Monday, August 26, 2013
Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter Celebrate After Craig's Grand Slam
Starting this Monday, the Cardinals started a 13 game, 14 day stretch against division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will play these two teams at home and on the road. This stretch of games will have a big say in which team wins the division. The division race is tight with 3 games separating the teams as of Monday. It's very likely that the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds will all make the postseason, unless the D-Backs or Nats go on a miracle run. Winning the division is the main goal for all three teams to avoid a one game wild card playoff.
The Cardinals schedule eases up after the run of games vs. the Reds and Pirates. In the remaining 18 games after that, the only team they play above .500 is against Washington(and they are barely). Even better for the club, the Pirates and Reds close the season out against each other, while the Cards play the bottom feeding Cubs. The Cardinals still can't lose ground against the good teams and need to at least split the Pirates/Reds games. They got off to a good start with a win against the Reds on Monday night. They have sole possession of first place for the first time in almost a month.
Standings as of Monday night
St. Louis 77-54 -
Pittsburgh 76-54 0.5
Cincinnati 74-58 3
I did a similar post earlier in the year and ranked the teams position by position, so I won't repeat myself again on that. But, I will discuss each teams chances of winning the division and who will be a factor in it. The NL Central is one of baseball's best divisions this year and this is one of the most exciting races in baseball. Certainly, one of the best division races the NL Central has seen in several years. With all their postseason success the last couple of seasons, the Cardinals haven't won the division since 2009.
Cincinnati won the division last year by a wide margin and is currently 3 games out of first this year. Dusty Baker's club has a strong offense led by Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Shin Soo Choo. Choo has been a terrific leadoff hitter for the team, although he is playing out of position in center field. Choo is second in the NL in walks to his teammate Votto. Phillips and Jay Bruce have been solid run producers this year, but could use some help. Help could arrive from former Cardinal Ryan Ludwick has just returned from an opening day injury that kept him out all year. Todd Frazier took over third base for the retired Scott Rolen, but has had sort of a sophomore slump this year.
Another strength for the Reds is their starting pitching. Even with Johnny Cueto out, the Reds are 4th in the NL in ERA. Rookie lefty Tony Cingrani has done a great job filling in for Cueto. Mat Latos has been the Reds ace this year, but they have a deep rotation. Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake have all had solid years. Bailey threw his second career no-hitter this year. The Reds still have flamethrowing lefty Aroldis Chapman closing games for them. He was the first Reds reliever since Rob Dibble to make consecutive All Star teams. The Reds bullpen has been weakened by injuries to Jonathon Broxton and Sean Marshall.
The Pirates have shown no signs of fading like they had the previous two seasons. One reason why is that they have a deeper team. Another reason is that the team's core has more experience and Pittsburgh has added some veterans like Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and AJ Burnett in recent years. The Pirates only rank 11th in the NL in runs, but have really good pitching, play good defense, and win close games. Their offense is led by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. Speedster Sterling Marte has been a good leadoff hitter, and slugger Pedro Alvarez leads the league in home runs. Martin and Neil Walker are solid hitters. They are fast on the bases and are 4th in steals as a team.
One of the reasons the Pirates have been so good is because they lead the NL with a 3.21 ERA. They had several injuries in the starting rotation, but have settled on Burnett, Liriano, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole as their starters. Liriano has been a key pickup and could get Cy Young votes this year. The bullpen has been electric this year. Journeyman Jason Grilli took over as closer and had 30 saves before straining his forearm last month. He will likely come back in September. Mark Melancon has done well closing in his absence and has a 0.91 ERA for the season. Melancon was also a All Star as a setup guy. Lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson have been nasty this year and the Pirates have one of the game's best(and deepest) bullpens.
The team struggled for a few weeks in late July and early August, but are showing signs of breaking out of that. They recently took 3 of 4 against the Braves, a team that swept them a few weeks earlier. The offense has turned it on again, after a team wide slump earlier. Yadier Molina has also came back healthy from knee issues. Yadi is a force on defense and offense, not to mention a team leader. Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig have had great seasons and made their first All Star teams this year. Matt Holliday has been on fire lately after a slow start earlier in the year. The club has a deep bench and few holes outside of shortstop. Daniel Descalso has been taking more of Pete Kozma's playing time at short because of Kozma's struggles at the plate. Descalso doesn't have the range of Kozma, though. There is not a lot of speed on the team, although recent callup Kolten Wong brings that element.
The Cardinals have used 19 rookies this year, the most they have used since 1997. Most of these rookies have been pitchers. Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez are all currently on the pitching staff. That's makes 7 out of the 12 Cardinals current pitchers rookies. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly are both in their second full seasons in the big leagues. All Star Adam Wainwright has been the leader of the staff and has had a terrific year. He leads the NL with 15 wins and also leads in innings pitched. Edward Mujica, "The Chief", has solidified the closer spot after some early season uncertainty.
It's conceivable that either of these three teams could win the division. One could make a case for the Reds, Pirates, or Cardinals, and have a solid case. I may sound like a homer, but I still think the Cardinals win the division this year. I think the Pirates have a better chance to win it than the Reds. I think the Pirates are the Cardinals biggest threat for the division over the Reds. St. Louis has played well against Cincinnati, going 9-4 so far. They have struggled against Pittsburgh, going 5-8. I would be shocked if either the Reds or Pirates missed the playoffs. I don't expect either team to fade away. I expect them to play in the wild card game.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Back in May, things looked real bad for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They entered the season with the game's highest payroll with big expectations. Part owner Magic Johnson said he expected to contend for a championship this year. Manager Don Mattingly's job was in danger in the first couple of months. The team was hampered with many injuries to key players. They were involved in a couple of brawls vs. the Padres and Diamondbacks, both involving Zack Greinke. On June 21st, the team sat at 30-42, dead last in the National League West. It was looking like a failed season.
After that game, something changed. The team's offense was stagnant early on, partly due to injuries to Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. The club called up Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig on June 3rd, after the second time Kemp was put on the DL. Carl Crawford and Ramirez got healthy soon after that. Greinke recovered early from his shoulder injury and Clayton Kershaw has been his usual dominant self. The Dodgers worked out a trade for Marlins Ricky Nolasco to stabilize their rotation ravaged from injuries to Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, and others. Mattingly replaced the ineffective Brandon League with hard throwing Kenley Jansen as the team's closer.
There have been many other factors in the team's turnaround. Hyun-Jin Ryu has had a very good rookie campaign after coming over from Korea. He brings a second lefty for the rotation. Paco Rodriguez has been a very good lefty out of the bullpen, and the team signed former Giants closer Brian Wilson to give the team a late season boost out of the bullpen. Third base had been a revolving door early in the year, but Juan Uribe has solidified that position. Andre Ethier has picked up his play after a slow start. Ethier has played center in Kemp's absence, although Puig might of claimed his right field spot when Kemp comes back. Role players like AJ Ellis, Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Skip Schumaker have been solid contributors as well.
Since June 21st, the club is 42-9. They lost today against the Phillies, but just came off one of the best 50 game streaks in baseball history. They went 42-8, matching the 1941 Yankees and 1942 Dodgers. They have been on a historic run of winning. As late as the All Star break, the club was an even .500 at 47-47 in second place in a weak division. Now they are 72-51 with a 8.5 game lead on the second place Diamondbacks. Even better for the club, they only have 10 games out of their remaining 39 against teams with a winning record. Earlier in the season, it looked like Mattingly's job was in danger. Now, he could be a manager of the year candidate.
The Dodgers look like a scary team to meet in a postseason series. Facing Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, and Nolasco will be no fun for opposing teams. Kemp will soon be back from injury, giving them a healthy lineup with a deep bench. Maybe all this team needed was to be healthy. It's uncertain what was the catalyst for the turnaround, and it has been a team effort. I would say Puig's callup added a spark to the club it could of been lacking. I also think getting Greinke, Ramirez, and others healthy played a big role in their 50 game surge.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
It's the Right Time to be Wong
The Cardinals have announced that they have called up second base prospect Kolten Wong and sent Adron Chambers back down to Memphis. Wong will likely make his debut this weekend vs. the Cubs in Chicago. Wong has had a strong season in Triple A and was played in the All Star Futures Game last month in New York. Wong has been a fast riser in the Cardinals system after being drafted 2 years ago out of the University of Hawaii. Only 22 years old, he looks to be a big part of the Cardinals future plans.
How much Wong plays and how it effects other players remains to be seen. Wong has only played second base in the minor leagues. He did play some shortstop in college and some scouts speculated he could play in the outfield. Right now, it's unclear what Wong's role on the team will be. Will Mike Matheny use him off the bench as a weapon later in the game? Or will Wong have a bigger role than that? Could it be similar to the spark that Manny Machado gave the Orioles last year during the stretch run. The Cardinals don't really have any player with Wong's skill set. Wong was 20 for 21 in stolen base attempts for Memphis this year. The Cardinals only have 29 steals as a team this year, dead last in the National League.
One thing for sure, Matt Carpenter will not be setting on the bench. Carpenter has had a breakout season in his second full big league campaign. Carpenter won the starting second base job over Daniel Descalso in spring training this year. The Cardinals have been rewarded with an All Star season. Carpenter has been a sparkplug in the leadoff spot this year. He is currently batting .315 with a on base pct. of .385. He works the pitcher into deep counts and plays hard nosed baseball. He leads the National League with 40 doubles and 90 runs scored. Carpenter also has an amazing 58 RBI's out of the leadoff spot.
The weakest spot in the Cardinals lineup is at shortstop. Pete Kozma is currently batting a moribund .225, slugging an anemic .284, and has a .273 on base pct. It's almost as bad as having a second pitcher in the lineup. The Cardinals hide Kozma in the eight hole and still lead the NL with 584 runs scored. Daniel Descalso has been playing more short lately and is a better hitter than Kozma. Descalso lacks Kozma's range though, leaving Kozma's weak bat in the lineup more often than not. Wong hasn't played short in the minors and it's highly unlikely the Cardinals would throw him into the fire during a pennant race. It's still possible Matheny might experiment with Wong at short or third on occasion.
The player who most likely to lose playing time is third baseman and 2011 World Series MVP David Freese. Freese's heroics helped the Cardinals win it all in 2011 and he set a postseason record with 21 RBI's. He followed up his brilliant postseason with a All Star campaign in 2012. This season Freese hasn't hit for the opposite field power he did the prior two seasons. He only has 6 home runs, and has a lower slugging pct. than Descalso. at .386. Freese hasn't been terrible offensively, batting .273 with a . 348 OBP. Freese is only 6th on the team with 43 RBI's, but 3rd in strikeouts with 77 and 2nd to Matt Holliday with 21 double plays. Double plays are a huge problem for the team in general and the Cardinals have grounded into 119 double plays this season. The club has a lot of slow runners and is a station to station club.
With good play, I think Wong will work himself into the starting lineup. Wong's speed would add a new(and exciting) dimension to the Cardinal's offense. I mentioned earlier that Wong had 20 steals this year, and he also has 8 triples. Wong has some pop in his bat as well, with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, and 45 RBI's. Wong batted .303, slugged .466, and had a .369 OBP in 107 games in Memphis this year. I think Matheny will be creative trying to get him into the lineup. Carpenter is a versatile player who came up as a third baseman, and he can also play first and the corner outfield spots.
Freese can still play a valuable role with the club this season. I doubt that he would be traded this late in the season. This could light a fire under Freese and motivate him(Kozma could use similar motivation). For the future, the writing is on the wall. The Cardinals declined to offer Freese a contract extension this offseason. The team gave Allen Craig a five year extension prior to the season. Freese is 30 years old and is two more seasons away from free agency. It would be sad to see a hometown guy and a postseason hero get traded, but that very well could happen this offseason. The Cardinals would be a better club with Wong at second and Carpenter at third. It would improve both their offense and defense, and add a element of speed to the lineup.
Kolten Wong's minor league career
Friday, August 9, 2013
The Cardinals are fortunate to have a endless supply of young power arms coming up through their system. They have played a big role on the Cardinals pitching staff the last couple of seasons, especially this one. There are many questions on what the team will do with all of these talented pitchers, but it's never a bad thing to have surplus pitching. This week, due to unexpected circumstances, the Cardinals brought up Carlos Martinez to start Thursday's game and called up Michael Wacha to start Saturday's game.
John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny decided that Adam Wainwright needed some more rest. Wainwright hasn't been as sharp lately and has pitched the most innings on the staff. In fact, Waino leads the National League with 175.2 innings pitched. Secondly, Shelby Miller was struck in the elbow with a wicked line drive and could use some extra rest. The club has said that Miller will make his next scheduled start, likely vs. the Pirates. Jake Westbrook pitched 4.2 innings in relief and gave up 9 runs! Westbrook's ERA jumped from 3.48 to 4.11. More concerning, Westbrook is 2-3 with a 7.39 ERA and 1.82 WHIP since the All Star break. On a good note, starting Martinez and Wacha will allow Matheny to start Wainwright, Miller, and possibly Lance Lynn against Pittsburgh next week.
Martinez was brought up for just one start and was sent down in favor of Wacha, who will start Saturday. Martinez made his first major league start Thursday and had mixed results. Martinez has dynamite stuff and can reach 99 mph. He gave up several dinky hits, but pitched fairly well until he made a mistake pitch that AJ Ellis hit over the fence. He then left the game after 4.2 innings pitched with a finger cramp. Martinez is nicknamed "Baby Pedro" because of his likeness to 3-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez. He looks similar to Pedro and pitches with a flair. Carlos Martinez isn't fully polished yet, but has a bright future ahead of him.
Wacha started 3 games for the Cardinals earlier in the season, but was sent back down when Westbrook came off the DL. In those three starts, Wacha was 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched with 14 strikeouts. Wacha was the Cardinals #1 draft pick in 2012 and was the Angels draft pick they forfeited for signing Albert Pujols. He is a tall right handed pitcher from who went to college at Texas A & M. Both Wacha and Martinez have pitched well in the minor leagues this year. They still both need some seasoning, but they are both incredibly talented. Below is a look at their minor league seasons.
W-L ERA WHIP IP K
Wacha 5-3 2.65 0.99 85.0 73
Martinez 5-2 1.87 1.18 62.2 54
Wacha has pitched most of the season in Triple A Memphis, except for his 3 starts in June. Martinez missed most of spring training due to visa problems and started the season off in Double A Springfield. Martinez made his major league debut in May as a reliever, and had another stint in the majors as a reliever. The organization considers him to be a starter, though. Between stints in the big leagues, Martinez has dominated in Memphis.
It's possible that Wacha and Martinez could be competing for the fifth starter job in spring training next year. The Cardinals aren't likely to pick up Westbrook's $ 9.5 million option for 2014. Chris Carpenter has given up on pitching again this season and is an extreme longshot to pitch again in the future. Jaime Garcia will be coming off surgery and might not be ready to start the season. That would leave Wainwright, Lynn, Miller, and Joe Kelly for the first four spots. Kelly has pitched well since joining the rotation. Both Wacha and Martinez have big upsides. Wacha might be more ready for the big leagues, but Martinez probably has more raw talent. The Cardinals will be in very good shape in the future on starting pitching.
The Cardinals have hit their biggest skid of the season in the last couple of weeks. They played the Braves, Pirates, Reds, and Dodgers in four straight seasons. These are all likely playoff teams this year. The Cardinals went 4-11 in this 15 game stretch(plus a loss on Friday to the lowly Cubs). That's not a good sign, although every team has down stretched during a long 162 game season. Yadier Molina was hurt for much of this stretch. The Cardinals offense went into a deep slump, outside of three wins were they scored 13 plus runs. I think the Cardinals will come out of the slump, but there are some concerns.
I don't think the Cardinals pitching is a concern. I think Wainwright will come back strong after given a couple extra days rest. Luckily, Miller wasn't injured too badly on his elbow. He will make his next start, and we'll see how that goes. The Cardinals have a lot of talent in their rotation and bullpen, with phenom arms like Wacha and Martinez in reserve. The Cardinals are 1st in the National League with 561 runs scored. They lead the NL in hits, average, and on base pct. They don't hit for many home runs or steal bases. They are 13th in the NL with 91 home runs and 15th(dead last) in the NL with 28 stolen bases. The team has also hit into 110 double plays, nearly one a game.
The Cardinals will need David Freese and Matt Holliday to pick it up. Holliday is starting to hit better and has gotten his average up to the low .280's. The Cardinals could use more power out of Holliday. Freese hasn't played bad this year, but hasn't hit for much power at all. The Cardinals could really use Freese's opposite field power that has disappeared this year. The Redbirds are also missing Yadi right now and Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig have went through slumps. Carpenter and Craig are good patient hitters who will soon break out of it. Jon Jay has also hit very well since the All Star break after struggling in the first half.
The weakest link is shortstop Pete Kozma, who's in their for his defense. Daniel Descalso has been spotting Kozma more often, although he isn't as good of a hitter. When everybody else is hitting, the Cardinals can live with the weak hitting Kozma in the 8 hole. When their not, he sticks out like a sore thumb. This isn't a home run hitting club, but the team needs to return to the timely hitting it had most of the season. The Cardinals can win again if they keep doing the things that worked for them earlier, getting a lot of hits and walks. Matheny has tried some different lineup combinations, but might need to consider more hit and runs to avoid double plays. This isn't an ideal team to steal bases with so many slower runners, but it could be a better baserunning team. I think this is why Mozeliak held on to prospect Kolten Wong. Wong is 19 for 20 in steals with a .303 average, 8 homers, 20 doubles, and 8 triples in Memphis. Wong will likely be called up in September. He is blocked right now at the major league level, but I think the team will find a spot for him in 2014.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Leyland and Francona: Two Managers in the Playoff Race
The season has entered into the dog days of August, a stretch where teams sometimes either make it or break it. With about 50 games to go in the season, the races are tightening up. In the National League, there isn't much of a race. The Braves and Dodgers have big leads in their divisions. The Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds are in a fight for the Central, but it is likely that all three teams will get to the postseason. Arizona is the only other team with a winning record in the National League. The American League's playoff picture is much more unclear with 9 teams having realistic playoff chances. The Tigers have gained a 5 game lead on the Indians with recent wins over the club, but the East and West races have tightened up. The wild card picture is muddled as well, with 6 teams within 6 games of a spot.
Here's a look at the AL standings as of Wednesday morning:
Red Sox 69-46 -
Rays 66-46 1.5
Orioles 62-51 6
Tigers 66-45 -
Indians 62-51 5
Athletics 64-48 -
Rangers 64-50 1
AL Wild Card
Rays 66-46 -
Rangers 64-48 -
Indians 62-51 1.5
Orioles 62-51 1.5
Royals 57-53 5
Yankees 57-55 6
Off all those teams, the defending AL champion Tigers look like the best bet to make the playoffs. They have a 5 game lead on the AL Central and are 29-16 against their division rivals. They are 11-3 against second place Cleveland, but are 3-5 against the Royals. The Royals still have 11 games remaining against Detroit, and have been playing much better as of late. Still, KC is 8.5 games back from the Tigers and 5 games back of the final wild card spot. While they have some promising players for the future, there is no telling how they will fare in a pennant race(especially as a longshot team). The Indians will have a tough time winning the division because of their struggles against the Tigers. They still have 5 games remaining against Detroit this year.
In the West, there is a tight one game race between the Athletics and Rangers. The Angels were widely expected to be in the thick of the race, but have been a huge disappointment this year. Josh Hamilton has been a flop in his first season in Anaheim and Albert Pujols' plantar fasciitis has put him on the DL. The Angels are actually in fourth place, behind the Mariners. The Rangers have moved on without Hamilton, and their pitching has been better this year. Texas' pitching will have to keep it up, because Nelson Cruz was suspended for 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis. The A's have proven last year's division title was no fluke. They also got lucky that All Star pitcher Bartolo Colon was not suspended since he was suspended last year. Oakland relies on timely hitting and has one of the best bullpen's in the majors. Should be just as an exciting race between these two teams as it was last year.
The East is the most unpredictable division. The Red Sox have held on to the lead most of the season, although they've been challenged by the Rays and Orioles. Boston is a much different team than the drama-filled versions of 2011 and 2012. John Farrell has done a good job in his first season as Boston's manager, replacing controversy lightning rod Bobby Valentine. Led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz, the Sox lead the AL in runs scored. Their pitching has performed better this year, and they just acquired Jake Peavy for the stretch run. That been said, Joe Maddon's Rays are right on their tail. Tampa Bay has a young dominant rotation and a good offense led by Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. Wil Nieves, acquired in the James Shields deal, has also been very good since being called up. The Orioles are a powerhouse offensive club and one of the best defensive teams in the league. Baltimore's pitching is up to par with Tampa Bay or Boston, though.
The AL wild card race looks like a free for all. I would expect this race to go down to the season's final days(if not the final day). Right now, the Rays and Rangers hold on to the two wild card spots with Cleveland and Baltimore only 1.5 games back of the last spot. The resurgent Royals are only 5 games back. They have a young club, but Eric Hosmer has started to heat up along with some of the other hitters. Shields and Ervin Santana have been a big help to the Royals rotation. Kansas City leads the AL in ERA. The Yankees are also in the wild card hunt, being 6 games back. The Yankees are the opposite of the young Royals, they have an aging veteran-laden club. They have been slowly fading, although they remain 2 games above .500. This will be Mariano Rivera's final season, so I'm sure Joe Girardi's club is eager to make the postseason. It will be hard to do with all the key injuries to players like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson. The stretch run in the American League looks like it will be interesting this season.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Peavy's Changing Sox
There wasn't much action during this year's trading deadline or in the weeks before it. More teams feel like they have a shot with the second wild card and there has been some changes in draft pick compensation for traded players. There were very few sellers at the deadline, absent of the bottom feeding Marlins, Astros, Cubs, and White Sox. Other teams like the Royals, Phillies, Blue Jays, and others decided not to sell. Many teams, including the Cardinals, stood pat this year. Division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were unable to work anything out, either.
The biggest deal of the deadline was a three player trade headlined by Jake Peavy. This deal involved 7 players and included the White Sox, Red Sox, and Tigers. Peavy was sent from the White Sox to the Red Sox for three Class A prospects. The Tigers traded outfield prospect Avasial Garcia(who appeared in last year's World Series) to Chicago and sent reliever Brayan Villareal to Boston. In return Detroit received slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox. Iglesias is batting .330 in his rookie year with Boston, but was a .257 career minor league hitter. Still, this could be a sneaky good move for Detroit. All Star SS Jhonny Peralta is facing a likely suspension due to his Biogenesis connection. The White Sox earlier traded All Star reliever Jessie Crain to the Rays.
The Red Sox felt like they needed another starter for the stretch run. Clay Buchholz was an All Star this year, but has dealt with some lingering injuries. Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, and John Lackey have pitched solid, but not spectacular. Peavy adds depth to the rotation. In 13 starts with the Pale Hose this year, Peavy is 8-4 with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. A trade to a contender could revitalize Peavy, considering he was an All Star in 2012. The Bosox will have Peavy for 2014 with a $15 million option for 2015. One down side is that Peavy is a injury risk. 2012 was the first season Peavy pitched in enough innings to qualify for the ERA title since 2008.
Besides adding Iglesias, the Tigers also traded for Astros closer Jose Veras. Veras is a journeyman and having his career best season. The Tigers gave up an A ball outfield prospect for him. The Astros also traded outfielder Jason Maxwell to the Royals for a A ball pitching prospect. In their biggest deal, the Astros sent Bud Norris to the Orioles for a couple of mid-level prospects and a competitive balance draft pick. The Astros are mired in another miserable losing season and are looking towards the future. The Orioles needed another starter to go along with Wei-Yei Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman. Baltimore also traded for Scott Feldman earlier this year, but Norris is a superior pitcher to Feldman. Norris isn't anything spectacular, but is an innings eater and a good option for the back end of the rotation.
The Cubs also unloaded Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza in the last two weeks. Garza went to Texas for Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, and CJ Edwards. Grimm pitched some in the big leagues with the Rangers this year, Olt is a top 3B prospect, and Edwards is a A ball pitcher. The Cubs got a pretty good haul for Garza. The Rangers got a pitcher who can help them win this year. Garza has been really good since he came back in late May. He is 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 13 starts with Chicago and Texas this year. Soriano was dealt back to his original team, the Yankees, for a pitching prospect and salary relief. The Cubs still had to eat some of the contract, but the 37 year old Soriano doesn't fit in the Cubs rebuilding plans. Soriano still has some pop in his bat and joins a veteran laden Yankees club. The Yankees are in fourth place in the AL East, but are in the thick of the wild card hunt. This is the farewell season for Mariano Rivera and many other Yankees are towards the end of their careers.
There were rumors of Cliff Lee getting dealt, but the Phillies held on to him. It's not likely the Phillies will make it to October this year, though. Lee is owed quite a bit of money, but is still very productive. There's still a chance of him clearing waivers and getting dealt in August, but I think it is more likely to happen in the offseason. The Diamondbacks did trade away Ian Kennedy to the Padres for lefty reliever Joe Thatcher and a prospect. Kennedy was the D-Backs opening day starter, but has really struggled this year. Kennedy is 3-8 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 games started this year. Kennedy was a 21 game winner in 2011 and Padres manager Bud Black is a good renovator of pitchers. Arizona needed a solid lefty reliever and have a surplus of young starting pitching.
Last year, the Dodgers made several high profile trades during the season. This year, they only made one move for starter Ricky Nolasco. LA traded away three prospects to Miami to get Nolasco. The Dodgers thought to have a surplus of starting pitching in spring training, but Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, and Josh Beckett went down to injuries. Zack Greinke is healthy again, and the Dodgers have a potentially dominant postseason rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Nolasco. The Dodgers biggest additions were from within. Calling up Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez coming off the DL have kick started what was a stagnant offense. The Dodgers have gained the lead in the NL West after a rough early season.
Most teams decided to stick with what they had, instead of giving up top prospects for rentals. The Braves didn't make any moves, even though they were rumored to be in the Peavy/Lee sweepstakes after Tim Hudson's season ending injury. In the NL Central, neither the Pirates, Cardinals, or Reds made any moves. The AL West leading Athletics were rumored to be on the market for starting pitching, but ended up staying pat. They didn't feel the need to answer the Rangers move for Garza. The Rangers were rumored to be in the market for a bat, but failed to make any deals. Nelson Cruz is facing a possible suspension because of his Biogenesis connections. Should be some good races going forward.