contract even if they undoubtedly could use an upgrade at shortstop, a position that has been a black hole for years.

And the Chicago Cubs, of course, have as much talent in the minors as any organization, but much of it already is in the infield (think: Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell)—not to mention the organization remains in full-on rebuild mode.

While those teams might not be logical suitors for Tulowitzki, these six could be—and they just might have the goods to get him, too.

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MLB Trade Deadline 2014: Ranking the Top 10 Players Rumored to Be Available



Only a few times over baseball's regular season are fans from all 30 teams actively engaged with the goings-on around their team.

The days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline is one of those times.

Fans of teams out of the running want expensive veterans traded for younger talent that could help bring future success, while those who cheer for teams unsure of their contending status just want to see someone make a decision.

For fans that cheer for a contender, they want to know what moves their team has planned to plug holes on the roster. They wonder if their team will be able to acquire an impact player without having to mortgage its future. 

When it comes to impact players that are available, they are few and far between.

Some players, like Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, have been the subject of speculation but lack a credible rumor to back up any claim that they are available. You won't find Tulo or other players that fall under that umbrella here.

Others, like Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (via ESPN's Buster Olney), have seen their teams say they aren't being traded.

We might not believe the Phillies completely on that one, but they say he's not on the market—so he's not on our list either.

Of the players that remain, how do we determine who is the best of the best?

While we'll take a number of factors into consideration—a player's age, contract, future production and what it might cost a contender to work out a deal—the major factor in our rankings is a player's current level of production and his potential impact on this year's playoff races.

So who is the most valuable player that could be wearing a new uniform in just over a week?

Let's find out.

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10 Underrated MLB Trade Targets Teams Should Look to Acquire



Superstar players generally steal the headlines at the trade deadline, and this year is no different with guys like David Price, Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios receiving the bulk of the attention.

That being said, there are always at least a few under-the-radar moves made in July that wind up as notable differences for contenders.

The Detroit Tigers' addition of Jose Veras, the Atlanta Braves' addition of Elliot Johnson and the Tampa Bay Rays' addition of David DeJesus come to mind as significant deals from a year ago.

With this year's deadline just over a week away, here is a look at 10 underrated MLB trade targets that could make a difference down the stretch here in 2014.

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MLB Trade Ideas Based on the Latest News, Rumors and Speculation



Nine days until the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline.

That means that Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has approximately 216 hours to decide if he wants to cash in several large trade chips. He could wait until after July 31, of course, but then he risks limiting his leverage by a considerable margin.

Amaro Jr. is not alone. There are plenty of other GMs around MLB who don’t have much longer to decide whether or not they will dump stock or add to their portfolios.

So let’s take a look at some of the bigger names that are presumably on the trade block.

For the sake of brevity, we will keep it simple. Here are three MLB trade scenarios based on actual need and published rumors from the week ending Sunday, July 13. 

As a standard note, the following proposals are nothing more than postulation. The point here is to build a trade based on someone else's written or spoken word.

They are balanced deals that are fair for each team, though, and take into consideration each franchise's strengths and weaknesses.  

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The 1 Trade-Deadline Deal the Cleveland Indians Have to Make



With the 2014 Major League Baseball trade deadline quickly approaching, the Cleveland Indians find themselves in a curious position. The team is currently three games over .500 and 4.5 games back of the division-leading Detroit Tigers.

The Tribe has just a two-game deficit between them and the final American League wild-card spot, but there are some major flaws to be addressed, most notably in the starting rotation and on the bench.

The rotation has undoubtedly been the Indians' biggest issue. Indians' pitchers with at least one start under their belt have combined for some ghastly numbers this year.

Some of the rankings are palatable, however, and it's important to note that the team is currently working with a starting group that includes exactly one member of the opening-day rotation.

Corey Kluber, the Tribe's perceived No. 2—or 1A, if you please—for opening day has really cemented himself as a fringe-candidate for "ace" status, but he alone can't carry the rotation. On opening day, it was assumed that Justin Masterson would work as the team's No. 1 starter, but as the numbers indicate, he's been anything but a reliable option, even when fully healthy.

Zach McAllister, who pitched well in 2013 and to start the year in 2014, has struggled mightily, and has even spent time at Triple-A Columbus due to performance-related issues. 

So the need for another starter has arisen.

The club could choose to promote Danny Salazar and utilize him as a starter for the rest of the season, but if his 4.7 BB/9 at Triple-A are any indication, he still hasn't figured anything out.

At this point, the only way to address the starting-rotation headache is through a trade. A number of starting pitchers figure to be available, including Jake Peavy, Jorge De La Rosa, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon and David Price.

Price is likely out of the Indians' reach. The Rays would demand a package including Danny Salazar and Francisco Lindor. The Indians may be able to counter with a package built around Salazar and Clint Frazier and another mid-level pitching prospect, but the bargaining would likely end there.

The team would then have to turn to a second-tier options, like Peavy, De La Rosa, Burnett or Colon. Of the group De La Rosa and Colon are the best fits, but Colon offers the team the best of both worlds, those being production and an extra year of club control.

So, we've arrived at a target: Bartolo Colon. It's like the LeBron James homecoming.

Well, not really. But it's the next best thing, right?

Colon has been unspectacular, but solid at times. His four most recent starts have seen his ERA rise from 3.67 to 4.12. However, leaving New York could be a good move for the 41-year-old righty.

Colon is under contract through the 2015 season at a rate of $10 million per season. The Mets willingness to absorb some of his remaining salary will ultimately determine the return package they receive.

If the Mets are willing to make the acquisition slightly more affordable for the Indians—who are unlikely to take on a player worth $10 million next year or for the remainder of this season—then the Indians could put together a trade package including two mid-level pitching prospects like Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando.

A more likely scenario involves the Indians making a swap of Asdrubal Cabrera for Bartolo Colon.

The Mets are in need of a shortstop, and while it's likely they would rather get a younger, more permanent solution, Cabrera is signable from the Mets' point of view and is still just 28 years old. Even if the team decided to let Cabrera walk at the end of the 2014 season, the Mets would benefit from some salary relief.

Since there is no salary relief on the Indians' end in this scenario, the Mets would also chip in a pitching prospect to complement Colon.

The best and most realistic option for the Mets is 21-year-old righty Gabriel Ynoa. Ynoa has the opportunity to develop into a back-end rotation option, but his future will be determined by the development of his slider.

His primary offering, a low-90s sinker, is a solidly average offering. His second-best offering is a plus-plus changeup that has outstanding fading action and can work very well at the big league level.

Ynoa's breaking ball is less developed. He's inconsistent with the arm action and release point associated with the pitch, but should it become a more consistent offering, the Dominican Republic native should have no problems slotting into the back of the Indians' rotation by the 2016 season.

Another important factor in this deal is the spot that would be cleared for Francisco Lindor. The Indians' top prospect is knocking on the door for a promotion, and has averaged a .281/.352/.389 batting line over 387 at-bats this year. 

In addition to his solid slash line, Lindor boasts 22 extra-base hits, 48 RBI, 51 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. The 20-year-old would also provide the Indians with an enormous defensive upgrade, as he's one of the best defensive shortstops at any level of professional baseball.

The deal presents the the Indians with a win-win scenario. Colon isn't the best option on the open market, but he's easily attainable. In addition to the upgrade the rotation would receive, the team can get value out of Asdrubal Cabrera while clearing room for one of the top prospects in the game to make his mid-season debut.

 

Final Deal

Indians Get: Bartolo Colon and Gabriel Ynoa

Mets Get: Asdrubal Cabrera

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Detroit Tigers: What Rick Porcello’s Recent Success Means for the Team



The Detroit Tigers are once again championship contenders in 2014. At 55-41 and 6.5 games clear of their nearest division rival, they are poised to make another run at an elusive World Series title. Key to their success so far has been the breakout season of starting pitcher Rick Porcello. The tall right-hander has been an integral part of the team’s success at a time when it really needed him to raise his game.

The offseason exit of Doug Fister via trade caused much consternation in Detroit. Fister had an excellent two-and-half-year stint as a Tiger, winning 45 games (including postseason). With big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, Porcello was the man counted on to pick up the slack left by his former teammate.

Detroit’s starting rotation has been one of its main strengths in recent years. Despite Fister’s aforementioned departure and the struggles of Justin Verlander (career-worst 4.84 ERA), Porcello has helped to maintain its high quality through the season’s first four months. Tigers starters have combined for 44 wins (first in AL) and also rank in the top five in ERA, WHIP and batting average against.

Porcello’s performances so far this season have been his finest as an MLB player. His 12 wins are equal highest in the majors and only one shy of his career high for a full season. Also, his ERA (3.39), WHIP (1.18) and batting average against (.253) are all career-best marks.

At times, Porcello has completely dominated opposing lineups. The New Jersey native notched six-straight wins during April-May, followed by a 25.1-inning scoreless streak in June-July. His latter feat included back-to-back complete-game shutouts, one of which came against the AL’s second-best offense—Oakland.

With 119.1 innings already logged, Porcello is on target to pass 200 IP in a season for the first time in his career. His ability to go deeper into ballgames has also left Detroit’s shaky bullpen (ERA 4.36) less exposed and provided it with some much-needed rest.

Reflecting on Porcello’s career year beckons the question: How has he jumped from mediocre MLB pitcher to very good MLB pitcher in 2014?

One thing is for certain, it is not through striking hitters out. Unlike some of his Tigers brethren (e.g. Max Scherzer), Porcello does not possess the arm to collect punch-outs en masse. With a heater averaging 92 mph, the righty needs to retire opposing hitters through other methods. Inducing ground-ball outs via his sinker has been his modus operandi so far in his career. Porcello’s dependency on this pitch is highlighted by his Percentage Pitch Usage stats from his rookie year (courtesy of Brooks Baseball). They reveal that he threw sinkers 60.01 percent of the time during that season.

However, the 2014 version of Porcello is far less reliant on his sinker. He still benefits from balls hit on the ground—19 double plays (second in AL) and a 48.2 ground-ball percentage attest to that—but he has improved his secondary pitches, enabling him to use them more often to record outs.

One particularly noticeable difference has been the increased use of his curveball. He now throws it roughly five times more often than he did back in 2010-2011.

According to Brooks Baseball, his curve is getting more horizontal movement (7.34 inches) than at any other time in his career. His hook is proving to be effective too as opponents have hit only .203 off it in 2014.

His changeup has been even more impressive. Opponents are hitting only .178, which is a 53-point decrease on last year. According to Fangraphs, his changeup RAR (Runs Saved Against Replacement) of 8.0 (third in AL) also demonstrates its effectiveness.

The sinker remains Porcello’s bread-and-butter pitch. And with the improvement of his complement pitches, it may now be even more effective. According to manager Brad Ausmus, per WXYZ Radio (subscription required), Porcello is at his best when he locates his sinker in the bottom half of the strike zone:

When Rick is getting groundball outs he’s doing the one thing right that he has to do—he’s keeping the sinker down in the strike zone. When the sinker’s down it’s got more depth to it, more movement and guys just get on top of the ball and it ends up on the ground.

After struggling against left-handed batters throughout his career, Porcello’s improvements have also helped him have more success against them this year. With lefties currently hitting only .240, this is the first year since his rookie season that he has held them to under a .300 clip.  

Porcello’s enhanced game shows how he has matured as a pitcher this year. Owning three above-average pitches demonstrates his evolution from a sinkerball pitcher into a pitcher possessing a sinkerball—and a good one at that. His morphing into a more complete pitcher may yet catapult him to a 20-win season and postseason success for Detroit.

Although the 25-year-old has not started a playoff game since 2011, his performances this year will leave Brad Ausmus with no choice but to install him into the postseason rotation. Any questions about whether he can perform against elite teams have already been answered. Against Detroit’s likely opponents in October—Oakland, Anaheim and BaltimorePorcello is 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA in five starts this season.

With Detroit failing to convert its postseason opportunities the past three years, it is still desperately seeking the right formula to go all the way. With Porcello now pitching at a higher level, it may be one step closer to breaking its three-decade drought.

Unless otherwise stated, stats in this article are courtesy of mlb.com

Please follow me on Twitter: @jdunc1979

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Are High-Profile Trade Rentals Worth the Risk to MLB Deadline Buyers?



With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Tampa Bay Rays will trade David Price.

Should the Rays deal the Cy Young Award-winning left-hander, they are likely to receive a bounty of young talent (mostly prospects) in return. The team that acquires Price should get a big boost heading toward the playoffs.

However, as you'll see in the case studies below, trades are not always even.

 

Houston Astros Acquire Randy Johnson (July 31, 1998)

The Mariners parted with The Big Unit at the 1998 trade deadline, sending him to the Astros in exchange for Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama.

Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and four complete-game shutouts in 11 starts and guided the Astros to an NL Central title. They went on to lose to the Padres in the NLDS, with Kevin Brown out-dueling Johnson in the series opener.

Guillen was called up by the Mariners a little more than a month after the trade and went on to post a 25.9 fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) over 14 seasons.

Garcia debuted the following season as a 22-year-old, and the right-hander opened eyes by finishing second and ninth in the AL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award voting, respectively. He pitched for seven different teams over 15 seasons in the major leagues and finished his career with 2,264 innings pitched and a 32.7 WAR.

Halama posted a 7.2 WAR and played for seven different teams over parts of nine seasons. Overall, the three players combined for 27.7 wins during their time with the Mariners.

 

Milwaukee Brewers Acquire CC Sabathia (July 7, 2008) 

If you want a shining example of how a midseason blockbuster trade can improve a team’s chances of reaching the postseason, then look no further than the Brewers' acquisition of CC Sabathia from the Indians in 2008.

The Brewers had a 50-40 record and were four games back in the NL Central when they traded for Sabathia, who was set to become a free agent following the season.

The left-hander gave it everything he had down the stretch, even with a big contract on the line. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, throwing seven complete games and registering three shutouts in just 17 starts.

No one will ever forget when he started on three days’ rest with the season on the line and pitched the Brewers to their first postseason appearance since 1982. It speaks to Sabathia’s utter dominance that he finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting despite only playing a half-season in the league.

Back in 2012, J.P. Breen of FanGraphs helped put Sabathia's remarkable performance in perspective:

Ultimately, the trade allowed the Brewers to upgrade from Seth McClung to CC Sabathia in the starting rotation. McClung held his own as an emergency starter, posting a 4.24 ERA in the rotation that year, but the overall upgrade for the organization was likely three or four wins. Sabathia was worth +4.6 WAR during his stint with the Brewers. It was one of the more impressive stretches on the mound in recent years. In fact, of pitchers who threw at least 100 innings during the 2008 season, only 18 pitchers compiled more than +4.6 WAR over the entire season.

The Indians received three prospects in return for Sabathia, including Matt LaPorta (Milwaukee’s first-round pick from the previous year). However, LaPorta never panned out for the Tribe, as he produced a dismal minus-1.4 WAR in 291 career games before his release following the 2013 season.

The other big name in the deal was outfielder Michael Brantley, who arguably has been the Indians' best player this season and was selected to his first All-Star Game nearly six years after the trade.

 

Philadelphia Phillies Acquire Cliff Lee (July 29, 2009)

The Phillies won their second NL title in as many years in 2009 before losing to the Yankees in the World Series, though it’s doubtful they would have made it that far without Cliff Lee.

The Phillies landed Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco a few days before the trade deadline. They dealt Jason Knapp (currently at the High-A level in the Rangers system after four years away from the game), Carlos Carrasco (2.0 WAR over five seasons with the Indians), Jason Donald (0.5 WAR over three MLB seasons) and Lou Marson (2.7 WAR over five MLB seasons).

Lee went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA and three complete games (one shutout) in 12 starts after joining the Phillies. More importantly, the veteran left-hander went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and two complete games in five postseason starts.

After the season, Lee walked via free agency and signed with the Seattle Mariners, though he wouldn’t be long for the West Coast.

 

Texas Rangers Acquire Cliff Lee (July 9, 2010)

After seeing what Lee did for the Phillies, the Rangers decided to trade for the then-31-year-old several weeks before the actual deadline. They acquired Lee and right-hander Mark Lowe in exchange for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

Smoak and Beavan are the only players still with the Mariners, though the former has struggled to the tune of a 0.1 WAR over the last five seasons. 

Beavan has bounced between the rotation and bullpen, posting a 4.61 ERA and 0.6 WAR over 293 total innings.

Lueke also saw considerably time out of the Mariners bullpen before he was traded to the Rays in 2012—where he’s currently stationed in Triple-A—and Lawson failed to reach the major leagues.

Amazingly, Lee was better post-trade deadline in 2010 than he was the previous year. He registered a 3.98 ERA and 3.2 WAR over 15 starts and helped the Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Lee was phenomenal during the division and championship series, winning each of his three starts and registering a 0.75 ERA. However, he struggled in the Fall Classic against the Giants, as he pitched to a disappointing 6.94 ERA and lost both starts.

The Giants ultimately defeated the Rangers in five games.

 

San Francisco Giants Acquire Carlos Beltran (July 28, 2011)

The Giants had high expectations in 2011 after winning the Word Series in 2010, so it was understandable when they traded for Carlos Beltran from the Mets. However, the two-month rental cost the Giants a promising young arm in Zack Wheeler, the team’s first-round draft pick from 2009.

Beltran played very well for the Giants over 44 games, batting .323/.369/.551 with seven home runs before landing on the disabled list in August with a hand injury. However, his performance alone wasn’t enough to get the team back into the postseason. The Giants went 25-31 over the rest of the season and finished eight games out.

Looking back on the trade several years later, Giants manager Bruce Bochy maintained that trading for Beltran was still the right move even though the team failed to reach the postseason (via Adam Rubin of ESPN New York):

But I think any time you have a chance to win the World Series [you go for it] -- which we did in '10, we made a move, and 2012 we made some moves, and it worked out and we ended up getting rings on our finger because of it. That's something a lot of clubs do. Unfortunately, we just didn't have the bats to quite get us there [in 2011].

Beltran left via free agency after the season and signed with the Cardinals. Wheeler, meanwhile, has blossomed into one of the better young starting pitchers in the game and represents a key piece of the Mets’ future.

The 24-year-old right-hander is quietly having a strong first full season in the major leagues, with a 3.78 ERA and 8.82 K/9 over 20 starts.

 

Los Angeles Angels Acquire Zack Greinke (July 27, 2012)

The Los Angeles Angels went all-in when they traded for Zack Greinke in 2012, the first year that featured a wild card play-in game.

The right-hander did everything he could to help the Halos reach the postseason, going 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts. The team ultimately came up short by dropping the final series of the season against the A’s.

In return for Greinke, the Brewers received a loaded prospect package comprised of shortstop Jean Segura as well as right-handers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg.

Segura obviously was the big piece in the deal, as the 24-year-old was named to his first All-Star team as a rookie in 2013. Hellweg, who’s seen time in the major leagues but underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring, and Pena both have bright futures in the bullpen.

 

Conclusions

The six trades outlined suggest that a team willing to risk its long-term future is more likely to reach the postseason.

Both Randy Johnson and CC Sabathia guided their respective teams to appearances in the NLDS, while Cliff Lee played a major role in helping the Phillies and Rangers reach the World Series in back-to-back years.

Greinke and Beltran represent the exceptions to the theory. They played well following their respective trades but failed to reach the postseason. That being said, both players still improved their teams’ chances of reaching the playoffs and at least kept them in contention down the stretch.

However, history says that it’s hit or miss when it comes to trading prospects for high-profile talents.

For example, trading Randy Johnson to the Astros in 1998 netted the Mariners two future All-Stars in Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen. The same goes for the Brewers' and Indians' respective acquisitions of Jean Segura and Michael Brantley.

But not every prospects-for-star trade works out for both sides. The Indians and Phillies both came up empty with the prospect packages they received for Cliff Lee. None of the players involved in those trades developed into replacement-level talents.

Therefore, it makes sense for a team in the playoff hunt to potentially sacrifice its future for short-term success, provided that it fits the organization’s timeline

As we all know, however, agreeing to and executing a trade of that nature is easier said than done.

 

*All stats courtesy of either Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Mike Trout’s Easy Road to Becoming New Face of MLB



1. Now Replacing Derek Jeter…

Mark it down in permanent ink: The Face of Major League Baseball’s unofficial transition started in earnest on a gorgeous Tuesday evening in Minneapolis. And everybody could see it.

“My vote is Mike Trout,” Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said. “When I played with him [in 2012], he was the perfect player.”

“Mike Trout sticks out to me, as he can really be the face of baseball,” Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. “He’s such a great player.

“But some other guys have to help out as well. And if I’m one of those guys, I look forward to doing that.”

Tulowitzki absolutely is one of those guys. But…well, one of the requirements of being the Face of Baseball is that you’ve gotta stay on the field more often than not. And Tulowitzki has had a tough time doing that.

Other candidates to replace Jeter as Major League Baseball’s Poster Boy fizzle out somewhere along the way during the discussion.

Albert Pujols? Past his peak.

Ryan Braun? Had everything going for him and clearly was on track until we all discovered he was a habitual cheater and chronic liar.

Clayton Kershaw? Maybe, but tough to fill the job when you’re on the field only once every five days.

Miguel Cabrera? He has back-to-back MVP awards, but he’s shy and retiring and not fond of interviews.

Bryce Harper? Not quite, especially when he was as interested in managing the Nationals a couple of weeks ago as coming back to play for them.

Yasiel Puig? Hmmm, not sure if baseball is ready for that yet.

Yes, perfection in this game is nearly as impossible to attain as a pet unicorn.

And then, there is Trout.

“Puig is terrific, but there’s still some rough edges,” said Greinke, Puig’s Dodgers teammate and as sharp and analytical as anybody in the game, during a discussion in Minneapolis last week. “From last year to this year, it’s a huge plus how much he’s learned and gotten better.

“The reason why Trout is perfect is, not only does he hit good and field good, he runs bases good, he takes pitches when he should be taking pitches, he steals when he should be stealing, he throws the ball where he should throw the ball, he plays shallow when he should play shallow…he does everything perfect.

“And so Puig has stuff to learn. He’s got a chance, but you’re talking about a perfect player. It’s not easy to be like that. Sorry, Puig’s not quite there.”

Which absolutely is no knock on Puig. At all. The guy is as electric as anybody in the game. He packs more wattage than the lights atop Dodger Stadium.

But what separates Trout from everyone else is multifold: Not only is he, as Greinke says, as close to perfection as there is between the white lines, but he is a bundle of energy with a quick smile.

Part of Jeter’s charm over the years, aside from the five World Series rings, has been his perfect pitch when it comes to commenting on Yankees issues or baseball issues. He never strayed much from the Yankees’ mission statement, so to speak. Never got in trouble.

Trout, just 22, idolized Jeter growing up in New Jersey (even wore No. 2 in high school) and, like Jeter, is all about team wins, not individual accolades. So much so that he declined to participate in the Home Run Derby this year.

“I don’t know if he’s changed much since I played with him, but he was amazing,” Greinke said. “Having Torii Hunter there was so great for him. Torii helped him out so much. It’s too bad he had to go to a different team, because Trout could have learned so much more from having him around for a longer period of time.

“I say that because Torii is a very special person, too. If Torii was as good as Mike Trout, Torii would be the guy taking over for [Jeter as the Face of Baseball]. But Torii is not as good as Mike Trout right now.”

Greinke nails it here, too: Hunter would be a marvelous Face of Baseball. But he’s 39, and just not as good as Trout. And no matter the age, nobody else is, either.

 

2. What About Soccer?

One guy we absolutely know is not a candidate to become the Face of Baseball: Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon.

Now, Rendon could very well help the Nationals climb back into October this year.

But he is not going to win any awards from the Commissioner’s Office.

“I don’t watch baseball,” Rendon said just before the break, via Jason Butt of The Washington Post. “It’s too long and boring.”

Say whaaat?!

Thing is, even for those of us who can’t get enough baseball, there is a point to be extracted from that sentence. The pace of too many games drags these days, especially when instant replay is called for and when the bullpen gates swing open.

“We are right at three hours,” commissioner Bud Selig told a group of us last week while speaking to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Selig acknowledged he would like to see that pace picked up, though he also pointed out that many games have checked in at 2:30 or 2:40.

“There are a lot of things we can do,” he said.

It’s time to start the doing—starting with preventing players from leaving the batter’s box between pitches, leaning on pitchers to speed things up and widening the strike zone.

 

3. How Many NL Central Teams Fit into a Pennant Race?

Baseball’s tightest division is about to become baseball’s hottest division.

Milwaukee’s once-sizable lead has melted like a Popsicle in July, and now four teams are within about 2.5 games of each other in a race that is shaping up to be the best of all. Entering the week, the Cardinals were tied with the Brewers in first at 54-45, the Pirates were running third at 52-46, and the Reds were fourth at 51-47.

No other division has four teams over .500.

“We were expecting that,” Brewers closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez told Bleacher Report. “They’re not going to go away. Not only the Cardinals, but we expected the Pirates and the Reds, too.

“It’s going to be a dogfight all the way to the end.”

These teams are so close, and so similar, that they even get injured together. The Reds lost All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips, and the Cardinals lost All-Star catcher Yadier Molina to thumb injuries on the same day before the break.

Phillips is expected to miss six weeks after undergoing surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Molina is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks with a ligament tear in his right thumb. He also landed on the operating table.

“It’s a shame,” said Reds All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier. “We’ve got Brandon and Joey Votto (quad) gone right now. Those are two big guns.

“If you want the truth, you’ve got to put pressure on yourself. I’m the three hitter right now, and we need home runs. Pressure isn’t going to kill you. It’s going to make you stronger.”

Sounds good, but the Reds opened the second half by getting swept in Yankee Stadium. Frazier went 3-for-12 and homered on Sunday.

One key: The Reds and Cardinals still have nine games left against each other, as do the Brewers and Cardinals.

“I like our chances,” said Rodriguez, despite the fact that a 6.5-game lead on July 1 had dwindled away thanks in large part to Milwaukee losing 10 of 12 into the break. “They like their chances.

“The only people who are going to enjoy this race is the fans. They’re really going to enjoy it.”

 

4. The Not-So-Brady Bunch

Here’s a question: If Brady Aiken currently was a free agent who fled Cuba, how much money would he get? Maybe $30 million? $40 million?

That’s one reason why many in the industry think it is absolutely nuts that baseball did not step in behind the scenes and do everything short of forcing the Astros to honor their $6.5 million promise to Aiken before things blew up on Friday.

Because the Astros downshifted to a $5 million offer under very shady circumstances and Aiken refused to sign, now a bitter fight likely will extend to the MLBPA and the next bargaining session with the owners.

And baseball’s long period of labor peace—21 years now without a strike or lockout—could be threatened.

“Today, two young men should be one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming major league ballplayers,” said Tony Clark, the players-union boss, in a statement. “Because of the actions of the Houston Astros, they are not. The MLBPA, the players and their advisers are exploring all legal options.”

The other player to whom Clark was referring is fifth-rounder Jacob Nix, who had agreed to a $1.5 million bonus but was caught in the crosshairs of the Aiken fight. Because the Astros lost Aiken, they lost their slot money and had no dough to sign Nix—through no fault of Nix’s own.

Many throughout the industry view it as awfully coincidental that the Astros needed $1.5 million for Nix and that they used Aiken’s physical exam as a way to lower his offer by the very magical number of, gee, $1.5 million.

The issue with Aiken’s elbow, according to sources, is that one of two key ligaments is thinner than the other one. Meantime, sources say that Aiken got second, third and fourth opinions on his own and that every doctor gave him a clean bill of health. It was the Astros’ doctor who raised the red flag. Hmmm.

It is an ugly scenario that should never have reached this point. And by the Astros being chintzy enough to attempt to shave $1.5 million, the repercussions on this one could be tens of millions if this lit fuse leads to a labor war.

 

5. Last Word on Adam Wainwright

The Cardinals right-hander took plenty of shots for “piping” a couple of pitches to Derek Jeter in the All-Star Game.

But the larger wrong here, easily, would be if it is allowed to overshadow his absolutely classy gesture when Jeter approached the plate to start the bottom of the first inning. As the Target Field standing ovation gained momentum, Wainwright setting his glove on the mound, backing up onto the infield grass in front of second base and applauding, allowing the moment to continue, was absolutely wonderful.

Jeter said he motioned “let’s go” to Wainwright, but the St. Louis pitcher blew him off. It was a moment of pure class, exactly what sportsmanship should be. And if Wainwright is remembered for only one thing from this summer’s All-Star Game, that is what it should be.

 

6. What Is It Going to Be, Tampa Bay?

Those gutty little Rays swept Minnesota out of the break to run their winning streak to five in a row entering the week, and now they’re only six back in the AL wild-card chase.

So as the Clash might ask, does David Price stay at the trade deadline, or does he go?

It absolutely is the game’s biggest question between now and July 31. And, as the industry waits, so do the Rays. Expect them to take this thing right up to the deadline as they continue to assess their chances.

The Mariners, according to multiple sources, have been engaging the Rays in discussions regarding Price and Ben Zobrist for weeks. The Cardinals and Dodgers also are viewed as contenders for Price, though the Dodgers appear more interested in bullpen depth.

“I really couldn’t tell you, to be honest,” Price said last week in Minneapolis on what his gut was telling him. “I don’t know. I guess the teams that have good prospects [would be favorites to acquire him], but there’s certain ways to get around that with multiple-team trades. I really have no idea.”

His preference, he says, is to stay put. And he says he’s learned from watching ex-teammates James Shields, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Delmon Young grind through the rumor mill: “I can’t let it affect me. If it affects me, it affects my teammates. And that’s not good.”

 

7. Pete Rose: Living on the Air in Cincinnati?

Next summer’s All-Star Game is in the Queen City, which means the betting begins right now as to whether Pete Rose will be involved. (OK, sorry, that was a groaner.)

Selig said he has no plans to change his stance on Rose, who remains suspended for life, and cryptically said the Reds “know what they can do and what they can’t do” where Rose is concerned while planning All-Star festivities.

Now, here’s where speculation begins in earnest: Selig is set to retire on Jan. 24, which means the Rose issue slides directly onto the plate of the new commissioner.

Might we have a change in stance by then? Might Rose become reinstated and allowed to return to baseball?

If that happens, wow. What kind of scene might that be in Cincinnati next July?

 

8. Padres GM Search Narrows

The list of candidates to replace fired general manager Josh Byrnes has been whittled to four, according to sources: A.J. Preller, assistant GM to the Rangers’ Jon Daniels; Billy Eppler, assistant GM to the Yankees’ Brian Cashman; Mike Hazen, assistant GM to Boston's Ben Cherington; and Kim Ng, a vice president in the Commissioner’s Office charged with overseeing international operations.

Preller went through a second interview Monday. The other three are expected for second interviews this week. The Padres likely will name a permanent GM by mid-August.

Meantime, the “Office of the General Manager,” spearheaded by A.J. Hinch, wasted no time after the break in firing the first shots toward a roster retool, shipping closer Huston Street and a minor leaguer to the Angels for four prospects on Friday and third baseman Chase Headley to the Yankees for Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitcher Rafael De Paula on Tuesday.

Next up: Set-up man Joaquin Benoit, whom manager Bud Black named to replace Street as closer, could be on the move. The Tigers, among a handful of other clubs, are interested. Outfielder Chris Denorfia is expected to be dealt as well, and several clubs are calling about starter Ian Kennedy.

Kennedy is no sure thing to be dealt, however. Hinch, according to sources, is being extremely careful there, reluctant to gut the rotation of such a large piece and leave the new GM with a hole. Kennedy, 29, has thrown 180 or more innings over each of the past four seasons and is on pace to rack up another 200 this year.

 

9. Hall of Fame Managing Advice

Sitting in the manager’s office before the Futures Game last week, catching up with former Twins manager Tom Kelly, we stumbled on this fabulous baseball story.

Manager Ron Gardenhire’s office is decorated with framed photos of all the men who previously managed the Twins. One of them is a great shot of Kelly and the Tigers' late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, which led Kelly to reminisce about one of his favorite people.

“He gave me some great advice,” Kelly said. “He told me that when you have a good team, you just have one job to do: Go sit on the bench, and put your feet underneath you. Make sure to keep your feet tucked under the bench. Because you don’t want to trip anybody on their way to the plate.”

Kelly paused, then smiled. Here came the punchline.

“He told me now, when you have a bad team, a team you don’t like, you can sit there and put your feet out. Just go ahead and stick those things out. Because then, if someone trips, it don’t matter. But when you have a good team, you don’t want to trip no one.”

 

9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Why as long as we’re discussing a Cincinnati All-Star Game and Pete Rose (No. 7)…

“As I walk on through this wicked world,

“Searching for light in the darkness of insanity

“I ask myself, Is all hope lost?

“Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?

“And each time I feel like this inside

“There's one thing I wanna know,

“What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?”

—Nick Lowe, (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding

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1 Bold Prediction for Texas Rangers at Trade Deadline



With the 2014 MLB trade deadline rapidly approaching, it should be safe to say the Texas Rangers are going to be spectators while any sort of madness unfolds.

The club in Arlington is tied with the Colorado Rockies for the worst winning percentage in baseball (.404) and is 21.5 games back of the AL West lead as of July 22. Texas has by far the worst run differential in the big leagues (minus-108) and stands to miss out on the playoffs for the second straight year.

That is why the boldest prediction for the team concerns the possibility of losing three players at most come the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

With the exception of a few players, depending on the day, the Rangers are fielding what amounts to a good-looking minor league ballclub. Young guys like Rougned Odor and Michael Choice continue to play despite their struggles at the big league level, and lack of depth allows Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch to continue to start on the mound.

Only three guys come to mind as trade candidates this July for the Rangers. One is possibly overachieving while the other two can provide decent return value.

If none of these three players go, then no other Ranger is on his way out.

 

LHP Neal Cotts

Here is the one guy who continues to overachieve and is still with the club based off a career season with Texas in 2013.

Neal Cotts had a career-high 1.11 ERA last year, the lowest of his career since 2005, when he posted a 1.94 ERA with the Chicago White Sox. Last season was the only time he kept his ERA under four and the only time in his career he held a WAR of more than two (2.6).

Obviously the southpaw and his 3.48 ERA doesn’t hold as much value this season, but he still carries the potential to bring back a young prospect in a deal. Cotts is showing that a slow start can have an overwhelmingly large effect on statistics down the road, having posted a 5.91 ERA by the end of April.

The Illinois State alum is still showing signs of dominating stuff, currently holding a strikeout rate of 10.7 per nine innings.

But at 34 years old, the Rangers should be moving on from Cotts as they did from Jason Frasor, whom the club dealt to Kansas City several days ago in exchange for minor leaguer Spencer Patton. A quality prospect may be out of the question when it comes to dealing Cotts, but starting depth on the mound is something the club should be seriously considering.

 

RHP Joakim Soria

Joakim Soria has been good for the Rangers but is not the long-term answer at closer.

The 30-year-old is 16-of-17 in save opportunities this season, which is nothing to brag about. After winning the ninth-inning job at the conclusion of spring training earlier this season, Soria has become somewhat of a surplus arm at the end of the game.

While the rest of the bullpen has combined for one total save, Soria has the fourth-highest ERA (2.59) of any reliever with at least 13 saves. Out of that select group, the Mexico native has pitched the fewest amount of innings 31.1.

Soria could bring back higher quality in terms of a prospect but not much more than Cotts. The club needs to seriously consider its other options in the ninth and sell the right-hander while it can.

 

OF Alex Rios

The last guy to possibly be dealt has seen interest from the Kansas City Royals and has a club option that could be a large payday for the right fielder.

Alex Rios has the chance to make $13.5 million next season if the Rangers decide to keep him, per Baseball-Reference.com. The buyout is just $1 million for Texas and is growing more likely than ever.

The 33-year-old is having one of his better seasons, slashing .302/.330/.435 with four home runs and 42 RBI. He also leads the American League in triples with eight.

All it took for Rios to end up in Arlington was a middle infielder (Leury Garcia) from the Rangers in an August 2013 waiver deal. The 19th pick from the 1999 draft won’t bring back much more than that but still provides an opportunity for the team to build a stronger farm system.

Although he has been one of the better hitters for Texas, Rios isn’t much more than a veteran getting his hacks in. The Kansas City Royals have shown interest in the outfielder, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, but it remains to be seen if the Rangers will elect to hold on to him.

After all, he has only had two years of production that would be able to match this season’s numbers.

 

All Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

You can follow Trey on Twitter @treydwarren

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Toronto Blue Jays’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 16



2014 has been a turbulent year for the Toronto Blue Jays up to this point. Ironically, it has also been an up-and-down season for several of the team’s top prospects in the minor leagues.

While some players in Toronto's farm system that were on the fringe previously have emerged as bona fide prospects this year, other players have regressed and seen their stocks significantly drop.

The 2014 MLB draft has also thrown the Blue Jays’ previous top-10 prospects list in flux, as some of the team’s newly drafted players have altered the organizational depth chart. This led me to create a new, unofficial list for the purpose of this article.

With that being said, let’s take a look at how Toronto’s current top 10 prospects did during Week 16 (July 13-July 20) and if their overall stocks rose or dropped based on their performances.

 

*No. 3 prospect Jeff Hoffman has not played this season and is not on this list.

Begin Slideshow

San Francisco Giants Trade Deadline: Preview and Predictions



With just nine days until the trade deadline, it is most definitely crunch time for Brian Sabean, the general manager of the San Francisco Giants

The Giants have some serious question marks on the roster that will have to be addressed very soon.

Can we expect to see Angel Pagan again this year? Who is going to be the second baseman for the remainder of the season? How serious are Matt Cain’s elbow problems? Should they go after another starting pitcher?

Here are the two biggest areas the Giants will concentrate on leading up to the July 31 deadline. 

 

Adding a Second Baseman

Plain and simple, the Giants need a second baseman who will help them win ballgames, and Dan Uggla is not the solution. 

The Giants virtually offered Uggla a tryout, via Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sportsa chance to get some playing time in Triple-A in order to see if he has any gas left in the tank. 

Giants second basemen are hitting .180 this year and have not produced a home run since May 23. 

If the club could bring in a Ben Zobrist, Mike Aviles or Martin Prado, the second base woes would be long gone. 

These three guys would give the Giants enormous flexibility both offensively and defensively. Sure, there might be a big asking price, but Sabean should just bite the bullet and bring in a quality second baseman. 

Don’t be surprised if one of these guys is on the Giants roster by next week. 

 

Padding the Rotation

David Price is undoubtedly the most talented starting pitcher left on the market, but I don’t know if the Giants have the trade pieces to bring the southpaw to San Francisco.

That leaves the Giants moving down a tier or two of the available arms.

One of the most intriguing names is Boston’s Jake Peavy.

Giants skipper Bruce Bochy managed Peavy from 2002 through 2006, and it is not unrealistic to think that a reunion may be in the mix.

Cain has been very inconsistent this year and just began his third stint on the disabled list in 2014. 

It would make a lot of sense to add another veteran arm like Peavy who has pitched in a pennant race and postseason before. 

There is no getting around the fact that Peavy is having a poor year with a 1-8 record and 4.59 ERA, but maybe a change of scenery would help turn his season around. 

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Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards Keying Mike Trout’s Push for 1st Postseason



If Mike Trout plays in his first postseason this October, he'll have a lot of people to thank. Most notably himself.

Two seasons removed from his breakout Rookie of the Year campaign, Trout has ascended to superstar status. Entering play Tuesday, he owned a .310/.396/.605 slash line to go along with 23 home runs and 74 RBI. He was just named Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, and he could soon add an American League MVP trophy to his case.

Trout's not the only Los Angeles Angels player getting it done. After a disastrous 2013, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have bounced back to join Trout in a fearsome and finally healthy middle of the order. Ace Jered Weaver anchors a strong rotation. And recently acquired closer Huston Street should elevate a formerly shaky bullpen.

But if Trout steps onto the October stage, he should also remember to thank two relatively unsung heroes who've been equally important to the Halos' success: Garrett Richards and Kole Calhoun.

Richards entered this season with a career ERA north of 4.00 and as a consensus back-of-the-rotation guy behind Weaver and C.J. Wilson.

Yet, the 26-year-old right-hander has emerged as arguably the most effective arm on the Angels; he leads the staff in wins (11), ERA (2.47) and strikeouts (134) and was one of this year's most glaring All-Star omissions.

"It'll probably be something I carry with me the whole year," Richards told MLB.com's Lyle Spencer of his ASG snub.

Whatever he's using for motivation, it's working. On July 19, Richards faced the Seattle Mariners and their stud, Felix Hernandez. It was, without question, a measuring-stick game, a matchup against a division rival and one of the very best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.

The result wasn't good for the Angels—they lost 3-2 in 12 innings—but Richards acquitted himself admirably, tossing eight frames of one-run, three-hit, seven-strikeout ball and looking every bit as dominant as King Felix himself.

Like Richards, Calhoun came in with modest expectations. He opened the season as the starting right fielder and leadoff hitter, but he landed on the disabled list with a badly sprained ankle after just two weeks. When he returned, he found himself splitting time with Collin Cowgill.

Recently, Calhoun has made a strong case for playing every day. Since June 1, he's hit .329 with eight home runs. He doesn't possess typical top-of-the-order speed, but he gets on base and sets the table for the boppers behind him.

"I don't know if there's a hotter player in our league right now than Kole Calhoun," manager Mike Scioscia said on July 11, when Calhoun was in the midst of a two-week stretch that saw him hit .420 with a .482 OBP, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna. "He's seeing the ball well. He's swinging the bat well."

Well enough to spark one of the league's most potent offenses and to help the Angels stay on the heels of the Oakland A's in the loaded AL West.

If the season ended July 22, the Angels would nab an AL wild-card spot. But 12 years after winning the first World Series in franchise history and five years removed from their last playoff appearance, the Halos have their sights set on bigger things.

This is a team that appears primed to contend for a title. If the Angels do, Trout will get his due share of the credit, and the rest of us will get the pleasure of watching one of baseball's rising stars shine under the brightest lights.

Those lights will also shine on Richards and Calhoun, though—and rightfully so.

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Cliff Lee’s Return Leaves More Questions Than Answers as Trade Deadline Nears



Cliff Lee carried a lot of questions out to the mound on Monday night. After surrendering six earned runs and 12 hits in 5.2 shaky innings in a 7-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants, he left most of them unanswered.

Making his first start since May 18, when a left elbow strain landed him on the disabled list, the 35-year-old southpaw looked rusty. No surprise there.

But Lee isn't just any pitcher working his way back from an injury. He's a potential trade target, coveted by an array of contending teams looking to bolster their pitching staffs ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

Provided, that is, he still looks like Cliff Lee.

On Monday, he didn't. His command was erratic, and his fastball sat around 89-90 mph. He managed just three strikeouts. And in his final frame, he surrendered a booming home run to Giants first baseman Adam Duvall, a no-name rookie with a grand total of 23 big league at-bats under his belt, and a double to utility infielder Joaquin Arias.

"I felt good physically, I just wasn't able to locate," Lee said after the game, per Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Hopefully, I can iron that out between now and my next start."

That next start will be Lee's last before the deadline, meaning prospective suitors have precious little time to assess his abilities, or lack thereof.

His track record speaks for itself—a playoff-tested stud, Lee at his best, or even something approaching his best, would be a boon for any team with October aspirations.

The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays sent scouts to Lee's final rehab start, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (via Yahoo Sports), and more were on hand at Citizens Bank Park to watch his MLB return.

Mired in last place, the Phillies are in full-on sell mode. At least one of Lee's teammates, closer Jonathan Papelbon, has openly expressed his desire to be dealt to a contender.

"Some guys want to stay on a losing team? That's mind-boggling to me," Papelbon told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb. "I think that's a no-brainer."

"When you're close to winning, you bring guys in," shortstop Jimmy Rollins, also a subject of trade speculation, bluntly told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. "When you're not winning at all, it's how much money can we get rid of that makes sense? What can we get rid of? And how do we rebuild with the money saved? And that's where we are. It's who can we get rid of."

Lee doesn't see it that way. Here's what he told Salisbury, when pressed about the persistent trade rumors:

I know it's the trade deadline and I know we haven't played well this year and potentially guys could get traded and I'm obviously one of those guys. I don't know what to think other than that. Right now I'm a Phillie and I'm going to try to help this team win. Hopefully we can turn it around and get on a stretch and get up close to the trade deadline and next thing you know we're closer to being back in it and it's not an issue.

Then again, it's not up to Lee whether he finishes the season in Philadelphia or somewhere else. It's up to the Phillies and any potential suitors who may be willing to part with prospects and/or swallow the roughly $50 million remaining on Lee's contract.

If he looks sharp, or at least sharper, in his next start, will it up his value and increase the likelihood of a trade? If he falters again like he did against the Giants or fares worse, will even desperate big spenders like the Yankees—who are on the fringes of the playoff picture and without injured ace Masahiro Tanakaback away?

One way or another, those questions will be answered. On Monday night, they weren't.

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3 Bold Predictions for the Baltimore O’s at the 2014 Trade Deadline



The Baltimore Orioles are currently the team to beat in the AL East. With a 53-44 record and sitting 3.5 games above the second-place team, the Orioles hope to be able to pull away with the lead before long.

This team is certainly talented enough to do just that, but it never hurts to look for a little help.

With the 2014 trade deadline rapidly approaching, trade rumors are slowly beginning to swirl as teams look for ways to improve their rosters heading into the final stretch of the season.

The Orioles will be no exception, as any competing team would look to swing a deal to improve itself for the season's final two months.

Possessing a lead in the AL East and a roster loaded with talent, the O's could become an even stronger team heading into August—and here's how.

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Legless Pirate Corkscrew Is A Must Have



Pirate-corkscrew

Can’t you have a bit of fun, before you have a bit of fun? Opening a bottle of wine is a trivial affair, but with a Legless Pirate Corkscrew, it can also be whimsical and well… Oh come on, just look at him! We’d make “arr” jokes, but it’s too cliché and we suck at jokes. So we’ll just tell you that it costs $12 and you want one.

Ya, you do.

Pirate-corkscrew2

[ Product Page ] VIA [ GeeksAreSexy ]

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Inglorious Produce: French Supermarket Chain Finds A Way To Reduce Food Waste



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Did you know that a good portion of the produce farmers grow ends up being discarded simply because it’s too ugly to be sold in stores? Too ugly doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste as good or is less nutritional, so French supermarket chain Intermarché decided to buy these leftover fruits and veggies, and sell them heavily discounted (30% off) in a special aisle named “Les Fruits Et Legumes Moches” (“The Inglorious Fruits And Vegetables”). Stars in the new lineup include “The Grotesque Apple”, “The Ridiculous Potato”, and “The Failed Lemon.” To help people realize that these runts were just as good as their more beautiful siblings, the stores gave away juices and soups prepared with them. And people loved it.

Not only can patrons save a good amount of money by buying these ugly fruits and veggies, instead of the traditional produce, Intermarché’s initiative is helping drive awareness about food waste. Seeing as the EU declared 2014 to be the “European Year against Food Waste”, the French grocer’s actions are a solid first step towards Europe’s goal of reducing waste by half by the year 2025.

[ Intermarche's Website ] VIA [ TheAwesomer ]

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