Posts Tagged ‘Nelson Cruz’

Designated hitter may be the clearest job description in all of the work force: hit the ball, every time. And hard. You have no other job or responsibility, just go up and rake every time. But at the same time, such a clear job comes with some fairly heavy expectations as well. And those that do it better than most usually find themselves among the very best hitters in the game.

V-Mart

That rings true with the best of the AL’s top specialty bats headed into this year. Among the best of the current group of DH’s includes a runner up for MVP honors, the league’s reigning top home run producer, the active (and returning) home run king and arguably the greatest player to ever frequent the position as well. The competition is thick, but the elite is still somewhat easy to pull apart.

With that said, here is the finale of the year’s Top 10 rankings headed into the spring, as well as the best in the game today to put a “particular set of skills” on display nightly.

 

1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He narrowly avoided what could have been yet another serious knee injury this offseason, but is likely to be ready for Opening Day now. And considering the way that he stepped up last year, which is a godsend for the retooling Tigers. V-Mart finished second in the American League MVP vote after posting career bests in batting average (.335) home runs (32) and hits (188). Most remarkably however is that he was so efficient in his production that he joined none other than Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds as the only players ever aged 35 or later to hit .300 with 30 home runs, while striking out 45 times or less (42) – all in 641 plate appearances.

2-year average: .317 average/.876 OPS, 23 home runs/94 RBI/185 hits/78 runs scored/34 doubles

2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: The ageless Papi continued to be a top-tier run producer a year ago. He reached the 35 home run plateau for the first time in seven years –and eighth time overall – while also posting the sixth most RBI in the AL. With the retooled Red Sox lineup surrounding him this year, yet another high productivity year should be on deck for Ortiz as he creeps closer and closer to 500 home runs.

2-year average: .286 average/.916 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/148 hits/72 runs scored/32 doubles

3. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: He made the absolute most of his one-year redemption deal in Baltimore, making a huge impact by leading the Majors with 40 home runs. He also tacked on a career-best 108 RBI as well, and parlayed it all into being the Mariners’ major addition this offseason. He will return to an AL West where he averaged 27 long balls a year from 2009 thru 2013 for the Rangers.

2-year average: .269 average/.848 OPS/34 home runs/92 RBI/138 hits/68 runs scored/25 doubles

4. Adam LaRoche, White Sox: Steady as ever, LaRoche ran up over 80 home runs in his four year stint with the Nationals and in the process became one of the most dependable middle of the lineup options in the National League. Now as he takes his game to the American League, he should be fed a healthy diet of fastballs to allow him to transition nicely into his bat-only capacity on the South Side.

2-year average: .248 average/.776 OPS/23 home runs/77 RBI/124 hits/72 runs scored/19 doubles

5. Steve Pearce, Orioles: He was the biggest unsung contributor in the Oriole offense a year ago, whose emergence made it possible for the club’s offense to thrive in light of some of the serious injuries it had to endure. Pierce made the most of his first crack as a full-time option, connecting for 21 home runs and sporting a superb .373 on-base percentage as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.891 OPS/12 home runs/31 RBI/65 hits/32 runs scored/16 doubles

 

Runners Up: Alex Rodriguez, Billy Butler, Evan Gattis

 

To catch up on the entire Top 10 rankings series, stay locked here at CSP. To get the words in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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

The Tigers filled one of their long-standing glaring needs with Joe Nathan earlier today.

The Tigers filled one of their long-standing glaring needs with Joe Nathan earlier today.

Here is the latest of the greatest around the rumor mill for the current ranks. Before the next Cut The Check signings recap drops, here is where it all stands right now, headed into this weekend’s MLB Winter Meetings, the busiest and most active stretch of transactions of the baseball year.

  • The Yankees and Robinson Cano appear to have reached a standoff, and it is one that is separated by about $80 million mile markers. This is the type of divide that leaves no other choice but for other teams to enter the fray, and by the looks of it, the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals could enter the Winter Meetings with a true, legit shot at landing baseball’s premier second baseman.
  • The outfield scene is starting to shift some. Carlos Beltran has been the most widely rumored and courted property available, and he has already received a three-year offer that is touching nearly $50 million from one of his suitors, that is yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, the scene for Jacoby Ellsbury has heated up over the last week, with the Red Sox reemerging as candidates to retain him, and the Yankees weighing him as a serious option too. Shin-Soo Choo has remained a hot property, but there is a link between several of the same locations for him, Ellsbury and Nelson Cruz. The first of which signs likely sees the others follow suit with a similarly interest team that lost out on another.
  • The Yankees have begun to look to work on their rotation issues as well, and have extended an offer to Hiroki Kuroda.
  • The Twins could still add another arm after Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, in their search to amend one of baseball’s worst units in 2013
  • There are a few teams that are waiting out the scene to see who emerges after the dust settles on the big tag players available over the next few weeks. The teams that are primed to get involved at the point are led by the Mets, Rockies and Phillies, all of which could emerge with some substantial acquisitions at a more reasonable cost for their respective situations.

But with that said, here is the current lay of the land on the rumor mill, as this is the last update before the Winter Meetings this weekend start to clear off the chalkboard in a major way. The next update will have new names inserted in from the non-tendered players.

  1. Robinson Cano-2B: Yankees, Mariners, Nationals
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury-CF: Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs
  3. Shin-Soo Choo-RF: Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Reds, Tigers
  4. Matt Garza-RHP: Yankees, Twins, Angels, Orioles, Nationals
  5. Carlos Beltran-RF/DH: Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Reds
  6. Ubaldo Jimenez-RHP: Yankees, Nationals, Angels
  7. Nelson Cruz-RF/DH: Rangers, Mets, Mariners, A’s, Orioles
  8. Mike Napoli-1B: Red Sox, Rockies
  9. Ervin Santana-RHP: Angels, Yankees, Twins, Royals
  10. Masahiro Tanaka-RHP: Yankees, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Japan
  11. Stephen Drew-SS: Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox
  12. Curtis Granderson-LF: Mets, Yankees, Cubs, White Sox
  13. Hiroki Kuroda-RHP: Yankees, Angels, Japan
  14. Joe Nathan-RHP: Signed w/ Tigers (2 yrs/TBA)
  15. Grant Balfour-RHP: Yankees, Rockies, Tigers, Rays
  16. Kendrys Morales-1B: Mariners, White Sox, Indians, Mets
  17. Ricky Nolasco-RHP: Signed w/ Twins (4 years, $49 million)
  18. Fernando Rodney-RHP: Indians, Rays, Cubs
  19. Omar Infante-2B: Cubs, Orioles, Reds, Yankees
  20. Jarrod Saltalamacchia-C: Signed w/ Marlins (3 years, $22 million)
  21. Joaquin Benoit-RHP: Phillies, Tigers
  22. Brian Wilson-RHP: Dodgers
  23. Edward Mujica-RHP: Phillies, Angels, Tigers, Yankees
  24. A.J. Burnett-RHP: Pirates
  25. Nate McLouth-LF: Orioles, Yankees
  26. Bronson Arroyo-RHP: Angels, Twins, Giants, Phillies
  27. Bartolo Colon-RHP: Marlins, Angels
  28. Scott Kazmir-LHP: Signed w/ Athletics (2 yrs, $22 million)
  29. Jesse Crain-RHP: Red Sox, Rockies, Cubs
  30. Corey Hart-1B/RF: Brewers, Mets, Pirates
  31. James Loney-1B: Rays, Rockies, Pirates
  32. Chris Perez-RHP: Astros, Athletics, Tigers
  33. Raul Ibanez-DH: Yankees
  34. Boone Logan-LHP: Yankees
  35. Gavin Floyd-RHP: Twins, Orioles
  36. Jason Kubel-OF/DH:
  37. Michael Morse-OF:
  38. Dioner Navarro-C: Signed w/ Blue Jays (2 yrs, $8 million)
  39. Justin Morneau-1B: Rockies
  40. Scott Downs-LHP:
  41. A.J. Pierzynski-C: Signed w/ Red Sox (1 yr, $8.25 million)
  42. Matt Albers-RHP:
  43. Scott Feldman-RHP: Orioles
  44. J.P. Howell-LHP:
  45. Ryan Vogelsong-RHP: Resigned w/ Giants (1 yr, $3 million)
  46. Rafael Furcal-SS: Mets, Royals
  47. Scott Baker-RHP: Cubs,
  48. Jose Veras-RHP:
  49. Garrett Jones-OF (new, non-tendered):
  50. Jason Hammel-RHP: Giants
  51. Kevin Gregg-RHP:
  52. Juan Uribe-3B: Dodgers
  53. Chris Capuano-LHP: Twins
  54. Paul Konerko-1B: White Sox, Retirement
  55. Barry Zito-LHP:
  56. Kelly Johnson-2B: Yankees,
  57. Joba Chamberlain-RHP: Royals, Braves, Giants, Astros
  58. Phil Hughes-RHP: Signed w/ Twins (3 yrs, $24 million)
  59. Francisco Rodriguez-RHP:
  60. Mark Ellis-2B: Orioles

YANKEES-articleLarge-v4

There’s still a few months away til even the World Series has it’s first pitch thrown out, but it’s never too early to see how the upcoming free agent market is going to take shape. And the 2014 class is among the deepest that could touch the open market in some time. While some club’s are taking steps to keep their assets in tow already, such as the Phillies did with Chase Utley last week, and other teams still have notable names to make decisions on options with (such as Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist), the market will still have some big names hitting the fertile, yet ever-changing, lands of free agency.

The biggest name is clear in how he’ll impact the market, and the mere mention of Robinson Cano‘s name in a few months could open up the biggest Yankee/Dodger face off since they shared the same city over half a century ago. But behind the clear valedictorian of the class, there’s a string of depth and intriguing situations as well. There’s a deep, yet uncertain group of pitchers that will hit the market, with known and proven commodities such as Matt Garza and Hiroki Kuroda, but also another tier of well-known, but not quite-as-safe-recently hurlers such as Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson. How easy will it be for teams to commit the big dollars their names could demand, against the roller coaster that is their recent performances?

Add into the mix a few high risk/high reward injury concerns such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, as well as the “return” of two of bigger names in the Biogenesis fall out in Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. Both are virtually assured they be finding new homes, but how hosipitable of market will there be? All of this will be in the mix come December, but as of now, here are the best of the best that could soon be open for the taking:

  1. Robinson Cano (Second Base, 31)
  2. Matt Garza (Starting pitcher, 30)
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury (Center field, 30)
  4. Shin-Soo Choo (Right field, 31)
  5. Nelson Cruz (Right field, 33)
  6. Brian McCann (Catcher, 30)
  7. Hunter Pence (Right field, 31)
  8. Hiroki Kuroda (Starting pitcher, 39)
  9. Ervin Santana (Starting pitcher, 31)
  10. Carlos Beltran (Right field, 37)
  11. Curtis Granderson (Left field, 33)
  12. Tim Lincecum (Starting pitcher, 30)
  13. Grant Balfour (Relief pitcher, 36)
  14. Justin Morneau (First base, 33)
  15. Paul Maholm (Starting pitcher, 32)
  16. Ricky Nolasco (Starting pitcher, 31)
  17. Mike Napoli (First base, 32)
  18. Josh Johnson (Starting pitcher, 30)
  19. Jhonny Peralta (Shortstop, 32)
  20. Bartolo Colon (Starting pitcher, 41)
  21. Stephen Drew (Shortstop, 31)
  22. Marlon Byrd (Right field, 36)
  23. Edward Mujica (Relief pitcher, 30)
  24. Jesse Crain (Relief pitcher, 32)
  25. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Catcher, 29)
  26. Koji Uehara (Relief Pitcher, 39)
  27. AJ Burnett (Starting pitcher, 37)
  28. Paul Konerko (First base, 38)
  29. Mark Reynolds (First base, 30)
  30. Carlos Ruiz (Catcher, 35)
  31. Kendrys Morales (First base, 30)
  32. Joaquin Benoit (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  33. Nate McLouth (Left field, 32)
  34. Mike Morse (Left field, 32)
  35. Eric O’Flaherty (Relief pitcher, 29)
  36. Boone Logan (Relief pitcher, 29)
  37. Fernando Rodney (Relief pitcher, 37)
  38. Joel Hanrahan (Relief pitcher, 32)
  39. Tim Hudson (Starting pitcher, 38)
  40. Kevin Gregg (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  41. Scott Downs (Relief pitcher, 38)
  42. Bronson Arroyo (Starting pitcher, 37)
  43. Andy Pettitte (Starting pitcher, 42)
  44. Dan Haren (Starting pitcher, 33)
  45. Michael Young (Third base, 38)
  46. Brendan Ryan (Shortstop, 32)
  47. Phil Hughes (Starting pitcher, 28)
  48. Roberto Hernandez (Starting pitcher, 33)
  49. Gavin Floyd (Starting pitcher, 31)
  50. Willie Bloomquist (Shortstop, 36)
  51. Corey Hart (First base, 32)
  52. Javier Lopez (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  53. Jason Vargas (Starting pitcher, 31)
  54. Raul Ibanez (Designated hitter, 42)
  55. Colby Lewis (Starting pitcher, 34)
  56. Omar Infante (Second base, 32)
  57. James Loney (First base, 30)
  58. Jason Marquis (Starting pitcher, 35)
  59. Oliver Perez (Relief Pitcher, 32)
  60. Scott Feldman (Starting pitcher, 30)
  61. Kelly Johnson (Second base, 32)
  62. Edinson Volquez (Starting pitcher, 30)
  63. Jason Hammel (Starting pitcher, 31)
  64. A.J. Pierzynski (Catcher, 37)
  65. John Buck (Catcher, 33)
  66. Travis Hafner (Designated hitter, 37)
  67. Delmon Young (Left field, 28)
  68. Kevin Youkilis (Third base, 35)
  69. Rafael Furcal (Shortstop, 36)
  70. Andres Torres (Center field, 36)

For more on me in real-time, stay in tune to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan, and follow along at both The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

Things shifted everywhere around the MLB during it’s first full week, as expected. A few favorites showing that they are who and what we thought they would be, while some upstarts have decided that the cellar either isn’t for them, or are just delaying the inevitable for a while longer. At any rate, this weeks poll continues to showcase huge leaps and bounds up the rankings from some quick starters, while a few teams are yet to kick into gear completely yet.

Kinsler and the Rangers are looking arguably better than they did at any point last year already.

Top looks basically the same and the back end has some usual suspects as well, however a few clubs (especially in the AL Central) are crashing the party in the high end parts of the polls. A few MVP candidates are keeping their teams in the drivers seat as expected, a brand new “Shame of the Nation” has dealt yet another blow to reeling expected contender and a even last week’s Cy Young pick couldn’t keep his guys from beginning to imitate last year already in all the worst ways possible.

Here’s the countdown, followed by MVP and Cy updates. As always, feel free to comment, rant and throw appropriate and salad-ready vegetables if you disagree…or agree. Basically, all contributions are welcomed.

1. Rangers (2): Nolan Ryan’s boys head to the top of the poll this week with a MLB-best 8 wins, and coming off a week featuring a sweep of the Mariners and a dominant weekend in Baltimore against the AL East leaders that featured a shutout and 13-run outburst.

2. Phillies (1): The Phils drop down a notch this week, but its due more to the Rangers efforts than a lack of results on their end. Their pitching continued to overwhelm as expected (2 shutouts) and Shane Victorino went off to a .464 clip versus the Mets and Braves.

3. White Sox (5): A split against a tough Royals club, followed by taking three of four against the reeling Rays move the Sox up the polls. Paul Konerko (.417 week)  joined Carlos Quentin in the Southside power surge that is still awaiting Adam Dunn to rejoin it.

4. Yankees (3): The Yanks offense became a bit inconsistent, showing a Saturday outburst to drop the Red Sox, but then followed it up by being limited to a two-hit shutout a night later as they dropped two of their first three showdowns with their arch nemesis’ in Boston.

5. Rockies (12): The Rockies break into the the drivers seat in the NL West and into the top five of this poll after a three win weekend series over the Pirates after slowing the Dodgers’ momentum to kick off the week for a 5-1 showing.

6. Reds (4): An up and down week for the NL Central leaders, outscoring the Astros 20-6 in the first two games of their week opening series, but then being outdone by the D’Backs to the tone of 29-11 in the weekend series. Joey Votto (.455 avg) is doing his part as defending-MVP however.

7. Indians (28): The surprise of all of baseball so far, they swept both the Red Sox and Mariners last week, in route a having a current seven-game winning streak and control of the AL Central. They have a challenging week on deck however, with a trip to the Angels and hosting the Orioles over the weekend. Time to show and prove.

8. Royals (11): The Royals “World’s Of Fun” start to 2011 continued this week, taking two more games to extra innings with the White Sox (winning one and losing another), followed by taking two of three from the Tigers over the weekend. Has Alex Gordon FINALLY shown up the party for good? His .357 average and 15 hits are a prime reason for the Royals early boom.

9. Orioles (9): The O’s stay at the top of the AL East despite having a unenviable weekend versus the Rangers, where they were outscored 16-1 during two losses, but managed to shutout their powerful lineup behind a great Derek Holland start on Saturday.

10. Blue Jays (10): The Jays played tight match ups in Anaheim and Oakland on the first leg of their west coast swing this weekend, but with Jose Bautista back for good now from a brief personal absence, they’ll be in better shape for the Mariners and Red Sox this week.

11. Dodgers (7): A sweep in Colorado knocked the Dodgers off of their opening weekend high versus the Giants, but they rebounded to take two of three from the Padres, cued by a strong outburst from Matt Kemp, who looks primed for a great post-Rihanna season (if that’s possible).

12. Angels (24): There will be more on Jared Weaver a little later, but two outstanding starts from him erased any possible hangover from their tough start in KC last week, and Dan Haren added in two wins of his own, as the Angels top starters were as good as advertised versus two tough AL East opponents.

13. Brewers (19): The Brewers jump back into the fray behind huge weekends from Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, taking four of six last week, including a sweep of the Braves.

14. Giants (15): The Giants got their World Series rings over the weekend and two tight late inning victories over the Cardinals as well, notching two walk-off victories during their homecoming.

15. D’Backs (21): They took the fight to a tough Reds club and showed that their lineup may be turning the corner from it’s swinging-and-miss ways of the past already. Miguel Montero’s .500 start to the year (13 for 26) is paving the way for this effort.

16. Red Sox (6): Hard to say if their early slide is over after last week’s showings, which were an impressive series win at home versus the Yankees, but an ugly 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Indians. I’m betting this will be as low as they are on this poll all year though.

17. A’s (14): As expected, their pitching is ready to win now (3 or less runs in five of six games), but their offense isn’t giving them anything to win with so far (3 games of one or less runs).

18. Marlins (26): The Fish didn’t play the strongest slate last week (the Nationals and Astros), but they took two of three in both series, and won the gimme games that you need headed into a week versus the Phillies and Braves.

19. Padres (13): Rough week in the division for the Pads, splitting a series with the Giants and losing another to the Dodgers. They had trouble scoring runs against their tough pitching staffs, and since this will be the case for every division match up they have all summer, they better find a way to make more contact or else…

20. Braves (8): At the end of an awful week against some tough opponents in Milwaukee and Philly, the Braves find themselves at the bottom of the East. For some teams, losing to this calibur of opponent would be acceptable, but not for a team expect to contend with both of these clubs for the Wild Card and Division championships, respectively.

21. Pirates (20): Good start to the week, surprisingly taking a series in St. Louis, but probably got a reality check while losing three of four to the Rockies over the weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts Buccos.

22. Cubs (same): They lost three games by one run, but also got shutout a the hands of the Brewers #4 starter Chris Narveson as well. They have to find a way to get the big hit when needed if they want to make an impact in a wide open NL Central.

23. Nationals (27): Both Jordan & Ryan Zimmerman (no relation) cued a surprisingly strong week on the mound and at the plate for the Nats, as they won three contests, including two in extra innings.

24. Tigers (16): The Tigers are playing basically every hot club in the AL right now, but still have a to find a way to beat teams they are more talented than. They didn’t do that last week against the Orioles or Royals.

25. Mets (18): Dropping two against the Phillies is alright. Losing two against the Nationals at home isn’t.

26. Cardinals (23): The offense isn’t scoring and the bullpen isn’t supporting. When those things don’t happen you don’t win too often. And those two elements are the two biggest features of the Cardinals’ young season. Perhaps the return of Matt Holliday this week can fix part of that equation.

27. Twins (28): The two-time defending AL Central champs still can’t get into the swing of it all yet this year, literally. Their pitchers held the Yanks in check, but still dropped two of three by one run. That tendency followed them into the weekend, where they dropped another two games by one run to the A’s, by scores of 2-1 and 1-0.

28. Astros (30): They rise out of the cellar due to taking wins against the Reds and Marlins, but are greatly assisted in this effort by the next club’s futility…

29. Mariners (17): The M’s have dropped a week of consecutive games now, with the Indians and Rangers picking up some quick gimme games. This weeks showdowns with the Blue Jays and Royals don’t look to alleviate these issues anytime soon. But there’s always Felix…if they score for him.

30. Rays (25): The bad times keep getting worse for the Rays. After already losing Evan Longoria, this week they lost Manny Ramirez, permanently. The controversial slugger retired midweek after being popped for steroids for a second time. In the process they dropped five games the Angels and White Sox. You gotta pray Tampa, that’s about all I can offer about now.

M-V-ME:

N.L.: Ryan Howard-Phillies: For the second week in a row Howard holds the pole position here. He’s yet to have that huge two or three homer game you just know he’s gonna have, but so far he’s carrying the Phils offense w/o Chase Utley to support him & is tied for the NL lead in RBI, along with a .361 average. Not bad for a guy known has the biggest all or nothing hitter in the game. (Runners up: Joey Votto & Prince Fielder)

Ryan Howard

A.L.: Nelson Cruz-Rangers: Any number of bats could be cued as the catalyst to the Texas outburst to start the season, but Cruz has been the most devastating of them all thus far. He leads the Majors with 5 homers thus far, including 4 in the first four games of the season. With the tablesetters in front of him, he could run away with the RBI title this year & is one short of the AL lead already. (Runners Up: Paul Konerko, Miguel Cabrera)

KINGS OF THE HILL

N.L.: Roy Halladay-Phillies: What a surprise here. There’s a lot of guys having excellent starts in the N.L., but Doc is basically cruising along still & gives off the idea he hasn’t even kicked it into gear all the way yet. With one walk & 13 strikeouts in his first 13 innings, and a 0.69 ERA (4th in the league), he’s primed for yet another lights out year.

A.L.: Jared Weaver-Angels: Last year, he pitched into a lot of hard luck & notched only 13 wins for his efforts, despite leading the Majors in strikeouts. After Sunday’s 15-strikeout effort he’s back a top that category again, but has 3 wins in 3 starts to show for it, proving that sometimes it’s just easier to handle it yourself. After giving up only 2 runs in his first 20.2 innings this year, Weaver is proving the “I in win” theory quite true. (Runners Up: Felix Hernandez, Dan Haren)

Jared Weaver