Author Archive

How Yasiel Puig Has Quietly Gotten Even Better after Breakout 2013-14 Season

From the “oohs” and “aahs” of baseball fans when they see this larger than life figure walk out onto a baseball field to the crack of the bat when he strikes a baseball to the sound of a teammate’s mitt popping when he guns a throw from right field to the sound of his car engine when he’s driving way too fastYasiel Puig is rarely surrounded by silence. 

Yet, the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar has quietly gone about his business over the last month while fellow Cuban slugger Jose Abreu has stolen all of the headlines. 

But now that Abreu has finally stopped demolishing baseballs and adding to his league-leading 15 homers—the 27-year-old is on the 15-day disabled list with ankle tendinitis—maybe it’s a good time to check up on this Puig guy who took Major League Baseball by storm in 2013. 

Not only has the 23-year-old Puig avoided any of the negative press that seemed to follow him around previously, whether it was from his 26-pound weight gain from the end of last season to the start of spring, his two reckless driving charges or just a multitude of bat flips and on-field behavior that almost always seemed to rub an opposing team the wrong way, he’s also putting up huge numbers that are reminiscent of his rookie season and probably even better. 

After a slow start (.723 OPS, HR in 14 games), at least for the standards he created after his amazing big league debut in 2013, Puig has been on a tear. Since April 20, he has a .366/.443/.693 slash line with eight homers, seven doubles and 30 runs batted in. 

He also extended a career-high 16-game hitting streak with this two-run homer on Saturday, though it ended the next day. 

His team is only 12-15 during that span, which is another reason why his current run is falling slightly under the radar. But that’s no fault of Puig, who is helping to squash the theory that one man is not capable of carrying an entire team on his back. 

If he was, you’d think this month-long performance by Puig would qualify as one of those cases. 

Regardless, Puig is thriving without the spotlight right now and proving all of his doubters wrong as opposing teams are still unable to put together a game plan that is strong enough to contain him. 

Any player capable of posting a .925 OPS with 19 homers in 104 games is cause for an opponent’s concern. When that player is a 22-year-old rookie as was Puig, it’s of even greater concern because of the strong chance of improvement.

But in Puig‘s case, his lack of patience (36 BB, 97 K) was an indication that he could eventually be figured out. The St. Louis Cardinals appeared to have done so in the NLCS when Puig went just 5-for-22 with no homers, a walk and 10 strikeouts. An 8-for-48 performance this spring with no homers, one walk and eight strikeouts was just another sign that the league was catching up to him. 

It was also the reason why Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was so reluctant to say that Puig was a middle-of-the-order hitter who could drive in a lot of runs, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Fast forward to his first 14 games of 2014. 

While his overall numbers weren’t great, there was possibly a silver lining. He had eight walks during that span. Compared to 2013, when he didn’t draw his eighth walk until his 43rd game, it was obvious that Puig was taking a different approach at the plate. 

Of course, that could’ve been seen as a lack of aggressiveness, resulting in his lack of production. Or it could’ve also meant that Puig understood the need to become a more patient hitter with the results showing up down the line. For the patience to pay off, he needed to be patient. 

The beginning of his hot streak, however, resulted in a .310 batting average (9-for-29) with two homers, a double, triple and zero walks. 

But instead of acting like the immature kid he’s been made out to be for very good reason, Puig didn’t become overly aggressive. In the 15 games that followed, he walked 11 times while hitting .409 (27-for-66) with six homers and five doubles. 

The difference, says Mattingly, is the patience that is forcing pitchers to throw the ball down the middle instead of always trying to make him chase pitches outside of the strike zone, even in a hitter’s count. 

“He’s now basically forcing the issue,” Mattingly said. “You throw him strikes or you walk him. He’s forcing them to throw strikes.”

Just when they think they have Puig figured out, he goes and does this. I guess it’s back to the drawing board. 

Read more MLB news on

MLB Teams with Desperate Trade Needs at the One-Quarter Mark

Finding a trade partner at this time of the season isn’t easy.

Teams that have quickly fallen out of playoff contention, even if they are fairly certain that they’re not good enough to bounce back, will typically wait until at least late June before throwing in the towel and trading away a player with value.

Why? Because they want to give the team that they assembled a chance before subtracting an integral part of that roster in a trade. 

That doesn’t mean teams are not willing to listen on a trade inquiry and pull the trigger if the price is right. But since there’s no lack of urgency for a potential “seller” in May, that price is commonly set extremely high.

As a result, the only teams capable of making an impact deal right now are likely to be in desperation mode. Here are five teams that could already be headed in that direction.  


Begin Slideshow

How the 2014 Colorado Rockies Offense Has Become MLB’s Best

If you asked me before the season whether I thought the Colorado Rockies offense could be the best in baseball, I wouldn’t have ruled out the possibility.

After all, we’re talking about a team that plays half of its games at the ultimate hitters’ haven. Why would you ever rule out an offense that played 81 games at Coors Field? Even the 2012 Rockies team that lost 98 games finished third in the majors in OPS and sixth in runs scored. 

But Coors Field is only part of the equation. For this particular offense to emerge as a juggernaut, there was a lot that needed to go right. 

Surprisingly, most of it has fallen into place over the first 40 games of the season.

The result has been an offensive outburst that is reminiscent of the powerful Rockies teams of the 1990’s with Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga and Ellis Burks forming the core of the “Blake Street Bombers.”

First in the majors in most offensive categories, including runs, doubles, homers, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, the 2014 Rockies are a force to be reckoned with, at home and on the road and their opponents are well aware. 

So just how have they done it? Here’s a closer look.

First and foremost, superstars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are producing, which shouldn’t be a surprise. No one has ever questioned either player’s ability. Gonzalez has a .912 OPS since joining the Rockies in 2009, and Tulowitzki has an .891 OPS since he entered the league in 2006.

Their ability to stay healthy has been questioned, as it very well should be. Gonzalez had averaged only 124 games per season since 2011. Tulowitzki has averaged 110 games per season since 2010.

Playing 40-50 games per season without your best player(s) is never an ideal situation.

So the fact that they have each started 36 of the team’s 40 games is a great sign. Rockies fans are finally seeing what their team is capable of with both of their hitting stars healthy. 

Gonzalez, 28, has struggled at times, including a current 1-for-14 slide, but he can put up huge numbers in bunches. Prior to his recent slump, Gonzalez had 15 hits in 35 at-bats with three homers. He also began the season on a 15-for-40 tear with four homers, three doubles and a triple.

He’s clearly been a factor, despite being one of the few hitters in the lineup with a sub-.300 batting average.  

Tulowitzki, on the other hand, started the season on fire and has yet to slow down. With a 1.263 OPS, 11 homers, 11 doubles and 33 runs batted in, he has clearly been the best player in baseball. He’s capable of carrying a team on his back, though there hasn’t been any need for that as of yet. 

How does a player come out of nowhere to being on the verge of becoming an MLB superstar? Falling off the radar is usually a prerequisite. That player would have had to have been “on the radar” at some point. 

Charlie Blackmon (pictured) fits that criteria.

After posting an .843 OPS with 11 homers and 19 stolen bases in 86 Double-A games during a 2010 season in which he missed significant time with a hamstring injury, Blackmon was named the seventh-ranked prospect in the organization, according to Baseball Prospectus, heading into the 2011 season. 

He was certainly on the radar and in the conversation as being one of the Rockies’ “outfielders of the future.”

Blackmon‘s first big league shot came in June of that season. After a 14-for-37 start, he struggled mightily for the next few weeks before a fractured foot ended his season in early July. 

A forgotten man by 2012, he didn’t return to the majors until mid-August and didn’t do enough to put himself back in the picture for a starting job in 2013. With Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and the newly signed Michael Cuddyer filling out the starting outfield, Blackmon found himself with no clear path to a starting job. 

Heading into the spring, he was one of several candidates for the center field job that opened up when Fowler was traded to Houston. Despite a mediocre output (.635 OPS in 55 at-bats), he was fortunate to get the first crack at the regular job. 

He has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

While there was never any indication he would be “five-tool, MVP candidate” good (.352 BA, nine homers, nine doubles, 29 RBI, eight steals), and it’s likely that he’ll eventually slow down some, don’t be too surprised when he finishes with a .300 batting average, 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases.

Circumstances, mostly injuries, prevented him from getting a fair shot to be an everyday player until now. Now at age 27, he may be in a better position to handle his success and maintain it over a full season than he would have in his early 20’s. 

Every offseason, several players whose value has declined for some reason or another are picked up by teams on “buy low” free-agent deals or trades. These players are usually considered injury-prone or past their prime with deteriorating skills.  

In most cases, these perceptions are true. But occasionally, a player proves that theory wrong and shows that there is still plenty left in the tank.

That appears to be a strong possibility with former AL MVP Justin Morneau (pictured), whom the Rockies signed to a two-year, $12.5 million deal this past offseason. 

At age 32 (he’ll be 33 Thursday), Morneau is having a career resurgence with a .949 OPS, eight homers, 11 doubles, 29 runs batted in and 13 multi-hit games. And if you think those numbers are misleading because of imbalanced home-road splits, think again.

While he does have twice as many strikeouts on the road (12) than at home (six), a majority of Morneau’s splits are nearly identical (.987 OPS, four homers, six doubles, 16 RBI, three walks in 67 at-bats at Coors Field; .913 OPS, four homers, five doubles, one triple, 13 RBI, three walks in 73 at-bats on the road).   

Four years removed from his days of being an elite major league hitter—he had an .869 OPS with 31 homers, 37 doubles and 117 runs batted per 162 games from 2003 to 2010—Morneau hasn’t been the same hitter since a concussion that cut his 2010 season short. 

He has shown flashes over the past two seasons, but his numbers have been ordinary overall (.773 OPS, 19 HR in 2012; .734 OPS, 17 HR in 2013). 

In 2014, however, Morneau appears to be on a different level once again. He has gone hitless in only three starts all season. He has hit on the road, versus lefties (12-for-40, two homers, two RBI) and with runners in scoring position (13-for-40, two homers, three doubles, 18 RBI). A regression could be coming, but it’s hard to see him slowing down too much.

When you have six or seven regulars crushing the ball, there is a possibility of a substantial drop in production once the inevitable injuries begin to hit. The Rockies have been up to the challenge, though.

Having lost 2013 batting champ Michael Cuddyer, who was off to another great start (.906 OPS, three homers in 16 games), to a hamstring injury in mid-April, the Rockies haven’t missed a beat with a plethora of backup outfielders chipping in. 

Corey Dickerson (pictured), who was sent to the minors a week into the regular season, has returned with a vengeance. Since Cuddyer went down, Dickerson, 24, playing mostly in right field, is 18-for-44 with four homers, four doubles and and 11 runs batted in. 

There won’t be much room for him once Cuddyer returns—his timetable is still yet to be determined, though Cuddyer says he doesn’t expect a long rehab assignment—but this is one of those good problems that successful teams often have. 

Drew Stubbs has also turned it on since Cuddyer’s injury, collecting 19 hits in 52 at-bats, including two homers and five doubles. If that wasn’t enough, Brandon Barnes, the team’s fifth outfielder, is 20-for-48 with six doubles over the same span. 

In addition, Jordan Pacheco has three multi-hit games in six starts since starting catcher Wilin Rosario went on the disabled list with a viral infection. Backup Michael McKenry has a hit in each of his four starts since joining the team in Rosario’s absence. 

Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado obviously brings plenty of defensive value to the team, but he hit just 10 homers during his rookie campaign while posting an on-base percentage that barely cracked .300. 

The Rockies were hoping for some progression, but the 23-year-old appears to have taken more than just a small step forward at the plate. A recent 28-game hitting streak, which was snapped last Friday, boosted his batting average to .322.

He’s already more than halfway to his homer total from last season with six and has nearly half as many doubles as last season (29 in 2013; 14 in 2014). According to ESPN Stats & Info, three of his home runs have come on pitches in the lower half of the zone after doing so just four times on 1,019 pitches in that area last season.

And while he’s definitely taking advantage of Coors Field to boost his homers—all six have come at home—Arenado has a .326 batting average with nine doubles on the road.  

Tulowitzki has taken the youngster under his wing, and, although Tulowitzki has been tough on Arenado at times, Tulowitzki thinks Arenado can be one of the best. 

“I think you can see he’s somebody who can be a superstar in this game, if he’s not already. So you don’t want that guy going in the wrong direction. You kind of teach him the ropes,” Tulowitzki told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post.

With a 23-17 record (13-5 at home), good for second in the NL West and two-and-a-half games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants, the Rockies are more than just a potent offense.

Their defense is tremendous. The bullpen has been solid, as has the rotation. Staff ace Jorge De La Rosa has a 2.70 ERA over his last five starts. Juan Nicasio has a 3.77 ERA in eight starts. Jordan Lyles is 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA in his eight starts, making him one of the biggest surprises in baseball. Two top pitching prospects with front-line potential, Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray, are waiting in the wings in Double-A. 

But there’s no mistaking what it is that can make them an elite ball club. As much offense as Rockies fans have experienced over the years, it’s unlikely they’ve seen a group of hitters this good in a long time. 

Read more MLB news on

Re-evaluating MLB’s Biggest Rental Trades of the Past 10 Years

Teams that feel they are close to being championship-caliber will occasionally take the risk of trading away young talent in exchange for one year, and sometimes only two to three months, of an impact player.

While sacrificing the “future”—players with impact potential who will be under team control for several years at a team-friendly rate once they reach the majors, if they’re not there already—to give the big league team a better chance to advance to the playoffs and beyond for the current season has been known to backfire, it can also be great for business. 

And because the business is heavily based on selling ticketsmainly to baseball fans who are focused on how good the team is right now and not three to five years down the road—it’s important for a front office to be aggressive and “go all in” when they feel the time is right.

If all the pieces fall into place, the excitement surrounding the team during a heated pennant race and the capturing of a division title, as well as the anticipation of a playoff series—not to mention ticket sales for games that aren’t on the regular-season schedule—and the actual playoff run is what can win over a fan for life. 

For most of us who have loved a particular team since our youth, it’s very likely that we didn’t become passionate about a team that was losing year after year. Even if it was just one magical season, like in 1984 when the San Diego Padres won the heart of this then-nine-year-old, the excitement of that winning season is what made you want to cheer for that team from that point on. 

Regardless of the outcome, you can’t blame an organization for acting on a golden opportunity to win over thousands of new customers for life. Many have worked out great. Others, not so much. 

Here are eight of the most notable trade rentals over the past decade with an updated grade for each team involved in the deal. 

Begin Slideshow

Has Jose Abreu Already Passed Up Yasiel Puig as MLB’s Best Cuban Hitter?

Remember when Yoenis Cespedes was going to be the next great power hitter in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba?

You certainly recall “The Showcase”, Cespedes‘ promotional video that was released during the 2011-12 offseason just before he became eligible for free agency. How about all those Bo Jackson comparisons? Remember those? 

Of course you do, but admit that those recollections have faded considerably. 

While he’s been a very productive hitter on one of the best teams in baseball—the 28-year-old has a career .800 OPS with 53 homers in 291 games for the Oakland A’s, who signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract in February 2012—the Cespedes hype was so 2012.

Two season later, he is, arguably, the third best Cuban hitter in the majors.

Yasiel Puig, who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers only four-and-a-half months after Cespedes signed with Oakland, easily surpassed him with his MVP-caliber performance last season and was all the rage entering 2014.

But there’s a new kid on the block who, like Puig, is so much better than expected.

His name is Jose Abreu, and he leads the majors in home runs (12) and is second in runs batted in (34) behind Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. A month into his major league career, the 27-year-old rookie looks to be even more advanced at the plate than Puig but with more raw power.

The Chicago White Sox signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal in late October. That’s a higher annual salary than Cespedes or Puig received.

Abreu wasn’t as highly touted a hitter as Cespedes or Puig and didn’t offer plus potential at a corner outfield spot. He was, simply, less of a risk because of how well Cespedes and Puig have adapted to major league pitching.

After defecting from Cuba last August, scouting reports were mixed on the first baseman. The power potential, described as “monstrous” by one scout, was clear. There were a lot of questions, though, on whether he had the skills to succeed in the majors, as described in a profile by’s Jerry Crasnick last September.

But one thing is clear. No one thought he’d be this good of a hitter. And no one seems to be questioning whether this is just a fluky 32-game sample that will decline drastically as opposing teams figure him out.

Abreu appears to have a plan when he’s at the plate, and he seems more than capable of making the proper adjustments to keep him on pace for the home run and RBI titles. Former Cy Young Award winner and Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who has allowed a homer and a single to the White Sox slugger while striking him out three times in six at-bats, is already a believer

“I don’t think he’s somebody that you look at and say, ‘Oh, he just had a hot April,'” said Verlander, per USA Today‘s Jorge L. Ortiz. “He’s extremely talented. You have to execute your pitches. Otherwise, he can hurt you at any time.”

While it might be a bold statement to say that Abreu has already passed Puig as MLB‘s best Cuban hitter after 32 games, it certainly doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. After all, it didn’t take long for Puig to jump past Cespedes

Here’s a comparison of each player’s first 32 MLB games. 

Abreu’s 1st 32 MLB games
.258 .319 .617 .936 128 22 33 8 1 12 34 9 35 0


Puig‘s 1st 32 MLB games
.409 .437 .677 1.114 127 25 52 8 1 8 19 5 31 5


Abreu produced more homers and runs batted in, while Puig beat him in every other category. Both, however, made a huge impact during their first month in the big leagues.

Puig‘s mediocre BB/K rate may have been an indicator of future struggles at the time, but the fact that he hasn’t slowed down much is a good sign that Abreu—a much more mature individual than Puig and a more finished product on the field—could also sustain his production despite a BB/K rate that has him on pace for 46 walks and 177 strikeouts.

And even though Abreu won’t keep up with his current 61-homer pace, he’s well ahead of Puig, who has just four homers on the season. And when it comes to perception, homers usually outweigh a lot of other numbers.  

If both continue on their current paths—Puig has caught fire after a slow start, posting a 1.050 OPS with three homers, three doubles and three stolen bases over his past 14 games—I’d project each to finish the season with an OPS in the neighborhood of .900, with Puig‘s batting average and on-base percentage fueling his total and Abreu’s homers balancing out a much lower batting average and on-base percentage

By season’s end, who will be considered the “best” hitter—the one with a .250 batting average, .320 on-base percentage, 37 homers and 125 runs batted in, or the one with a .300 batting average, .385 on-base percentage, 23 homers, 78 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases?


All statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted. All contract information courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts

Read more MLB news on

NL West Missed Its Opportunity While Clayton Kershaw Was out Injured

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is set to make what could be his final rehab start on Wednesday as he inches closer to a return from an upper back injury that has kept him out of action since being scratched from his second start of the season on March 30. 

At the time, the Dodgers had a 2-0 record after sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia and were looking primed to continue their dominance of 2013, a season in which they were victorious in 62 of their final 90 regular-season games and advanced to within two wins of a World Series appearance.

Although the other three teams in the division—the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants—had yet to play a game, there had to be at least some concern that the Dodgers were capable of running away from the pack as they did late last season. 

But the injury to 2013 Cy Young Award winner Kershaw, who allowed just one earned run over 6.2 innings during the team’s Opening Day victory over the D-backs, made that much less of a certainty.

In fact, the possibility for one of those teams to build a big lead over a Kershaw-less Dodgers team had quickly become a reality. 

ESPN’s Buster Olney listed a Kershaw injury as one of the top five reasons why the Dodgers wouldn’t win the NL West, comparing his loss to the Dodgers of 1962-1966 losing Sandy Koufax.

MLB Lead Writer Zach Rymer wrote about the window of opportunity that had opened up for the D-backs, Rockies, Padres and Giants and the potential impact that Kershaw’s absence for even a few weeks could have on the race. Rymer‘s advice to the Dodgers’ division rivals: “Win as many games as you can now, while the getting’s good in the NL West race.”

As of today, though, it’s safe to say that none of those division rivals have been able to take advantage of their “head start.” 

The Dodgers haven’t played over their heads without their ace, managing a 12-12 record, while Kershaw‘s fill-in Paul Maholm has been very good in two starts and very bad in two others. 

In the meantime, the D-backs have lost 19 of 27 and are already buried in the division. The Giants have gone 15-11, the Rockies are 15-12 and the Padres are 13-14. Regardless of what happens between now and when Kershaw can conceivably return during the team’s May 5-7 series against the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers won’t be too far behind, if at all.

Their current one-game deficit to the first-place Giants is nothing compared to what they overcame last summer. In a span of one month, from June 22 through July 22, they had not only emerged from a 9.5-game hole, but they had jumped all four division rivals to go from worst to first in the division. By August 22, they had a 9.5-game lead and were on cruise control. 

It’s still a tight race, but it will soon be one in which the Dodgers will have the best pitcher and, arguably, the best rotation. And this time, they’ll have no deep hole to dig themselves out of. 

Read more MLB news on

Albert Pujols at 34 Is Back Among the Top Sluggers in Baseball

Talk of his demise certainly appears to be premature, but is it too early to declare that Albert Pujols is back to his MVP-caliber form based on a 22-game sample?

After collecting two more hits in a 13-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night, including his ninth homer of the young season against only eight strikeouts, Pujols has a 1.008 OPS—coincidentally, that’s also his career OPS—and is on pace to crack the 50-homer mark and top his career-best 49 homers in 2006. 

While there was no definitive way of knowing whether his declining numbers in 2013 were due to the injuries he was playing through—he was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in April and also battled soreness throughout the season on his surgically repaired knee—the general feeling around the baseball world was that his skills were deteriorating as he approached his mid-30s.

Healthy or not, Pujols wasn’t near the player he was before the Los Angeles Angels rewarded him for 11 years of greatness (with the St. Louis Cardinals) by giving him a 10-year contract that would pay him $240 million through his age-41 season.

Or so it seemed. 

Through his first 22 games of 2014, the 34-year-old doesn’t look to be much different from the guy who posted a 1.115 OPS while hitting 37 homers, 44 doubles and knocking in 116 runs en route to winning his last NL MVP award back in 2009.  

It’s not uncommon for an average player to string together two to three weeks of greatness at least once during his career. The difference here is that this kind of production has always been the norm for Pujols. The longer he keeps it up, the more his disappointing 2013 season will look like the outlier and quickly be forgotten. 

Asked about his recent success after belting his 499th and 500th career homers, Pujols sounded like a hitter who was in the zone. 

“Last couple years have been really tough, but I feel that I’m getting my swing right where I want it to be,” Pujols said after the game.

That sounds about right, considering he was confident enough to tell teammates before Tuesday’s game that he’d be hitting a pair of homers that night. 

If you were paying attention to Pujols this spring, maybe his strong start shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Despite the rough beginning to his Angels stint, he was upbeat and confident when he reported to spring training in February.

“As long as I stay healthy, I’m going to hit,” said the nine-time All-Star when he reported to camp early on Feb. 13. “I’m going to play as hard as I can and try to put some big smiles on faces and try to help this organization win a championship,” said Pujols, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

He wasn’t lying. 

It turns out that Mike Trout isn’t the only reason to go see a ballgame at Angels Stadium these days. Right now, a healthy Albert Pujols is earning every dollar of his $23 million salary for 2014, and he’s helping to put fans in the seats as he continues to pile up historic numbers. 

Read more MLB news on

Andrew Cashner’s Career Night vs. Tigers Hints at Dark-Horse 2014 Cy Young Run

When the San Diego Padres inserted Andrew Cashner into their starting rotation a few weeks into the 2013 season, it may have been his last chance to prove he could be durable enough to remain there.

Less than a year later, it’s clear that Cashner is not only in the rotation to stay, but it looks like he’ll be the ace of the staff as long as he’s in a Padres uniform.

And after he pitched a one-hit shutout against the Detroit Tigers on Friday evening, striking out 11 and allowing only four balls to reach the outfield, it’s starting to become evident that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. 

Cashner has a great presence on the mound, and he throws hard. His pitches have excellent movement, he has a plus slider and changeup, and he has top-notch command of his offerings. 

He’s competitive, pitches deep into games and works quickly, which helps keep defenders alert. He’s efficient and is a terrific defender and baserunner. And it’s all coming together for the 27-year-old Texan, who is emerging as an early-season favorite for the NL Cy Young Award. 

In his first five professional seasons from 2008-2012, the 6’6″ right-hander suffered a myriad injuries that kept him from solidifying a rotation spot with the Chicago Cubs, who took Cashner with the 19th pick in the 2008 draft out of Texas Christian University, or the Padres, who acquired him in a trade for Anthony Rizzo in January 2012. 

With the injury-prone label already attached, the Padres eased Cashner into a starting role by having him pitch out of the bullpen to start the 2012 season. After making 27 relief appearances, he finally made his first start as a Padre in early June.

He strained a lat muscle during his third start, however, which caused him to miss the next two months. He returned to make two starts in September but was shut down after aggravating the injury. 

Still, the Padres had every intention of giving Cashner a chance to start in 2013. Even when he lacerated a tendon in his right thumb during an offseason hunting accident, they were committed to giving him his chance once he was ready. 

Cashner made his first start of 2013 on April 20. Six starts later, the Padres were beginning to see signs of greatness as he transitioned from a relief pitcher who could throw his fastball 100 miles per hour to a starter who was pitching more to contact and giving his team seven or eight solid innings.

At the time, it appeared that manager Bud Black was getting the sense that he had a staff ace in the making, per Corey Brock of

“He’s got front-of-the-rotation-type of stuff,” said Black. “It’s a big arm. I think now, he’s starting to come into his own. The last couple of years have been interrupted. Hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here on out.”

And smooth sailing it has been. In 29 starts since entering the rotation last April, Cashner has posted a 2.84 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 186.2 innings pitched and only allowed 154 hits and 48 walks. He’s completed at least seven innings in 14 of those starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer 18 times. 

While the strikeout totals aren’t necessarily what you’d expect from a top-of-the-rotation starter, especially one with a mid-90s fastball, the quick outs are what have enabled him to pitch deep into games. However, he’s starting to show that he’s capable of doing both. 

After striking out no more than six batters in any of his first 19 starts of 2013, Cashner K’d seven batters in six of his last seven games. He completed at least seven innings in each and threw fewer than 100 pitches three times, including a one-hit shutout of the Pirates on Sept. 16. 

In Friday’s game, Cashner was only a Rajai Davis bloop single away from the first no-hitter in Padres history, but it still has to qualify as one of the best starts ever by a San Diego pitcher.

His 11th strikeout of the night came on a 95 mph fastballhis 108th and final pitch of the gamethat two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera swung through to end the game. 

It’s fitting that 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and 2011 Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander were watching Cashner spin his masterpiece from the visitor’s dugout. If he keeps it up, he could join their elite club shortly after the season. 

Read more MLB news on

Has Dodgers-Diamondbacks Rivalry Overtaken Yankees-Red Sox as MLB’s Best?

The rivalry between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers is the “new kid on the block” among some of the more notable ones in baseball. But it sure has picked up steam in a hurry over the past few years.

The start could be traced back to a relatively meaningless September game in 2011 when a Diamondbacks batter was buzzed by an errant pitch from Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who threw a lot of them that season, walking 23 hitters in 27 innings. That batter, Gerardo Parra, launched a home run later in the at-bat and then took his time as he made his way around the bases.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw hit Parra with a pitch the next night, which prompted his ejection. There was no brawl and no further conflict—at least not right away.

It wasn’t until the following May, the first time Kershaw had faced the D’backs since the altercation, that the battle resumed. 

Ian Kennedy, the starting pitcher for the D’backs, threw a pitch well inside to Kershaw, who responded by throwing high and inside to Kennedy later in the game.

Again, things didn’t escalate beyond that—at least not right away. 

More than a year later, things finally did. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was playing in just his 9th big league game and had already made a tremendous impact with 16 hits, including four homers, was hit in the face by a Kennedy pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning.

A half-inning later, Dodgers starter Zack Greinke hit catcher Miguel Montero with a pitch. Benches emptied but things remained calm. It was nothing more than a good old-fashioned stare down between the clubs out near the first base bag. 

It didn’t end there. Kennedy went head-hunting again, nearly connecting with Greinke‘s face with a pitch during the very next half-inning. 

Enough was finally enough. The boiling point had finally been reached. Benches emptied and the two sides weren’t interested in a stare down this time around.


It was the Dodgers who had the laugh last, though. 

As if erasing a 9.5-game lead that the D’backs had built up by June 21 and then running away with the division wasn’t enough, the Dodgers clinched the NL West title with a win in Arizona on September 19 and then celebrated in the Chase Field swimming pool located just beyond the right-center field wall.

Several Diamondbacks players and club officials, including president and CEO Derrick Hall, took exception to the Dodgers’ manner of celebration.

Hall responded sarcastically in an email: “I could call it disrespectful and classless, but they don’t have a beautiful pool at their old ballpark and probably wanted to see what one was like.

Utilityman Willie Bloomquist called it “disrespectful and classless”. 

Even with an incident-free two-game series in Australia between the teams last month and Kennedy, one of the central figures in the feud, now pitching for the San Diego Padres, we can’t say for sure whether the bad blood has died down. 

It has become quite obvious that these teams can’t decide when things will be “even.” I doubt any of them are keeping count. These teams hate each other right now and, as long as no one gets seriously hurt, it’s great for baseball. 

Baseball has many storied rivalries. The Yankees and Dodgers have faced off in the World Series 11 times. The Red Sox and Yankees began with the “Curse of the Bambino” in 1918 and the rivalry has intensified over the last few decades. But right now the Diamondbacks and Dodgers have, arguably, baseball’s most interesting rivalry. 

A four-game series between the Yankees, who spent $438 million to land four impact players this past offseason, and the defending champion Red Sox started yesterday. It has to top the “must-watch” list for any baseball fan. But it’s harder to sell it as a heated rivalry when the Yankees’ starting lineup on Thursday included six players who weren’t even with the organization last season and a starting pitcher, Michael Pineda, who missed the past two seasons recovering from shoulder surgery. 

Of the players currently on the Diamondbacks’ 25-man roster, 20 of them were active when the Dodgers clinched the division title on their home field last September. A majority of that group was involved in the June brawl. The Dodgers roster hasn’t changed much, either.

Tonight they’ll go head-to-head at Chase Field for the first time since the swimming pool incident. Things haven’t started off well for the D’backs, who have already dropped two games to the Dodgers and are 3-8 overall. If they’re going to even things out in the standings, this weekend would be a good time to start.

As for which team needs to “even” things out in the ongoing feud, that’s anybody’s guess. You’ll just have to watch and find out.

Read more MLB news on

Looking into Dodgers-Tigers Series as Potential 2014 World Series Preview

Off to a 4-1 start, the Detroit Tigers should feel a sense of urgency this season after the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals proved in 2013 that they were quickly closing the gap in the AL Central.

But if the Tigers can at least partially fill the gaping hole in the middle of their lineup that the trade of slugger Prince Fielder created, their starting rotation is still good enough to carry the team into the postseason for a fourth consecutive season and into the World Series for the third time in nine years. 

Their World Series opponent, if you believe the so-called experts, will likely be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are the unanimous favorite with sportsbooks, according to Odds Shark, to win it all.

If their talent on paper can translate to wins on the field and they can overcome an extended absence of ace Clayton Kershaw, who is currently on the disabled list with a back injury, then we can look forward to a star-studded World Series matchup between the Dodgers and Tigers. 

Those two teams will get an early look at each other when the Tigers visit Dodger Stadium for a two-game series starting Tuesday at 10:10 p.m. ET. 

While the team’s respective aces, Kershaw and Justin Verlander, won’t make an appearance—Kershaw has 13 shutout innings versus the Tigers in his career; Verlander has never faced the Dodgers—the four starting pitchers scheduled to pitch are no slouches.

Missing Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner, would normally be a relief for opponents. But with 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer—who tossed eight shutout innings in his first start of this season—on the hill in Game 1 and Anibal Sanchez, the reigning AL ERA champ, scheduled to take the mound on Wednesday, the Dodgers are not getting much of a break. 

Their lineup won’t be at full health, either, with catcher A.J. Ellis (arthroscopic knee surgery) expected to be placed on the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game and Yasiel Puig at less than 100 percent health with a strained thumb ligament. 

Regardless, a Puig-less lineup might have a better shot against the Tigers’ duo. They are extremely tough against right-handed hitters, who posted a .536 OPS against Sanchez and .494 OPS versus Scherzer in 2013. Right-handed batters are 2-for-19 against the pair thus far in 2014. 

In addition, left-handed hitter Andre Ethier, who would likely take Puig’s spot in the lineup, has had success against Scherzer over his career (6-for-15, HR, 2B).

If manager Don Mattingly really wants Puig, who is 6-for-24 with a homer and a double to start the season, in the lineup for at least one of the games, he could opt to sit Matt Kemp against Scherzer after checking out his career numbers against him. Kemp is 0-for-16 against Scherzer with no walks and four strikeouts. 

There’s no doubt that Scherzer and Sanchez are tough, helping to form one of, if not, the best top of the rotations in the game. But, after the Dodgers’ weekend series against the San Francisco Giants, the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup is shaping up to be just as impressive.   

Despite losing two out of three games to the rival Giants, the Dodgers have plenty to be excited about moving forward.

Kemp, who missed most of 2013 and is coming back from ankle and shoulder surgeries, looked as healthy as he’s been in a long time with a two-homer game on Sunday. Hanley Ramirez, who played in only 86 games last season because of multiple injuries, matched Kemp with two homers on Sunday and went 6-for-11 in the series with two doubles to go along with the home runs. Adrian Gonzalez also had two doubles and a homer. 

A healthy Kemp and Ramirez and a productive Gonzalez hitting in between them could give the Dodgers the most dangerous “heart of the order” in all of baseball. 

As Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times noted, the Dodgers have never been able to pencil in a healthy Kemp and Ramirez in the same lineup. 

“Hanley is on a different level,” Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said. “If Matt’s like that, like he was today, you don’t want to face this lineup.”

Of the potential middle-of-the-order trio, Gonzalez added, “That’s a pretty good three-four-five.”

The Tigers lineup as a whole, though, has been much more impressive. Second in baseball with an .825 OPS through five games, this group is quickly easing concerns over how to replace Fielder’s production behind Miguel Cabrera. 

Leading the charge is Austin Jackson, who has moved down from the leadoff spot to protecting Cabrera and cleanup man Victor Martinez in the No. 5 hole. The 27-year-old center fielder is 7-for-20 with two doubles and a triple. Rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos (5-for-13, 2B) is also off to a strong start, as is veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez (4-for-11, 3B) and outfielder Rajai Davis (3-for-9, HR, SB).

Bottom-of-the-order production could be key to the Tigers’ season, as well as in this series against the Dodgers. Only Martinez (9-for-26, HR, 2 2B) has success against Dan Haren, who will start Tuesday’s game. 

In game two, they’ll face either Josh Beckett, who might be activated from the disabled list, or lefty Hyun-jin Ryu, who would be making his fourth start of the season.

The Tigers were shut down by the lone lefty starter they faced so far this season. Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas allowed only one earned run against them in seven innings on five hits, one walk and six strikeouts. 

While the most interesting storylines involve the stars—Kemp and Ramirez versus Scherzer and Sanchez—each team’s ability to get the ball to their respective closer could be the difference in these games. 

Dodgers setup man Brian Wilson is on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his elbow, while the guy who was supposed to be the Tigers’ primary setup man, Bruce Rondon, is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The next most viable candidate, free-agent acquisition Joba Chamberlain, allowed two runs and four hits in his lone inning of work this season. 

J.P. Howell, Chris Perez and Chris Withrow have more than made up for Wilson’s absence, however, accounting for a combined 12.1 scoreless innings.

On the other hand, the Tigers have yet to find that reliever who will step up and take hold of a late-inning setup role. Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke have each had shaky outings, and closer Joe Nathan has struggled, allowing runs in each of his last two appearances and blowing a save.

If the baseball world is to be treated to a first-ever World Series matchup between the Dodgers and Tigers, the Dodgers will need their stars to stay healthy. The Tigers will need to strengthen their bullpen and continue to get production from the bottom of the order. 

But most teams, if not every single one of them, have questions to answer at this point of the season. It’s quite possible that the two most talented teams in baseball will take the field at Chavez Ravine on Tuesday and Wednesday before continuing on journeys that could lead them back to the same place as World Series opponents in late October.

Read more MLB news on

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress