Posts Tagged ‘Jose Bautista’

bryce-harper

The right field position traditionally has one job, and one job amongst all others: to rake. Some of the most potent power threats in the history of the game have called the right corner of the outfield home, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott and none other than Babe Ruth himself.

In today’s game, the tradition of the spot being home to some of the most prodigious hitters of the day has stayed true. Today, it is home to a trio of bats that have made 40 homers look like child’s play over the past few years, as well as another group behind them that ceaselessly chases 30 long balls with minimal effort. It is a competitive position that has seen a different player be ranked as the top gun at the spot in each of year that this list has been compiled as well. And if all things remain constant, it should continue to be a difficult one to keep a hold on at the top.

This is due to the fact that beyond just the pure power of the spot, it is also rapidly becoming a position that is home to players that would more traditionally make left or center field their home, due to their mixture of speed, on-base talents and glove work. Remember, right field was also where Tony Gwynn and Ichiro made their names as well, so this is nothing new.

So how does this all shake out headed into 2016? And can the new #1 hold his spot for another year? Let’s see who he is, as well as what the competition looks like along the way.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 

espnapi_dm_140605_mlb_news_carlos_beltran_retunrs_wmain

10. Carlos Beltran, Yankees (Not ranked in 2015)

2015: .276/.337/.471, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs scored, 34 doubles, 0 Stolen Bases, .808 OPS

Last 3 Years: .272/.327/.459 19 HR, 67 RBI, 61 runs scored, 29 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .787 OPS

The ageless Beltran put to bed any notions that he was over the hill at age 38 last year. After a 2014 debut in pinstripes that saw him be both ineffective at the plate and oft-injured, Beltran picked his numbers back up across the board last season and remained the club’s everyday right fielder. His average improved by over 40 points, and his contact rate improved significantly as well.

While he would be better suited for a DH role at this point in his career and could see more platoon work this year (his dWAR came in a full -2 games impact), Beltran’s offensive offering allows him to remain an asset for the Yanks. He is on pace to surpass 400 career home runs and 2,500 career hits this season, and has indicated that it will not be his last one, despite it being the final year of his Yankee deal.

 

9. Kole Calhoun, Angels (NR in ’15)

2015: .256/.308/.422 26 HR, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, 23 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .731 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.321/.439 17 HR, 58 RBI, 66 runs scored, 20 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .759 OPS

Calhoun followed up his breakout 2014 with another strong campaign last season, firmly settling himself in as one of the more underrated overall corner outfielders in the American League. The 28-year-old has hit 43 home runs over the past two years since getting an opportunity at regular playing time, and has done so while only playing over 150 games once.

What rounds him off most however is his defensive capabilities, which earned him the nod for the AL Gold Glove. Calhoun was good for six defensive runs saved, 11 outfield assists and a 2.30 range factor defending the area, which qualified for the best mark in the league.

 

8. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in ’15)

2015: .265/.312/.443 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs scored, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases, .755 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.328/.459 18 HR, 74 RBI, 64 runs scored, 28 doubles, 10 stolen bases, .786 OPS

Kemp found his stride in the bat-only, corner outfielder portion of his career in his first season as a Padre. He put to bed the concerns about his durability that had plagued him a few years ago, playing in 150 games for the second time in as many years. And one thing that is indisputable about Kemp: when he is healthy, he hits.

Kemp met the 100 RBI mark for the first time since 2011, while topping 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 150 hits for the second consecutive year. He even had a slight re-emergence of speed on the base paths as well, reaching double digits steals for the first time in 5 years as well. Entering only his age-31 season, Kemp stands to continue on the path of being a steady middle of the order bat that is short of being the superstar he once was, but being more than just a role player as well.

Apr 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) is safe at second base then steals third base against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .291/.341/.479 18 HR, 77 RBI, 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS

Last 2 Years: .291/.348/.471 12 HR, 48 RBI, 63 runs scored, 27 doubles, 14 stolen bases, .818 OPS

Betts has been a man on the move in regards to where his every day position will be. He rose through the system as a second baseman, but also displayed a clear athleticism that related well to centerfield duties as well. And now a year after proving himself in the heart of the outfield, he will move over to the right corner –for now at least.

But regardless of where he take he takes his glove, Betts proved himself to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his first full season, he made an impact everywhere possible, saving nine defensive runs in the field (often of the highlight variety), while also living up to the sizeable hype at the plate. In his first full season, he finished with 68 extra base hits, by way of 42 doubles, 8 triples and 18 home runs—good for a .820 OPS. He is on a crash course with being a perennial 20/20 threat.

 

6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#9 in ’15)

2015: .271/.325/.540, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 87 runs scored, 25 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .864 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.332/.540 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 runs scored, 21 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .864 OPS

As is always the case, when CarGo is healthy, CarGo is among the most impactful players in the game. Gonzalez finished a season for the first time since 2010, playing a career-best 153 contests and as a result, he finished second in the NL in home runs.

He got off to the worst start of his career throughout April and May, before strapping a rocket to his back mid-summer. He hit 36 home runs from June-September, while topping 20 RBI per month after the All-Star Break. While no longer the speed threat or high average producer he formerly was, Gonzalez settled in nicely as the second hammer to join Nolan Arenado at the heart of the Rockies lineup, although he is likely to be heavily shopped this summer as they continue to retool.

 

5. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (#8 in ’15)

2015: .282/.344/.535 38 HR, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles, 3 stolen bases, .879 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.333/.506 23 HR, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored, 27 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .840 OPS

If anyone had doubts about if the breakout player of the year from 2014 keeping up his out of the blue pace he found once he relocated from Houston, it is safe to say they have been put to bed now permanently. Martinez entrenched himself among the elite power hitters in all of the game last season, running his two-year total for long balls up to 61, the 11th best combined total in baseball over that time.

Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has carried at .296/.350/.543 split line, and drove in a career-best 102 runs ago as well. And despite what he has already established, it stands to reason that Martinez is line to put up even more potent numbers than he did in his Silver Slugger/All-Star 2015, with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, along with Victor Martinez watching his back. Martinez could be on a collision course with another 20+ RBI total increase this year.

 

4. Jason Heyward, Cubs (#5 in ’15)

2015: .293/.359/.797 13 HR, 60 RBI, 79 runs scored, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.353/.415 13 HR, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 15 stolen bases, .768 OPS

Perhaps the game’s premier outfield defender, Heyward alters the game from right field in a way that few players can from a corner defensive position. He took home his third Gold Glove in his only season in St. Louis, contributing a second consecutive year of a posting at least two Wins Above Replacement defensively. He posted a fielding percentage of .990+ for the third straight year as well, while still leading the game in right fielder range factor. Toss in his 10 outfield assists –which brought his two year total to 19— and Jey Hey is one of the most dangerous defenders in the game.

This norm continued while he stayed the course of rounding himself into a much more complete player at the plate as well. He achieved new career-highs in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage and stolen bases, all which contributed to a new personal high WAR of 6.5. And by relocating to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, his long-awaited power surge could finally be sparked as well.

 

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#2 in ’15)

2015: .250/.377/.536 40 HR, 114 RBI, 108 runs scored, 29 doubles, 8 stolen bases, .913 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.381/.521 34 HR, 97 RBI, 97 runs scored, 27 doubles, 7 stolen bases, .902 OPS

The most epic bat flip of the decade provided a fantastic cap to a year that deserved it from Joey Bats. It came on the heels of yet another season of being the preeminent power hitter in the American League, as Bautista topped 40 home runs for the third time in his career.  In route to making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance, Bautista also topped the AL in walks and finished in the AL top 10 in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging % and on-base + slugging % as well.

Yet while he has remained a superior power threat, he has also rounded into one of the most balanced hitters in the game as well. 2015 marked the second straight year where he hit at least 35 home runs and drove in 100 runs, while still working more than 100 walks, and still getting more free passes than he strike outs (214 walks compared to 202 K’s).

Stanton

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#1 in ’15)

2015: .265/.346/.606 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 runs scored, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .952 OPS

Last 3 Years: .270/.374/.541 29 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .915 OPS

If only he could have avoided yet another freakish injury last season, Stanton could have put on one of the best power displays seen in many years. In only 76 games, he hit 27 home runs, which worked out to a homer every 10 at-bats. If he had stayed at that clip and played a full second half, he would have reached 50 easily with some time to go still in September.

From a pure ability standpoint, there is no one at his level in regards to hitting the long ball today. Stanton is 26 years old and in line to top 200 career homers already this season, all while only playing 150 games in a season once. As his 2014 season showed, he is capable of doing prodigious numbers, even if surrounded by less talent than many other superstars are afforded. The only trick is to keep him on the field, because if he does, there will not be an MVP race in which his name is not mentioned.

 

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#3 in ’15)

2015: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, 38 doubles, 6 stolen bases, 1.109 OPS

Last 3 Years: .296/.401/.534, 25 HR, 63 RBI, 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .936 OPS

It is asinine to think that it was just last season that Harper was named “Most Overrated Player” in the game in a vote of his peers conducted by ESPN. Because apparently Harper’s ears were wide open for that and he put all of his considerable talents towards creating a coming of age that had to be seen to be believed. With his propensity for running into walls behind him, he launched an all-out assault on everything thrown his way that saw him become the third youngest MVP winner of all-time, behind such substantial company as Johnny Bench and Stan Musial.

At age 22, Harper led the National League in home runs and runs scored, as well as on-base, slugging and on-base + slugging percentages, while finishing second in batting average. His MLB-leading ballpark adjusted OPS+ of 195 showed that he dominated at every park with the same ferocious nature across the board. So complete was Harper’s effort that he hit .335 with 35 homers against righties and .318 against lefties, with only two more strikeouts than walks. Yet, the greatest testament to Harper’s year is that while it was a huge leap from where he was before, at only 23 he has proven that he is the best hitter in the National League already and he is only getting started—he won’t even turn 30 until 2023.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Hunter Pence, Giants; George Springer, Astros.

Coming into 2015, “rebound field” may be the better way to view the group that inherits this list, as much of its population is in flux in one way or another. Whether it be an injury rehab, a positional relocation or simply reestablishing some stock that had taken a shift over the past few years, the position is far from solid in terms of determining its hierarchy.

StantonRF

But with so many different factors weighing in, how does a true ranking really get determined? There are some clear impact players that register on any board, such as the NL’s MVP runner up, a pair that finished 1-2 in a prior MVP race that are now retooling their respective games, the game’s most brimming potential talent, and finally, the biggest defensive difference maker in the game. But each has a caution flag and point to prove entering the year as well, making it as difficult to decipher group as there is in the game.

But all things considered, it is an enticingly talented group that IF most of its inhabitants can perform up to their billing; it will be a complexity of a much different type to readdress around this time next year.

 

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#8 in 2014): He unleashed nearly his full potential a year ago, in route to establishing himself as the game’s top power threat. His 37 home runs led the National League, as did his .555 slugging percentage and 299 total bases. Stanton’s unfortunate run in with a Mike Fiers’ fastball to his face stopped him short of running his output even higher, but that did not stop the Marlins from rewarding their 25-year-old cornerstone with the largest contract in sports history.

2-year average: .271 average/.904 OPS/30 home runs/84 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#5 in ’14): For the first time in three years, Bautista was truly back to full strength in 2014, and he returned to stand among the top of the American League hitter’s food chain. His 35 home runs were the fifth most in the league and he took home his third career Silver Slugger as a result. One of the underrated parts of his game is the impact his arm makes as well, as his 12 outfield assists were tops among all MLB right fielders.

2-year average: .274 average/.896 OPS/32 home runs/88 RBI/26 doubles/6 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#4 in left field in ’14): Again plagued by injuries throughout the regular season, Harper played a career-low 100 games a year ago. As a result his numbers dipped across the board and even made a few people question his still sky high potential. But the then 21-year-old was one of the few live wires in the Nats Division Series versus the Giants, clubbing three huge home runs and instantly reminding everyone of why he carries the rep he does. And he’s only 22 and settling into a new position—while finding his way.

2-year average: .273 average/.815 OPS/16 home runs/45 RBI/17 doubles/6 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

4. Hunter Pence, Giants (#9 in ’14): As well, due to his quirky mannerisms and awkward style, Pence’s play is one of the most underrated parts of what sets the Giants apart. His 106 runs scored were the second most in the NL, while his 180 hits were the third most in the league. Pence turned in a .444 World Series average to top it all off as well. He has also been stunningly consistent—and therefore regularly agitating for opponents and rival fans alike—playing in all 162 games each of the past two seasons.

2-year average: .280 average/.799 OPS/24 home runs/86 RBI/32 doubles/18 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

5. Jason Heyward, Cardinals (Not Ranked): The multi-talented corner outfielder has spun between heart of the lineup presence and back up to patient table setter over the past few years while looking to develop an offensive identity. But one thing that has remained intact is that he arguably makes the biggest defensive outfield impact in the game. In route to winning his second Gold Glove, he counted for 30 runs saved in the field and cut down nine base runners from right as well.

2-year average: .264 average/.752 OPS/12 home runs/48 RBI/24 doubles/11 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

DOG-score1-articleLarge

6. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in center field in ’14): There was so much discussion about how long he would stay in LA last year, as well as how long he could stay healthy, that it was lost in the mix that he put up his best season in years along the way. Kemp made the transition to the corner outfield and hit 25 home runs, drove in 89 runs and tied a career-high with 38 doubles. Now his encore season will be cast as the the center attraction in the Padres aggressive facelift effort.

2-year average: .281 average/.810 OPS/16 home runs/61 RBI/26 doubles/8 stolen bases/.971 Fld%

7. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#1 in ’14): Braun slipped to career-low levels for a majority season’s work during his return to the field from the despicable season-ending suspension. But considering what he was before his two injury and suspension filled 2013-14 campaigns, along with some solid, yet unspectacular numbers a year ago (19 home runs, 81 RBI, 30 doubles) he still deserves some benefit of the doubt for a revival.

2-year average: .275 average/.805 OPS/14 home runs/60 RBI/22 doubles/8 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

8. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (Not Ranked): He figured it all out in a major way after making it to Detroit last year, hitting 23 home runs, turning in a .315 average and filling a much needed void in offense in the evolving Tiger lineup. His rapid ascension could cause some skepticism, but Martinez only hit south of .340 during one of the year’s final four months, when he turned in a .265 August mark….only to return with a season-high .354 in September. So he passes the smell test for now.

2-year average: .289 average/.808 OPS/15 home runs/56 RBI/24 doubles/4 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

9. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#5 in center field in ’14): 2014 was a total loss for Cargo, hitting .238 and missing over half of the season’s games after finally succumbing to a bad knee that required August surgery. But he stays relevant simply because of what he is capable of when right, which has included Gold Gloves in two of the last three years and four consecutive years of 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons.

2-year average: .276 average/.864 OPS/18 home runs/54 RBI/19 doubles/12 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

10. Torii Hunter, Twins (Not Ranked): Consistency pays out big after a while, and the recent late career groove that Hunter has been in is a remarkable one to watch. The now 39-year-old has refused to decline, and his offensive production is at nearly the same level it was a decade ago. And now as he returns back to his original home with the Twins, it should not be a surprise that does far more than just be a veteran influence on his young teammates.

2-year average: .295 average/.783 OPS/17 home runs/84 RBI/35 doubles/4 stolen bases/.982 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Michael Cuddyer, Jay Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Kole Calhoun

The boys came to play in the American League this summer. Plenty of strong cases were made for the league’s top honor, with a mixture of standard bearers, returns to form and breakout campaigns. But in the end It was the coming of age proved to be undeniable in deciding who was the top gun in the junior circuit. And when all things are considered, it really ended up not being that close. Because the unstoppable force simply refused to be denied any longer.

2014 American League Stan Musial Player of the Year—Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels

 mike-trout-600x399

The coming of age has come to be. The rise of Mike Trout has been far from a secret; he has been baseball’s hottest commodity for the past three summers. However, before this summer is that there has always been a caveat to his status as the prime property in the game. Whether it was Miguel Cabrera’s undeniable run at the plate or the struggles of the Angels in light of their expectation, there has consistently been something that has stood in the way of crowning the game’s most precociously best talent with its premier prize.

But the summer of 2014 saw the irresistible force breakthrough completely. What Trout has done most remarkably in his young career is answer the task that

His ever maturing game took another turn this year, as he embraced more of the run-producing element of his game this year. Trout muscled up and hit a career-best 36 home runs, the third best total in the AL this year. He added another career-high with 111 RBI, as well as total bases with 338, both ranking as the top totals in the AL. In addition, he paced the league in runs scored for a third straight year with 115 and finished in the top 10 in doubles with 39 and second with 9 triples.

Yet at the cost of power, some of the categories that he had previously dominated took a slight dip. His averaged finished at .287, the first time he posted a full-season total below .300 (although it still finished in the top 15 in the league) and his stolen bases clipped down to 16. Also, his strikeouts jumped up to a league-high 184.

Those factors could be seen as it being a down year of sorts for Trout. Or perhaps a return to the mean after an unbelievably overwhelming start to his career. However, there was still no more important player in all aspects of the game for his team than Trout, as while he dipped in some areas, he morphed his game into exact what the Angels needed most this year.

With Josh Hamilton out of the mix with injuries, the need for a middle of the lineup run producer was needed much more than a table-setting spark plug at the top of the lineup. So when call was made for help there, Trout answered and channeled his talents into fueling one the AL’s most potent offenses. He drove in 20 runs in three separate months and hit at least five home runs in each month. While his overall average slid some, he hit .321 in April and .361 in June.

Measuring him at the plate alone still limits the overall contributions he made. He is still the glue that holds together the Angels outfield, covering the confines of centerfield easily with some athleticism to burn. On the base paths, he puts pitchers on alert and eats extra bases for any ball that either finds a gap or a step too slow outfielder. That is why is he the visual explanation to the mystery of the Wins Above Replacement figure—which he has led the Majors in each full year of his career, including the 7.9 indispensable wins he created this time around—there is simply nothing that is outside of his reach.

He plays the game hard every time out, puts on a the full buffet of talents seemingly on-demand and for the first time, is playing it to win, as the Angels took home the AL’s best record at 98-64. When the most talented player in the game also does all of the small things more consistently than anyone else, there is not much that can be done to stop him. And that is what makes Trout so special.

And the best part about it all: it’s only beginning. Trout Version 3.0 is the MVP, just as Versions 1.0 and 2.0 laid legit claim to, albeit in completely different fashions. It is fairly certain that Version 4.0 will take the same path, but I am already looking forward to how he goes about it.

Runners Up

  1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He was a hitting machine this year for the Tigers, often being the team’s top bat, which is saying a lot when Miguel Cabrera is a part of your lineup. He led the AL in on-base percentage (.409) and finished second with a .335 batting average, and connected for a career-best 32 home runs. He only struck out in 6% of his 641 plate appearances (42 times).
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros: Houston mighty mite posted the top average in the game at .341 and led the AL with 56 stolen bases. He also ran up a club record 225 hits while becoming the first Astro to win a batting title.
  3. Michael Brantley, Indians: It all came together for Brantley this year, as he posted one of most well-rounded campaigns in the game this year. His .327 average was third in the AL, while he also hit 20 home runs, 45 doubles, stole 23 bases and 200 total hits.
  4. Adam Jones, Orioles: Jones carried the weight both at the plate and in the field for the beat up, yet still division champion O’s. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 96, while playing perhaps the best defensive center field in the league.
  5. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: The intense leader of the A’s played his usual brilliant two-way game, driving in 98 runs and playing a far and away best third base in the game with the glove (2.7 dWAR).
  6. Nelson Cruz, Orioles: He led the AL with 40 home runs during his comeback season, and drove in 108 runs as well.
  7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Joey Bats health stayed faithful to him, and he got back to destroying baseball to the tone of 35 homers, 103 RBI and scored 101 runs scored.
  8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: A “down year” for Miggy has basically become one where he doesn’t win at least a batting title, and while he did not reach that mark this year, he did lead the Majors with 52 doubles and crossed 100 RBI for the 11th straight year.
  9. Robinson Cano, Mariners: The home runs weren’t as high, but his Seattle debut was definitely a success. He hit .314 with 82 RBI while reviving competitive baseball in the northwest.

Past CSP Votes

2013: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2012: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2011: Justin Verlander, Tigers

yasiel-puig-20141

The position that Babe Ruth first defined, and Hank Aaron later rewrote the record book from is always a home of some of the most potent bats in any era of the game. Today’s offering features that traditional grouping of power conduits, but has also been influenced by a defensive presence that has also been more aligned with center field traditionally, as well as more overall skilled contributors that left fielders have been.

Yet when looking at what is at the position now, there is a mixture of everything at the spot—and that is all before accounting for a new addition to role that has been one of the game’s most all-around talented (and recently controversial) players in the game. All things considered, it’s one of the toughest positions to pull one factor apart from the others, due to offering of skills across the board.

But that’s what I’m here to do, so that’s what we’ll do. Here is the final of this winter’s positional ranks (as well move into pitchers next). As well as one of the toughest to pull apart, between the new additions, the one-year sensations and the standard bearers—both young and established.

 

10. Jayson Werth, Nationals: Year three in DC was much better for The Beard as he delivered what was paid for finally. He delivered a .318 average, along with a .398 on-base percentage via 147 hits, 25 home runs and 82 RBI in 129 games.

9. Hunter Pence, Giants: He put his awkward looking, yet very complete game on full display last season. He topped 90 RBI for the fourth straight year, stole 22 bases and covered more ground in right by the numbers than any other player in baseball.

8. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The potential is brimming to break over the top, but he just needs to stay on the field to fully deliver on it. Still, he has hit 107 home runs before his 24th birthday, many of the “no doubt” variety—his 2013 average was 413 feet.

Allen_Craig21

7. Allen Craig, Cardinals: He is moving back to the outfield on a more full-time basis this summer, but he’ll be taking the game’s best everyday clutch bat along with him. In addition to his overall .315 average and 97 RBI in 2013, he hit a staggering 59-for-130 (.454 average) and 83 of those RBI with runners in scoring position.

6. Shane Victorino, Red Sox: He found his way again in the Red Sox ensemble and was a memorable part of the push that took the club to a third World Series in 10 years. In the process he also became the best defensive right fielder in the American League by a fair margin, being responsible for a 2.2 wins with his glove alone.

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Injuries have clipped his production some over the past two years, but he remains among the elite power threats in the game. He hit 97 home runs between 2010-11, and despite his injury-related decline, he has stayed in the top 10 in the MLB home runs per at-bat the past two years.

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: The enigmatic Puig’s approach can be questioned, but the results are beyond reproach. A testament to the value that WAR showcases, in 104 games (hitting .319), he turned around the entire direction of the Dodger season, and consequently, the direction of the franchise as well. He’s a natural—even if it gets clouded in perception.

3. Carlos Beltran, Yankees: His late career resurgence has kept him moved him to the elite class of corner outfielders, as well as becoming the centerpiece of which the Yankee offensive rebuilding effort is based. In his two years in St. Louis, his average season was a .282/.343/.493 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI.

Ryan_Braun

2. Jay Bruce, Reds: He’s 26 years old has never had a season under 20 home runs in his first six seasons. Over the past three, he’s turned it up to 30+. In 2013, he produced a 30 homer, 43 double, 109 RBI effort, but arguably his greater impact continues to be in the field. He had the second best fielding percentage, range rating and outfield assist totals a year ago as well.

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers: The move across the outfield doesn’t change anything about his standing amongst his new peers, and until further notice, neither does the post PED edition either. Braun is simply one of the best hitters of his era; three times in the last five years his season total has seen a .300 average, 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 100 RBI, 20 stolen bases and over 330 total bases.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jason Heyward, Wil Myers, Torii Hunter

For more on the upcoming season and the ranks here, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Yahoo

I present to you a struggle that many can relate to….the struggle of a fantasy sports season gone bad from the beginning.

I was riding high coming into my fantasy baseball Draft last March. I was coming off a strong run of being in first place nearly the entire season, before a single hit knocked me out of the playoffs (against my father no less). I’d drafted well the year before, made some shrewd moves and put myself in good position to win my second consecutive championship. The loss was okay, I can deal with it.

Back to last year’s draft, I was ready. I’d done my research, was obviously ready up on the happenings around baseball and was sitting in a nice spot in the middle of the first round, with the sixth pick out of 12 teams. I was ramped up and ready to go.

And then I picked the worst team in the history of the game, about the game.

There are a few things that went wrong here that were outside of my control, with regularity: injuries ravished my roster, nearly from the beginning. This happens; it’s the nature of the game. Also, there were some guys that plain didn’t perform up to their expected levels. Once again, the nature of the game. All in all, the season was rough as it gets, and anti-2011. I stuck around the middle of the pack all year, made every deft trade I possibly could with the underachieving roster I had, but nothing gave, and I was bludgeoned out of the playoffs in round 1, with very little fight. It was the worst finish I’ve had, and the longest season of the all.

But in the middle of all-that there was also some pure user error, and while everything is 20/20 in hindsight, there were some plain mistakes I made in evaluating and approaching the draft from the beginning.

And with that, I present to you my tragically flawed shadow of the summer of 2012: the 6-Tool Superstars, whose name will prove ironic as possible.

 

Pick 5—Jose Bautista: The lure was the fact he hit 97 home runs over 2010-11, and was eligible at two positions. He was an on-base machine as well, that led the league in walks and hit .302 the year before. But really, it was a reach on the single homer stat alone, and predictably, he regressed. He still hit 27 long balls, but he stunk it up everywhere else. A late season surge helped him pick UP his average to .241, before two wrist injuries ended his season in August.

The great conflict between me here was between him and Ryan Braun, who I gave into the suspicion about PED performance, although I never believed he was implicated in, as well as the loss of Prince Fielder as his protection. And all Braun did was have the best year of his life. Figures.

Pick 20—Roy Halladay: The greatest tragedy of them all, this was a colossal mistake on every level for me. Firstly, I took a pitcher not named Verlander in the top 24 picks. Secondly, his arm died early on in the year, and I couldn’t even trade out on name value alone. Worst of all, lost potential everyday value from Andrew McCutchen, Adrian Beltre and Mark Teixeira in the name of landing the pitcher formerly known as Doc too.

Pick 29—Giancarlo Stanton: Great pick, best of the draft. He won’t be there this late this time around.

Pick 44—Dan Uggla: Worst pick of the entire draft, and when I looked back at this I spit my coffee up on my screen. It was a pure reach for positional value that would have been bad even if he was good by his own standards. Uggla staying healthy actually hurt me, with his 19 homers and .220 average.

Pick 53—Eric Hosmer: The reach of the draft, where I felt like I’d gotten a steal and justified my passing up of the first and second-tier of first baseman. The sophomore slump hit Hos like a truck, and while he gained some value in the second half, he didn’t top 15 homers or a .240 average.

Hosmer's struggles held the Royals back, but in the Fantasy world, he missed his expectations by miles.

Hosmer’s struggles held the Royals back, but in the Fantasy world, he missed his expectations by miles.

Pick 68—CJ Wilson: He started off a virtuoso in the first few months, and then hit the absolute bottom of the tank by the second. He turned out a 5.54 second half ERA, before exiting the season injured as well.

Pick 77—Shin-Soo Choo: He’s a steadily consistent guy, that’s the type you want to grab here. Finally was healthy (155 games) and gave me 43 doubles and 21 steals (the only runner on the team; another huge draft error).

Pick 92—Joe Mauer: My sleeper pick that made good. He tumbled down the draft boards due to his injury history, but I grabbed him right when the run on catchers was about to take off.  Joe led the American League in on-base percentage, and had first base eligibility too, which was needed mid-Hosmer’s year long tumble down off the year two cliff.

Pick 101—Josh Johnson: Another reach that wasn’t made good on, completely. He started off slow, working through his rehab from shoulder surgery, but I cashed in on him by trading for Brett Lawrie….who also ended up out for most of the August/September. Figures.

Pick 116—Heath Bell: Sigh….moving right along.

After the tenth round, things are usually about finding depth, and this actually treated me well. Landing Derek Jeter in the 11th round and Adam Dunn in the 16th were solid picks that paid off throughout the year. But overall, even this late, solid draft picks just didn’t show up. Cameron Maybin (12th), Jonny Venters (17th), Trevor Cahill (20th) and Justin Masterson (19th) couldn’t match their fantastic 2011 efforts. Andrew Bailey (13th) and Brandon McCarthy (22nd) never got healthy either, and Jesus Montero (15th) or Zack Cozart (23rd) never lived up to their impact rookie billing.

All in all, a frustrating season, but flawed from the start. Three things win Fantasy Baseball: high team on-base percentage pitching depth and speed. They are fringe stats that can be picked up sparingly across the board, but must be had. This team had none of those, and when coupled with a few long-range reaches and an injury sheet that looked like an episode of the Walking Dead, there’s nowhere to go but up soon.

Maybe I’ll skip pre-draft beers this time..

 

For more on the game in all its forms and formats, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The American League East is the best collection of teams in all of sports. However, last summer/fall, it was also the scene of both biggest collapse and one of the greatest comebacks ever in sports as well. The Boston Red Sox entered the season with all of the juice, after owning the free agent market the previous winter. They also entered September with a 9.5 game lead….which they hacked off, and ultimately blew on the last day of the season, and put the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs.

Actual Standings

  1. New York Yankees (97-65)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71)
  3. Boston Red Sox (90-72)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93)

    Longoria's last inning walk off launched the Rays into another October, while dooming the Red Sox all at once.

So what now? The Yankees are the most consistent team in baseball over the last 5 years, but haven’t been able to break through since 2009. The Blue Jays and Orioles have been the perpetual underdogs, but have gone in different directions in their efforts to shake that role. Can the Rays keep the momentum of a strong finish last fall, coupled with another wave of young talent coming to the forefront? Finally, in Boston is the curse back or will they have a rebound season and take the fight to the rest of the division themselves this year…

All-Division Team

Catcher: Matt Wieters – Orioles

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox

Second Base: Robinson Cano – Yankees

Third Base: Evan Longoria – Rays

Shortstop: Derek Jeter – Yankees

Left Field: Carl Crawford – Red Sox

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox

Right Field: Jose Bautista – Blue Jays

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz – Red Sox

 

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia – Yankees

Starting Pitcher: James Shields – Rays

Starting Pitcher: David Price – Rays         

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester – Red Sox

Sabathia has averaged 19 wins per year in the Bronx since returning to the AL in 2009.

Bullpen Righty: David Robertson – Yankees

Bullpen Lefty: Darren Oliver – Blue Jays

Closer: Mariano Rivera – Yankees

 

Best Players

  1. Robinson Cano – Yankees
  2. Jose Bautista – Blue Jays
  3. Mariano Rivera – Yankees
  4. Evan Longoria – Rays
  5. Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox
  6. CC Sabathia – Yankees
  7. Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox
  8. Mark Teixeira – Yankees
  9. Curtis Granderson – Yankees
  10. Dustin Pedroia – Red Sox

 

Bautista has taken many baseballs into the stratosphere the last two years. Now it's time to bring the rest of the Jays with him.

Lineup

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

One thru seven, there is no such thing as a break in the Yankee lineup. They were in the top three in every major offensive category in 2011, and A-Rod is alledgely in the best shape he’s been in for years. In Boston, there are still some missing pieces to injury woes, but the potential is still there for them to be devastating as well. The Blue Jays are based around Joey Bats, but as a team they have led the AL in homers as recently as 2010, and are getting better.

Rotation

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

    Embarassment of Riches: Shields heads a dominant Rays staff, that actually has too few spots to let all of it's talent shine.

Top to bottom, there’s no better group in baseball than Tampa’s. After the obvious headache of James Shields and David Price at the top, there’s 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, then either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann, and finally topped off by uber-prospect Matt Moore, who could make it back-to-back Rays ROY’s. If Phil Hughes can round back into shape, coupled with repeat rookie performances from Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the Yanks could have their best arms offering in years.

1-2 Punch

  1. Rays (Shields & Price)
  2. Yankees (Sabathia & Pineda)
  3. Red sox (Beckett & Lester)
  4. Blue Jays (Romero & Morrow)
  5. Orioles (Britton & Hammel)

In the last two years, both Shields and Price have taken turns finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting. Price racked up a career high 218 K’s last summer, and “Complete Game” James led the MLB with 11 games started and finished. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester both have all the stuff in the world, but lacks of health and focus hid that for much of last year. Ricky Romero is one of the best arms nobody talks about up in T-Dot.

Bullpen

  1. Yankees
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

If the starters lag, the Yanks have more than enough firepower held back. In what could be Rivera’s victory lap season, he’s joined by Robertson and Rafeal Soriano, both former All-Stars in their own right. Francisco Cordero and Sergio Santos both joined the Toronto pen this winter and will be a tough 8-9 combo. Andrew Bailey is has been annually among the best ninth inning guys in the biz, and will come out of the shadows of Oakland to showcase in Boston this year.

Tablesetters

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury & Pedroia)
  2. Yankees (Jeter & Granderson)
  3. Rays (Jennings & Upton)
  4. Blue Jays (Escober & Johnson)
  5. Orioles (Chavez & Hardy)

Ellsbury was always a burner on the bases, but he took his game to another level last year, knocking out 32 homers while still swiping 39 bags. Pedroia is one of the best do-it-all guys in the game, and stole 29 bases of his own in ’10. Granderson brings 40 home run power to the second spot in the Yankee ambush, while Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton both have a very real shot at 40 steals this year.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Yankees (Cano/Teixeira/Rodriguez)
  2. Red Sox (Gonzalez/Youkilis/Ortiz)
  3. Rays (Longoria/Pena/Zobrist)
  4. Blue Jays (Bautista/Lind/Encarnacion)
  5. Orioles (Markakis/Jones/Wieters)

As a unit, there’s no more dangerous core of any lineup than the Yanks 3-4-5. Cano has hit .300 with 40 doubles and 25 homers for the last three years, Teixeira has averaged 37 homers a year since coming to the Bronx and A-Rod only has, oh, 629 homers himself. Carlos Pena comes to find himself in nice company between two of the game’s most complete players in Tampa, and Bautista has hit 97 homers over the last two years. If Carl Crawford gets healthy, he takes the Red Sox group to another level.

Markakis and Jones are two of the few bright spots in a rough situation in Baltimore.

Bench

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays

Darnell McDonald, Mike Aviles and Nick Punto give the Sox a very versatile offering that really fortifies their defensive potential. Francisco Cervelli is a starter quality backstop in many places, perhaps including New York. Jeff Keppinger is a toolsy player that Joe Maddon will make good use of.

Defense

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Red Sox
  5. Blue Jays

There’s no where the Rays are bad on defense, and it is a major reason why their more hallowed pitching staff has the success it does. Longoria and Pena can shutdown the corners, while Upton, Jennings and Joyce may be the best defensive outfield in baseball. Cano and Teixeira make hitting the ball through the right side nearly impossible in NY.

Speed

  1. Rays
  2. Red Sox
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

The Rays are young and play like it. They get plus speed from several places, and Ben Zobrist has 43 steals while only being cut down nine times over the last two years. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Crawford, if ever on the field together for long, could swipe 100 bags easy. On the other side, the Orioles have been very stationary since injuries took under Brian Roberts two years ago.

Manager

  1. Joe Maddon, Rays
  2. Joe Girardi, Yankees
  3. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox
  4. Buck Showalter, Orioles
  5. John Farrell, Blue Jays

Maddon gets more out of his squad, in spite of nearly constantly playing against the odds, than any other manager in the game. On the other side, it’s often popular to think the Yankees just buy wins, but Girardi is a great manager of both players and people. For a team coming off a tumultuous year, it will be interesting to see how the lively Valentine injects himself into steadying a situation such as the Sox locker room.

Valentine will be charged with settling down a carnival of both talent and personality in year one in Boston.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Matt Moore (Pitcher, Rays)
  2. Felix Doubront (Pitcher, Red Sox)
  3. Dellin Betances (Pitcher, Yankees)
  4. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher, Blue Jays)
  5. Tsuyoshi Wada (Pitcher, Orioles)

Moore is so talented that no less of a baseball mind than Maddon recognized he was talented enough to kick off the Rays playoff stand last year as Game 1 starter after only nine innings of MLB experience beforehand. Doubront could be a major factor on if a turnaround season in Fenway really can happen. Japanese import Wada could be a very important factor in stabilizing the Orioles shaky pitching.

Finances

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Red Sox and Yankees battles on the field are legendary, but their battles at the bank are nearly just as legendary. The edge in the financial war goes to the Sox right now, as they have more needs that they are willing to pay out for throughout the year. Also, the Yanks have to be cognizant of not picking up many more big contracts so they don’t violate the payroll penalty feature of the new CBA agreement.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
  2. Desmond Jennings, Rays
  3. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
  4. Daniel Bard, Red Sox
  5. Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in baseball. However, in a few years he may not even be the best in his own division, by no fault of his own. Toronto’s 22 year old third sacker is the truth, and he’s about to get his first full year to show it. Jennings showed why losing Crawford was more than manageable for the Rays, after hitting 10 homers and stealing 20 bases in 63 late season games. Hellickson has right handed Tom Glavine written all over him, and kept his ERA under three as a rookie in baseball’s best hitting division.

Impact Additions

  1. Michael Pineda, (Yankees from Mariners)
  2. Andrew Bailey (Red Sox from A’s)
  3. Mark Melancon (Red Sox from Astros)
  4. Carlos Pena (Rays from Cubs)
  5. Cody Ross (Red Sox from Giants)

Pineda was often the most impressive pitcher in Seattle a year ago, which is saying A LOT since he was following behind Felix Hernandez. But the 6’7 righty was often dominant, making the All-Star Game as a rookie. Bailey can relate to this scenario, as he moves east after being Rookie of the Year and an All-Star twice in his first two seasons. Along with Melancon, the backend of the Sox pen will tough.

 

2011 PROJECTION

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Baseball’s five tools are hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, throwing and defense. And the Rays are by and far the best at doing a little bit of everything in the game. Top off their talent in the field with a manager in Maddon that can get the most of team consistently, and a team that will find more ways to win than any other in the game. They just play pure detail, intangible surplus baseball.

And it’s not that it will be easy though. The Yankees will potentially be a better team than they were a year ago. They’ll score a lot of runs and get a definite chance to win every fifth day on CC’s turn. But how will their revamped and rehabbed pitching staff do? They’ve tried to hit their way to the title the last two years, but have come up short.

Not much reason to think anything different will happen this year yet. It could also be a repeat story in Boston and Toronto. To the Blue Jays credit, they have continually gotten better over the last two years, and could be ready to take another gradual step this year by snatching third place from the Red Sox. However, last season very well still could be an aberration for the BoSox. There’s so much talent on that team, and some smart additions as well, it would be foolish to count them out.  However, it would be foolish to think that the perpetually backsliding Orioles will do anything different this summer, and I smell a fire sale of the few attractive parts of that collection coming up this summer.

If this year’s Wild Card rules were in play last year, three AL East teams would have made the postseason, and that very well could still happen this year. But in the end, the south (of the division) shall rise again. The East’s Florida contingent won in 2008, then in 2010 and in ’12, they’ll take home another title.

 

Don’t forget to check out both the American League West & Central previews from this week as well.

 

Next week, its National League forecast time during the last week of Spring Training. What does the Senior Circuit have in store? For the lead up to that, and reflections on this and more, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Tough week at the top for the top 5 from last week’s poll, as none of them could carry a winning record and the Yankees in particular stuck in a major rut that featured only one win. Two clubs were knocked from the top of their divisions in the National League, and the one Cy Young leader took two losses in one week for the only club that retained their division lead.

Lincecum's hot hand has the Giants looking like champs again...and rising up the Poll.

There was a lot of movement in the middle of the pack, however, so if there happens to be another week like this one, there could be a completely different look to this poll very soon. But for now, here’s how it goes and it looks somewhat familar….for now.

1. Phillies (1): The Phils hold down number one again, on the basis of they split a ridiculously tough week against their top division foes in Florida and Atlanta, but ace Roy Halladay took 2 L’s in the process (both coming in complete games), which kept it from being a big statement week.

2. Indians (2): They had their home winning streak ended at 14 games, but the Tribe’s amazing early season run continues atop the AL Central. They only got one game in during a nearly completely rained out weekend series against the Mariners, which could have propelled them to the top of this poll.

3. Rays (3): They continued to prove they are legit, after opening up the week ending the Indians home invincibility. Matt Joyce has kept his hot bat and is now tied for the AL lead in hitting at .368 coming into the week.

4. Reds (8): They may have made another statement this week, by knocking off the bottom of the Central in Houston, before taking the fight to Cardinals by sweeping them….and taking first place in the process.

5. Giants (11): They continued to take advantage of the slumping Rockies, and took over first place for the first time this season out west. Tim Lincecum is riding a 17 inning scoreless streak currently, and overall they have won eight of nine games.

6. Angels (6): The Halos dropped two series last week, and Jared Weaver has now lost 3 starts in a row after opening up 6-0. In dropping two during a weekend series to the Rangers, their lead in the West is down to half a game.

7. Cardinals (5): After having not lost a series since the first week of April, the Cardinals were brought back to reality in an aggressive way over the weekend, being swept by their divisional rivals in Cincinnati and slipping into second place behind them as well.

8. Marlins (7): Although they lost their week-opening series against the Phillies, they did defeat Roy Halladay for the one win in the series with ace Josh Johnson starting, 2-1. Their biggest task now is a balancing act between holding off the charging Braves and still being able to narrow the gap between them and Philly as well.

9. Braves (10): Dan Uggla’s 8th inning solo homer was the second of the year that the Phil’s Halladay has surrendered, and pushed his average over .200 finally. It also gave the Braves their second series win over the division leading Phillies in the young season.

10. Yankees (4): The Yanks are mired in an all-around bad situation right now, being in their longest losing streak (5 games) in 2 years, dropping their fifth out of six matchups against the Red Sox this season and topping it off with veteran Jorge Posada opting out of the lineup and adding yet another element to the struggle in the Bronx.

11. Tigers (15): Justin Verlander almost went back to back with his no-hit bids last week, and didn’t allow a hit over a span of 50 batters at one point over three starts. In the process the Tigers are having a season-high 7 game win streak as well.

12. Royals (12): The Royals have continued to play solid baseball, as evidenced by their first series win in New York since 1999. However after dropping 2 games to them over the weekend, they were overtaken for second place in the AL Central by the surging Tigers.

13. Rangers (13): Even with their multiple injury issues, the Rangers are still plugging along, and made a move to regain control in the AL West after winning 2 of 3 from the Angels over the weekend. Josh Hamilton is already taking batting practice in his recovery from a broken wrist, and if he can rejoin the club soon, they could be in position to make another big statement like their early April impact.

14. Red Sox (16): For the first time in the season, the Red Sox are at .500, with 20 wins and losses. This weekend capped what has been the one surefire bright spot for the team this season: they are handling the Yankees with ease. In 14 innings against the Yanks this year, Josh Beckett has only allowed 6 hits, has 19 strikeouts and 0.00 ERA.

15. Rockies (9): The hard times continue in Colorado, as they dropped two series this week against the lowly Mets and Padres, and finally saw what was a 4.5 game lead in the West be overtaken in the process.

16. Blue Jays (21): Jose Bautista got a full week back in the lineup, and the Jays turned the corner. His three home run game on Sunday pulled them into a tie for third place in the East, and if they can stay at it, they’ll be able to benefit big time from the inconsistencies that have plagued New York and Boston recently.

17. A’s (14): Trevor Cahill finally showed himself to be beatable, giving up 10 hits over seven innings and dropping the deciding game of a weekend series versus the White Sox. He only allowed two earned runs however in the process, and his ERA raised to 1.82 in the process…still good for second in the AL.

18. Dodgers (20): The guys in LA seem to refuse to NOT define what a .500 club is all about. After taking two from a hot Pirates club to start the week out, they lost a chance to get into the picture atop the West by losing 2 of 3 to the D’Backs…at home.

19. Orioles (28): The streakiest club in the game turned their fortunes around this past week, winning five of six versus the Mariners and Rays. But for a squad that has had both an 8-game losing streak along with multiple stretches such as the one they are currently riding this year, tomorrow never knows.

20. Brewers (27): After being roughed up in his debut (4 innings, 4 runs and a loss), Zack Greinke has answered with wins his last two starts, and is providing some real confidence on the mound for a team that had none while he was out.

21. Mets (23): The Mets won two series in one week for the first time all season, but had a rough road along the way to doing it. They lost Chris Young for the season to a shoulder muscle tear and their leading RBI man Ike Davis landed on the DL as well.

22. Nationals (19): The Nats hit a rough spot last week, as the Marlins and Braves handled them in short order last week. On the bright side, Jason Marquis picked up both of their wins last week, and his tied for the NL lead in wins with 5.

23. Pirates (17): The Bucs have been playing solid ball, but they are currently in the middle of their longest losing streak of the season, at five games. For a club that is not used to really any level of success, how they react to either ending this stretch, or giving into it, will tell a lot about who they are.

24. Mariners (18): For the last few weeks they were looking like they were ready to make an earnest push to be in the AL West mix, but they have now dropped six straight games, and perhaps mercifully had their last two games of the weekend in Cleveland rained out.

25. Cubs (24): Since the beginning of May, they have only been able to put together back-to-back wins once, and considering they are in middle of a brutal stretch of scheduling fate (Cardinals, Giants, Marlins, Red Sox and Reds…twice), something will have to give in a hurry if they want to change this trend and get in the mix in the wide open NL Central.

26. D’Backs (22): Tim Lincecum held them without a hit through seven innings during what became a 1-0 loss on Thursday, that also completed a Giant sweep. If they can get more games to their big offseason signing J.J. Putz (9 saves in 9 chances), they’d probably be in a better place.

27. White Sox (30): They got back Jake Peavy on Wednesday, and got six innings of encouraging performance from him. What should be most encouraging is what they put the finishing touches on this weekend, a winning week. This was the first time they had won four games in a week since early April.

28. Padres (25): Mat Latos finally got his first win of the season yesterday, as the Pads finally gave him some real run support this year. Overall, they had their best offensive week of the year, scoring over six runs five times, and winning three of the five games.

29. Astros (28): Not much to get excited about here (as you can see by their rank), but they did stop a four game slide with a win over Cincinnati….but followed it by dropping two of three against the Mets.

30. Twins (26): Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter a week ago failed to spark anything in the Twins, or even in their talented lefty. He followed that historic start-up by surrending four runs in three innings before being yanked. Overall, they are in their longest losing streak of the year currently, at eight games and have a total of 12 wins on the year, a mark they reached by April 23rd a year ago.

M-V-ME: My Picks for the League’s Best

NL-Joey Votto: For a while now, last year’s MVP has been putting up numbers that haven’t been able to be capitalized on by his teammates. However, now the Reds are surging again, similar to last year, and their slugging first baseman is getting the support he needs to drive his team to the top, just like last year. Votto’s Reds faced off against their main rivals in the Cardinals over the weekend, and he responded by out playing all three of the Cardinals MVP candidates, and propelled the Reds back into first place. Overall, he’s at .345, with 5 home runs and 22 RBI on the year, and has the Reds in roughly the same position today as they were a year ago. And that worked out pretty good for them for the rest of the summer. (Runners Up: Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday)

Votto keeps hitting and hitting...and hitting. And now the Reds' wins are following suit as well.

AL-Jose Bautista: This won’t take too long to do. It’s basically just a simple compare and contrast. Last week, I said this about Bautista’s presence in the Jays lineup. And now a week later, that has become 1000% true, as the Jays took home 5 victories after his return and he blasted his way atop the Major League home run leaders as well now, with 16 after his three shot performance in Minnesota on Sunday.

 

KINGS OF THE HILL

NL-Tim Lincecum: For the first time in a while, there’s a new name on top of the best arms in the National League listing. Behind his 17 consecutive scoreless innings, and usual mix of confusing and overpower stuff, the San Francisco Giants have climbed back to the top of the N.L. West. Lincecum has struggled to get many decisions, and his record is only 3-3 on the year, but it’s not because he’s not putting them the Giants in a place to win. Batters are hitting .197 against him, his 66 strikeouts are 2nd in the N.L. and his 2.11 ERA is fourth. Most importantly, his efforts have contributed to the Giants overcoming a four game deficit in the West to now be its leaders. And forget his numbers, that stat is what it’s all about.

AL-Justin Verlander: Verlander didn’t allow a hit over 3 starts and 50 batters in what was nearly back-to-back no hit bids over the last two weeks. There are a lot of guys who have better overall numbers, but his efforts have played a part in inspiring a rebirth of the Tigers, who were quickly becoming mid of the road grinders in the Central. His 62 strikeouts lead the American League, and his 0.94 WHIP number shows just how hard it has become to make any type of impact versus the Tigers big ace. (Runners Up: Trevor Cahill, Dan Haren)

Verlander's un-hittable nature has the Tigers as the fastest rising club in baseball right now.