The Indians pull off the sweep, the Reds edge Pittsburgh, the Royals take a close one from Texas, and more.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s not easy to sweep a four-game series, even against the 2013 Astros. The A’s, Angels, Blue Jays, Rays, Rockies, and White Sox all tried to do that, and all of them came up with three wins or fewer. The Indians, though, would not be denied.
Terry Francona’s club smelled blood with the Astros coming to town and the second wild card spot within reach. And they did what contenders are supposed to do in September: they took care of business, holding the visitors to two runs on Sunday and one run in each of the first three.
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Hamilton, making his first career start and batting ninth, went 3-for-4 with two walks and four stolen bases. The steals were the most eye-catching part of his performance. As I wrote in today’s Lineup Card, Hamilton’s instincts on the bases aren’t unparalleled, but his speed and the inevitability of his attempts set him apart from other thieves. Each of his appearances on base is an event, because everyone watching knows he’s going to go; as Buster Olney wrote recently, Hamilton’s pinch-running appearances should be preceded by an entrance song, since they’re at least as exciting and game-altering as a closer coming in. Hamilton has failed to attempt a steal in only one of his 10 times on base, and then only because Shin-Soo Choo singled him home almost immediately.
The Astros and Reds make many mistakes, Josh Hamilton is hitting, and Chris Davis delivers a big blow.
The Wednesday Takeaway
For all the grief we give big-league managers and players, most MLB games, even those with a couple of fielding errors or a small army stranded on base, can teach valuable lessons to Little Leaguers and young baseball minds. Every once in a while, though, a game sets the sport back so far that the only saving graces are sheer athletic prowess and a finish so late that the most impressionable fans are long in bed.
Last night’s meeting between the Reds and Astros was precisely that sort of debacle, but it wasn't until the ninth inning that the game truly began to devolve. Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar misplayed a popup that led to a Reds run in the top of the sixth, but those things happen—they’re a part of the game.
How can we explain the fact that the NL Central is almost certain to send three teams to October?
At the start of the season, we had a simple narrative to explain how three teams from the same division might make the postseason in 2013.
The Angels would avoid the terrible start that left one of the best teams in baseball out of the playoffs last year, bulk up with Josh Hamilton, and join the Athletics and Rangers in the postseason. Of course, they would get plenty of help from the addition of the Astros and their 19 easy matchups to the division, and the continued haplessness of the Mariners, too.
Yusmeiro Petit comes close to perfection, the Pirates stay stuck on 81 wins, the Red Sox nearly sweep the Yankees, and more.
The Weekend Takeaway Yu Darvish and Yusmeiro Petit don’t have a whole lot in common, apart from the first two letters of their first names. One throws a blazing fastball, the other barely touches 90 mph with his heater. One thrives on pure stuff, the other requires deception and command to miss barrels. One has the talent to win multiple Cy Young Awards, the other faces an uphill battle every March just to earn a big-league roster spot.
Tony Cingrani shows off his wheels, the Red Sox win a wild one in the Bronx, and Greg Holland delivers a strange sequence.
The Thursday Takeaway
According to general manager Walt Jocketty, when Johnny Cueto—who has been on the disabled list since June 29 while recovering from an aggravated lat strain—is ready to return to the Reds, he will do so as a reliever. Jocketty’s rationale for that plan, which could span the rest of the season, is that there aren’t any active minor-league affiliates with which Cueto could complete a step-by-step rehab assignment, stretching out his arm from start to start.
That puts the onus on the Reds’ five current starters, who have held down the fort for much of the summer. One of them, Tony Cingrani, spent two weeks on the shelf with a lower back strain, but returned to face the Cardinals in the series finale last night. He looked no worse for the wear—on the mound, at the plate, and on the base paths.
As the calendar flips to September and the rosters expand, the Reds bring up an outfielder with game-changing speed and the steals to prove it.
The Situation: With September upon us, a wave of young talent will be sampling the major-league level for the first time. With catalytic speed on both sides of the ball, Hamilton was a safe bet to get the call from the Reds. And as Sam Miller pointed out around this time last year, his speed could make a marginal difference over the last month of the regular season.
Background: Hamilton was a second-round pick in the 2009 draft, choosing baseball over his other athletic interests, which included both football and basketball. Hamilton was viewed by most as a raw athlete with remarkable speed, but his baseball skills were questioned after a disappointing professional debut in the Gulf Coast League. While the sample was small, the bat looked very light, a concern given the fact that Hamilton’s physical prowess closely resembled that of a high school track star rather than a professional baseball player.
Paul looks ahead to next month to help identify pitchers who might be worth targeting to bolster your squad.
We have just a month and a half left in the season, so teams have between 40 and 45 games left. As the sand in the hourglass that is the season drains, our ability to gain an edge drains with it. One area I believe remains exploitable, at least for a marginal edge, is scheduling—particularly in September. This can have value in all formats, too. What I did was look at every team’s schedule to find those with the most favorable setups as it relates to pitching so these teams will be facing the weakest offensive teams in high volumes. If you want to take advantage of this you can either trade for the front-liners on these teams or plan to scoop the backend guys as streaming options. I’ve got five teams to target.
Much has been made of their light schedule from the All-Star break on, with Buster Olney the first I can recall jumping on the point. A pair of series against the Cardinals is really the extent of their tough battles throughout the entire second half (“half,” as it were, just being a point of demarcation for the All-Star break, and while it’s never split at 81 games, this year wasn’t even close).
The time a team had nothing to show for its selections.
If you were trying to find the worst draft ever, where would you start? “Bad” we could probably agree on, but “worst” would certainly lead to an argument. You might, for instance, argue that the 1968 Washington Senators (later Texas Rangers) had the worst draft ever. This is a sterling position to have. The Senators that year managed to draft -6.9 WARP, which is not only the worst draft class ever by cumulative career WARP, but it’s a) two wins worse than the second-worst class, a giant margin in an otherwise tightly packed trailerboard; and b) it came in 1968, the same year that the Los Angeles Dodgers managed a draft class that put together an incredible 192 career WARP, the most ever by any team in any single year (though it took both June and January drafts for the Dodgers to reach such peaks, just as it took Washington both June and January drafts to dig such deficits).
But those Senators were only two or six wins worse than a whole slew of other teams that were below replacement level. Why not make the case that the Giants had the worst draft ever in 1982, because their failure cost them dozens of WARP? That year, their first-round pick (11th overall) was a college first baseman who would manage to bat just .188 in 16 career at-bats. And their second-round pick (39th overall) was a high school outfielder, a local kid, who would go on to hit 762 home runs in the majors—but who, because of a failed post-draft negotiation, hit 176 of them with the Pirates, who drafted and signed him three years later. Plenty of great players get drafted, don’t sign, and end up on in another team’s history—but the Giants were sooooo close. According to columnist Glenn Dickey,