Buster Olney: Miguel Cabrera

The top 10 first basemen in MLB 

November, 17, 2014
Goldschmidt & Cabrera & Abreu USA TODAY SportsWhere do Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu rank in Buster's first-base rankings?
In the second installment of our rankings of the best players at each position -- we ranked the catchers Sunday -- we rank the top 10 first basemen Monday, with the selections following input and observations of MLB evaluators.

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

If this ranking were built on offensive ability alone and Miguel Cabrera hadn't been taken down by ankle trouble this past season, the two-time AL MVP would be in the top spot. But players here are rated on overall play, and Goldschmidt is the best overall first baseman. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2013, and in 2014 he was on his way to another likely top-five finish until an Ernesto Frieri fastball broke his hand.

As it was, Goldschmidt clubbed 59 extra-base hits in 109 games, with 75 runs. He is regarded as an excellent defender -- he won an NL Gold Glove award in 2014 -- and he has even stolen 24 bases over the past two seasons.

Look, WAR as a statistic is an imperfect fit for first basemen. But it does at least attempt to measure all elements of play, and despite missing about one-third of the season, Goldschmidt finished near the top of his peers, at 4.4. (The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo led at 5.6.)
Anibal SanchezJesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsAnibal Sanchez allowed 25 stolen bases in 26 attempts during the 2013 season.
BOSTON -- From the first day of spring training, the Detroit Tigers players say, Brad Ausmus talked about the running game.

But not only the running game of the Detroit baserunners, who were told to look for opportunities to take a base when they see it. Ausmus also wanted his pitchers to think more about the running game.

When pitchers threw their bullpen sessions in the spring, about a third of their work was done from the stretch, Alex Avila recalled. They simulated situations in which there was a runner at first, or first and third. They worked on varying their delivery times to the plate and on throwing to first base.

Last year, opposing teams ran aggressively against the Tigers. Detroit allowed 128 steals in 157 attempts, a staggering rate of 81.5 percent, which ranked 29th in the majors. Only two teams allowed more stolen bases.

This season, the Tigers have allowed 27 steals in 42 attempts, and their 35.7 percent rate of nabbing runners ranks fifth in the majors.

The pitchers have bought in to slowing down opposing runners, said Ausmus. That includes Anibal Sanchez, particularly, after he's had a lot of trouble with stolen bases in the past. Last year, Sanchez allowed 25 steals in 26 attempts.

This year, Sanchez's numbers aren't much better (six steals allowed in seven attempts), but Avila feels he’s throwing better, and has put in the work to improve. “Throwing out runners is a two-way street,” said Avila.

The Tigers added Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler during the offseason, and so it was inevitable that Detroit would run more and steal more bases. The Tigers’ baserunners generally have a green light to run, other than when they get a hold sign from the bench, and Torii Hunter believes the Detroit baserunners are assuming a natural aggressiveness.

Detroit leads the AL in steals with 36 -- one more than all of last season, when the Tigers finished last in MLB.

More on the Red Sox, Tigers

• The Boston Red Sox players have a strong sense of what it takes to win, after going from worst to first last season, and there is deep unhappiness with the team’s situational play right now. They feel like they should be taking advantage of those opportunities to move runners in close games, given the team’s dip in power production this season, and given Boston’s own strong pitching. The Red Sox currently rank 15th in runs, after leading the majors -- by far -- in 2013.

• The sands in the hourglass continue to slide away in the time remaining for the Red Sox to sign Jon Lester to a long-term extension. Clayton Kershaw set the very top of the market when he got a $215 million deal in the offseason, but the fairer comparables for Lester might be Cole Hamels, who got $144 million from the Philadelphia Phillies a few months before he was set to hit the market as a free agent, or Matt Cain, who got a five-year, $112.5 million extension in the spring before his free-agent fall.

The Red Sox offered Lester $70 million over four years earlier this year, and while Lester has mentioned that he’d like to stay in Boston, there is typically a time in the baseball calendar when it makes more sense for a prospective free agent to simply wait until he can hit the market.

If Boston intends to make a stronger offer to the 30-year-old Lester, who is off to the best start of his career, then it makes absolutely no sense to wait before presenting the upgraded proposal.

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Stadium woes continue for Rays, A's 

April, 5, 2014
Tropicana FieldAP Photo/Chris O'MearaThe Rays have drawn big crowds to Tropicana Field for certain games, but that hasn't been the norm.
On one side of the country, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., met with Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman to discuss the team’s lingering unhappiness with the current ballpark situation, as detailed by Christopher O'Donnell. On the other side of the country, the Oakland Athletics postponed a game, despite the fact there was no rain falling and no rain in the forecast: The field had been left uncovered the night before and was deemed unplayable, as John Hickey writes.

The Athletics’ situation could have happened in just about every other park in the sport. In the time I covered the New York Yankees, I remember a similar situation developing at Legends Field before a spring training game, with the groundskeepers scrambling to prepare the dampened field early in the morning before George Steinbrenner arrived. They had left the tarp off the field overnight, and a passing shower had thoroughly drenched it.

But between this and the ongoing sewage issues, and the field conditions that develop when the NFL's Raiders start playing games, Oakland’s park situation continues to be an embarrassment for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Athletics. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter on Friday, it’s now been five years since commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study Oakland’s ballpark options, and nobody -- not the other owners, not the commissioner -- have deemed it important enough to make it a priority item for the industry.

Which is their prerogative. If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.

But when stuff like this happens -- when sewage is running under the feet of players, coaches and umpires -- the fault lies with the whole of MLB, not just plumbers or groundskeepers. This is a glaring case of benign neglect.

The Rays’ situation with St. Petersburg is like a marriage that is all but over besides the legal union. After their Opening Day spread of 31,042 fans, the Rays have drawn crowds of 11,113, 10,808, 9,571 and 14,304 in keeping with the recent tradition of support. Some small-market and mid-market teams have seen their attendance rise and fall according to how much the fans believe in ownership's investment in the team -- the Padres are a perfect example of this -- but the Rays have been a model of consistency in their incredible and improbable success, and yet the attendance continues to drift downward.

The franchise vies with the St. Louis Cardinals for the title of best-run baseball operations department, having won at least 90 games in all but one of the past six seasons, despite working on a shoestring budget while maintaining residence in the hyper-competitive American League East. The team has tried to reboot the fan experience at Tropicana Field, repeatedly. The Rays have tried to make the marriage with St. Petersburg work, but it’s not working.

From O’Donnell’s story:

The Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027 but say they need to explore sites for a new stadium because of low attendances at the city-owned facility. The city has so far refused, saying it has to protect the investment of taxpayers who paid millions of dollars to bring Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg.

“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.

Despite a winning team in recent years, the Rays’ average attendance of just more than 18,000 was the lowest in the league in 2013.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams, including the Rays, through revenue-sharing payments.

Maybe there’s a more tenable site in the Tampa area. Maybe Montreal could be an option. Maybe Portland, or Nashville.

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To understand just how terrible the industry reviews are of the Detroit Tigers' deal with Miguel Cabrera, it's appropriate to draw on the examples from the movie industry.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of rival executives, is "Disaster Movie" bad.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of officials with other teams, is "Battlefield Earth" bad.
It's is "Heaven's Gate" bad. It is "Sahara" bad.

Folks from around the sport believe that Cabrera's deal is a guaranteed loser, and they do not understand what the Tigers could be thinking to sign on for this money pit that they know will have ripple effects on the entire industry.

"I just don't get it," one high-ranking NL executive said. "They lost their minds."

Said another: "It's an awful deal for the Tigers, and it's worse for baseball."

The criticism of the contract should not be confused with criticism of Cabrera, whose skills as a hitter are universally respected.

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Red Sox have options besides Napoli 

November, 15, 2013
Mike NapoliJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesMike Napoli played a huge role for Boston in 2013. But it could be someone else in 2014.
Ben Cherington was honored as baseball’s executive of the year the other day, an award that pleased his peers, as well as his friends in the front office. Even throughout the trying 2012 season, Cherington was never caught up in privately placing blame on others. Rather, Cherington always seemed to be focused on what he felt he could do better, to help the Red Sox.

“He never looked for an excuse,” a friend of Cherington said. “He did everything he could to make it work.”

What the Red Sox were able to do quickly, under Cherington’s leadership, was to structure a pliable roster filled with value, while fostering an improving farm system. Boston won the World Series, but the payoffs for the team’s choices will continue into this offseason.

Mike Napoli is a free agent and the Red Sox would like to retain him. But Napoli, who turned 32 at the end of October, redefined the perception of him within the industry with his adept transition to first base, built on the many days and hours he worked with Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield, and through the work that he did with Dustin Pedroia on positioning.

A year ago, he was regarded as a beaten-down catcher with a chronically bad hip. Now he is seen as an above-average first baseman, coming off a season in which he had a .360 on-base percentage, generated 63 extra-base hits and helped propel to the Red Sox to a championship.

He is drawing interest from other teams, and some executives are convinced that Boston’s greatest competition for Napoli

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Data, scouting fuel Red Sox win 

October, 16, 2013
DETROIT -- Think of the postseason as a final exam, and the pitchers in the American League Championship Series as summa cum laude-caliber students: former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, presumptive Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz, etc.

Now, on top of that, imagine the students had access to the best tutors in the world as they prepared for the final exam. Then, on top of that, imagine the exam was an open-book test.

This is what we have in the Boston-Detroit series. Some of the best pitchers in the world are using the extraordinary advance scouting provided to them, and are applying it to each hitter pitch by pitch. And when they see a hitter struggling with some problem, they exploit it expertly. The period from the late '80s to the earlier part of the last decade should be known as the steroid era, and what is occurring now should be called baseball's information era.

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Miguel Cabrera plots against pain 

October, 15, 2013
Miguel CabreraKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMiguel Cabrera's battle against constant pain has caused him to alter his swing.
DETROIT -- This is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, when none of us -- Jack Buck, first and foremost -- could believe what we just saw.

In the moments leading up to that at-bat, Gibson had taken some swings in the tunnel behind the Dodgers dugout, trying to figure out a way he could be functional at the plate. He had a knee injury and a hamstring injury and could barely move, making his usual setup and swing mechanics obsolete. Gibson had to take the working pieces of his body and make it all work.

Miguel Cabrera has been going through the same process in recent weeks. He has some sort of abdominal injury -- a best guess would be a sports hernia -- and he struggles to run, to move, to swing the bat. From Aug. 26 to Oct. 8, Cabrera had a total of two extra-base hits. But Cabrera, like Gibson, has been trying to figure out a way to make it work, and it has not gone unnoticed by the Red Sox that Cabrera has altered his swing mechanics to account for whatever he is feeling.

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My awards ballots and MVP precedent 

October, 1, 2013
Mike TroutThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMike Trout should win MVP, but an outdated precedent means it won't happen.
CLEVELAND -- The worst rationale is always, "That’s the way we’ve always done it," a phrase that could be the mud bog for man’s evolution.

Which brings us to the MVP, because it’s time for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to move forward with this honor, to shift into the 21st century, when the value of players is more precisely defined than ever.

For years, the MVP has been assessed by voters through the prism of team success. With few exceptions, such as Andre Dawson in 1987 and Cal Ripken in 1991, most serious candidates have been the best players on the best teams.

Which, unfortunately, means that the best players are often overlooked, because of murky bonus points bestowed upon others because they happen to be surrounded by better teammates.

Recently, a general manager noted the case of Mike Trout, who is generally regarded as the best player in the sport -- not only by those who wear suits and can define WAR, but increasingly by players and coaches and managers. The Angels look as though they may struggle for a few more years, the GM mused, and it’s possible that Trout could be baseball’s best player, generally, for the first five years of his career and not win an MVP "because his teammates aren’t very good."

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. In what sane world -- in what 21st century world -- is the question of "most valuable" among players defined by the ineptitude, or the aptitude, of teammates?

Unquestionably, this is the precedent in the MVP voting, established very early in the BBWAA’s history, never more than in the AL in 1934.

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Mike Trout is ending the debate 

September, 10, 2013
Mike Trout AP Photo/Alex GallardoMike Trout was loved by front-office types last year. But this year, the players also see it.
Before the season, Mike Trout talked about wanting to be more patient at the plate, about drawing more walks, because in his first full season in the big leagues he had shown some impatience and, naturally, he wanted to get better.

Well, a year later, Trout has increased his walk total -- by about 50 percent. He is on pace to draw 102 walks this season, as well as 203 hits, 78 extra-base hits, 110 runs, 95 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.

A longtime player was asked last week about the MVP vote in the American League. “Trout’s going to win it, isn’t he?” he responded. “There isn’t really any question about it -- he’s the best player in baseball.”

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Injuries that could change October 

September, 6, 2013
Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez Adam Davis/Icon SMIIt's been a great stretch for the Dodgers, but Matt Kemp has largely been an observer.
We’ve reached the stage of the season when a lot of injuries are probably not going to be healed by the time the playoffs start, a time when the team athletic trainers and the doctors are running out of time to fully treat their patients. In a lot of cases for contenders, open questions will linger about whether star players can actually be productive when they come back.

Here's a look at the top injury situations hanging over contenders with three weeks and three days remaining in the regular season -- in a race against time:

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

The team’s description of his injury -- that the best hitter in baseball has an abdominal issue -- has been obtuse, and imprecise, which is well within the rights of the Tigers. They’re kind of going the route of an NHL team that describes an ailment, officially, as a "lower body injury" during the playoffs.

Which leaves us to speculate, and Cabrera’s injury does seem to have all signs of a sports hernia.

If that’s the case, it means Cabrera is going to have to deal with this until he has corrective surgery -- and he has demonstrated over the last month or so that he can hit with his injury. But you do wonder if, in his effort to protect Cabrera during the postseason, Jim Leyland may consider playing Jhonny Peralta at third base when Peralta becomes eligible to rejoin the team.

Cabrera, one of the game’s great grinders, has missed four of the last five games.

2. Allen Craig, Cardinals

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Early leaders for MVP, Cy Young

June, 25, 2013
Yadier MolinaAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillYadier Molina now has a potent offensive game to go with his elite defensive skills.

I recently bumped into a longtime evaluator who offered an interesting handicap on the National League Most Valuable Player race. "Right now," he said, "Yadier Molina is the league MVP, hands down."

Over the next week to 10 days, every team will play its 81st game and reach the midpoint of the season, and the races for the major awards are starting to take form.

It’s possible to win the MVP or the Cy Young Award with a mad finish, like Vladimir Guerrero did in 2004, but as the use of statistical analysis deepens, the more the broad, season-long view of performance will be weighted -- not only by teams, but also by the writers who vote, who have demonstrated they will pick and choose. We saw this in 2010, when voters ignored Felix Hernandez's 13-12 record and gave him the AL Cy Young Award. Of course, the same electorate ignored WAR and leaned on traditional numbers to select Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout last year.

NL MVP: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

He leads the NL batting race, with a .353 average, and among catchers he has the highest OPS. Remember, his offensive production is regarded as a complementary part of what he provides. He is renowned for his ability to handle a pitching staff -- and the Cardinals’ work has been excellent this season -- and for positioning the defense, and for shutting down the running games of opposing teams.

Think about this number, which isn’t necessarily related to Molina’s MVP candidacy in 2013 but demonstrates the impact of his presence in a game. Since the start of 2006, these are the fewest stolen-base attempts against major league teams:

1. Cardinals: 645
2. Twins: 860
3. Reds: 863
4. Mets: 877
5. Diamondbacks: 889
6. Astros: 901
7. Mariners: 951
8. Brewers: 955
9. Nationals: 960
10. Orioles: 960

It’s hard to measure exactly what a great catcher provides, but there’s more than enough to support the scout’s view that as of now, Molina’s the front-runner.

The others in the conversation:

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
4. David Wright, Mets
5. Joey Votto, Reds

Troy Tulowitzki would be among the top three here if he weren’t on the disabled list, with an extended absence ahead of him. Carlos Gomez, by the way, ranks first in WAR.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

The guy is hitting .370, without the benefit of infield hits or being able to swing from the left side of the plate. And, by the way, he currently leads the AL in WAR.

2. Chris Davis, Orioles
3. Evan Longoria, Rays
4. Manny Machado, Orioles (second in AL in WAR)
5. Mike Trout, Angels

NL Cy Young Award: Matt Harvey, Mets

He’s got a 2.05 ERA, which is second best in the NL behind Jeff Locke, and he leads in WHIP and in strikeouts.

2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (leads NL pitchers in WAR)
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (career 2.42 ERA in the second half)

Others in the conversation: Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals.

AL Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Tigers

He’s second in the league in WHIP, and in strikeouts. And he seems to be getting better as the season rolls along.

2. Yu Darvish, Rangers
3. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (although he is drifting back because of his time on the disabled list)

Others in the conversation: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners; Anibal Sanchez, Tigers.

Around the league

Jose Reyes is rejoining the Blue Jays. Reyes could be back in the lineup Wednesday.

Wil Myers made himself at home in his first game in the Trop. Jeremy Hellickson is on a roll.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how Hellickson ended Toronto's winning streak:

A) Hellickson induced a career-high 14 outs on his changeup without allowing a hit. The 14 changeup outs are tied for the second most by any pitcher on changeups this season (John Danks, 16).
B) Hellickson started 19 of 24 hitters with a first-pitch strike (79 percent), his highest percentage in more than two years. He didn’t go to a single 2-0 count for the first time this season.
C) Hellickson threw 66 percent of his fastballs down in the zone, his highest percentage since his rookie season in 2010. He induced 10 groundouts, tied for his second most in the past two seasons.

• There is really bad news for Angel Pagan, Henry Schulman writes.

• As Vin Scully says of Yasiel Puig here: "The kid has done it again." He led the Dodgers to victory.

There are more adjustments to come from opposing pitchers, given Puig’s hyper-aggression at the plate. His rate of swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone is over 40 percent, which is very high, but not at the rate of hitters like Pablo Sandoval and A.J. Pierzynski.

When the pitch is inside the strike zone, his rate of swinging is the highest in the majors.

And as the pitchers try to adjust, so, too, will Puig.

From ESPN Stats & Info: Two of Puig’s three hits Monday, including his go-ahead HR in the first and his go-ahead single in the eighth, came early in the at-bat, something Puig has made a habit out of this season. All of his extra-base hits and homers have come within the first three pitches of a plate appearance. He’s hitting "only" .286 after the plate appearance reaches four pitches, including .214 with two strikes.

Other assorted Puig notes:
1) He’s hitting .688 (11-for-16) in the first inning this season.
2) Five of his seven homers have been to right field; no other righty has more than three such homers since Puig’s MLB debut.
3) Puig leads all of baseball in batting average (.442) and hits (34) and ranks second in slugging (.753) since his debut on June 3.
4) The Dodgers are now 5-1 in games in which Puig has homered this season.

• We are re-learning this summer that even with the advances of modern medicine and the remarkable understanding doctors have of how the body works, what they present remains an educated guess, because of all the variables involved.

The belief was that Mark Teixeira would be able to play sometime in early May, and instead he took longer than that. Now, after coming back, he’s still apparently not right and could be headed for season-ending wrist surgery.

On the other hand: Alex Rodriguez appears to be making more progress than expected, quickly.

The Nationals’ medical staff is under scrutiny. Bryce Harper is set to begin his injury rehabilitation assignment today.

Ask Corey Hart about how precise medicine is.

• There’s nothing new happening in the contract talks of Robinson Cano, he said, after first saying he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.

• On Monday’s podcast, Joe Nathan talked about his unusual path to the big leagues, and about his conservations with Mariano Rivera.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Pirates aren’t saying whether they will limit the innings of Gerrit Cole, writes Travis Sawchik. From his piece:

The baseball industry has managed young arms carefully in recent years, the most notable case being the Nationals' controversial decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after their ace reached a predetermined innings limit last season despite the Nationals being in the midst of a postseason chase.

Does Cole face a similar innings cap if he remains with the Pirates?

Neal Huntington declined to answer Monday when asked if a specific innings cap for Cole exists, but the Pirates' GM indicated Cole is a considerable distance from reaching his workload limit.

"Part of our development plan is to build guys accordingly so that when they get to the big leagues, they are hopefully in a position to be able to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten," Huntington said. "If he ever gets to his workload limit, we'll let you know."

One lesson that the rest of the industry gleaned from the Strasburg debate last year: Don’t talk about innings limitations.

2. The Indians called up a reliever.

3. The Reds’ next stretch of games could impact the deadline talks.

4. Dan Straily was optioned to the minors.

5. Mike Kickham was called up to be part of the Giants’ rotation.

Monday’s games

1. Jonathan Papelbon blew another save chance. It’s worth repeating: The Phillies are crazy if they don’t at least field offers and consider trading him right now, when there’s a lack of available closers in the market and they have a chance to step away from the back end of his contract.
From Ryan Lawrence’s story:

Papelbon, who had converted 13 straight save chances to begin the season, has blown 4 of his last 5 save opportunities. "He’s in a little funk," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Things aren’t going his way right now."

"It's not any tougher than any other situation I've been in," Papelbon said of his sudden cold spell. "I've been in this situation a million times before. I don't really carry previous ballgames into the next day. It's just not what I do. If you're a closer or relief pitcher or starter, if you take stuff into the next day, it gets out of hand."

2. The Indians are gathering momentum: they won again.

Dings and dents

1. Meanwhile, Mike Adams got bad news, but Roy Halladay got good news.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to experience discomfort in his forearm.

3. Jedd Gyorko continues to make progress.

4. Alex Cobb is hopeful he can return this season.

5. Carlos Gomez avoided major injury the other day.

6. Peter Bourjos has managed to avoid the disabled list.

NL East

Zack Wheeler takes the mound for the Mets on Tuesday night, looking to do better.

• For Justin Ruggiano, opportunity has paid off.

• Atlanta GM Frank Wren believes his offense will eventually click.

NL Central

• Jeff Locke’s parents don’t watch him pitch, because they don’t have the baseball package, while living in their little New England town. Nice piece by Michael Sanserino.

Matt Adams will be getting some added playing time in the days ahead, writes Derrick Goold.

Bernie Miklasz wonders if Matt Holliday is declining.

• It’s the Cubs’ time in the spotlight.

NL West

Jason Kubel and Cody Ross are heating up, writes Scott Bordow.

• Arizona starts a stretch in which it’ll play 20 games in 20 days, writes Steve Gilbert.

• The Padres continue to push toward the top of the NL West.

• Colorado’s bullpen could soon get a boost.

AL East

Will Middlebrooks met with a mentor, writes Scott Lauber. Middlebrooks has been frustrated, he acknowledged over the weekend.

Andrew Bailey is facing a challenge.

Zoilo Almonte is off to a hot start.

Andy Pettitte remains driven, writes Jeff Roberts.

AL Central

• Jim Leyland has plans to rest everybody but Prince Fielder.

Anthony Swarzak is finally home again.

AL West

• Nolan Ryan says he’s not worried about losing Nelson Cruz to a suspension.

• The Astros are set to face a whole lot of contenders.

Nick Franklin is catching on quickly with Seattle.

Other stuff

• Last fall, executives spoke of how the shift of the Astros to the AL West would affect pennant races, and Benjamin Hoffman details how that is playing out.

Mike Redmond promises to be more animated the next time he gets ejected, writes the great Joe Capozzi.

And today will be better than yesterday.

How to pitch to Cabrera and Trout 

May, 25, 2013
Miguel Cabrera, Mike TroutChris Buck for ESPNIs there a science to how you pitch to these guys? Depends on your belief in science.

It was a slow Friday night for Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, relatively speaking. Cabrera had a single and two RBIs, and Trout had two hits and a walk and scored twice. Cabrera’s batting average stands at .388, and Trout has an OPS of .963, and in pitchers’ meetings, in mound conferences, in conversations in the dugout, in the scouting section, the same question is being asked:
How do you get these guys out, especially when they’re rolling, when they’re swinging the bat well?

About Cabrera, one scout said, “You’ve got to be willing to pitch in off the plate. You’ve got to be willing to show him that you’ll hit him. You’re not throwing at him, but you’ve got to pitch far enough in that you can miss off the plate. It’s a lot like pitching to Manny Ramirez.

About Trout, another scout said: “If you get him to two strikes, he’ll expand the strike zone. He’ll chase pitches up.”

As the scouts talk, however, they sound as if they’re making plans to break into a Las Vegas vault because they qualify their words with warnings: If you make mistakes, you’ll pay for them.

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Scanning the bullpen market 

May, 24, 2013
Jonny VentersNick Laham/Getty ImagesWith Jonny Venters down, Atlanta has taken a big hit to the bullpen. But where's the market?
Some general managers would prefer that the non-waiver trade deadline be moved back until the end of August, especially now, when the addition of two more wild-card teams to the playoff format provides lingering hope for more teams. To those GMs, the playoffs limit the number of teams that declare themselves as sellers by the end of July.

Consider the situation the Atlanta Braves face with their bullpen. They have lost two-thirds of the back end of what was expected to be the best relief corps in baseball, with lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty out for the season, and it’d be great for the Braves if they could sort through a large sample size of available relievers -- left-handed and right-handed -- in the trade market.

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When small sample sizes matter 

May, 21, 2013
Miguel Cabrera is the planet’s best hitter, and he explained the other day why he doesn’t really draw much information from the written scouting reports available to all players: All of that is based on what has happened in the past and isn’t necessarily related to what’s happening today.

Cabrera watches some video of opposing pitchers before each game, but what he really wants to see is the pitcher throwing at the outset of a game -- in his warm-ups, in working to the first hitters of the game. Cabrera feels as if he’ll glean from that small sample so much usable information: how hard the pitcher is throwing that day, what pitches are working for him that day, how the pitcher might try to beat Cabrera that day.

"Small sample size" has become a common performance observation in dismissing particular results. It can be applied to players in September and October, but generally speaking, it’s probably heard more this time of year, as we try to wrap our brains around Josh Hamilton hitting .200 and Carlos Gomez hitting .360. "Small sample size" is employed as a cautionary phrase, as in: Be careful, don’t believe everything you see because it’s not really representative.

But here’s the funny thing about that. Small sample sizes are used in decision-making dozens and dozens of times during each game, before each game, after each game.

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Miggy eyes another Triple Crown 

May, 20, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If there’s an opportunity before the postgame on-the-field interview on "Sunday Night Baseball," I’ll give the player a quick heads-up about what questions I will be asking, especially if it’s anything out of the ordinary. It’s not standard operating procedure to ask the guy who got the decisive hit for the winning team about a player on the losing team.

So before the green light came on, I mentioned to David Murphy that I intended to ask him about Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable "Sunday Night Baseball" performance, when the Tigers third baseman clubbed three home runs.

Murphy smiled. “Good,” he said, “because I was going to talk about him anyway.” He went on to discuss how easily everything seems to come for Cabrera at the plate.

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