Ranking the MLB playoff lineups 

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Los Angeles DodgersRobert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers scored 21 more runs than any other team in baseball during the month of September.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday and the playoff bullpens Tuesday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the lineups of the nine remaining playoff teams.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB ranks (regular season):
Runs: 6th | OPS: 3rd | HR: 16th | SB: 2nd

Projected lineup
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C

The Dodgers enter this postseason with a much better lineup than last year's team, which reached the National League Championship Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ranking the playoff bullpens 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
HollandPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsGreg Holland anchors a Royals bullpen that was sixth in ERA in the second half of this season.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the bullpens of the 10 playoff teams.

1. Kansas City Royals

Closer: Greg Holland
Setup man: Wade Davis
Situational righties: Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow
Situational lefty: Brandon Finnegan

The Royals might not have the deepest bullpen, but they have the best, thanks mostly to a dominant trio of relievers in Herrera, Davis and the league's best closer in Holland, who has converted 46 of 48 save opportunities this year and has the most saves and best conversion rate of any closer in baseball since May 10, 2013.

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Playoff starting pitcher, rotation rankings 

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Kershaw/GreinkeUSA TODAY SportsZack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw anchor a formidable Dodgers rotation.
The most important element of every major league team in the playoffs is its starting rotation; it's the closest equivalent to a quarterback on an NFL team or the top three players on an NBA team. History has shown us that elite starting pitching has played a greater role in winning championships than any other aspect of a team's infrastructure.

Evaluating starting rotations for the postseason is much different than doing so for the regular season. During the regular season, you concentrate on the team's depth, even the Nos. 6 and 7 spots on the depth chart. In the postseason, you emphasize the top three starters on each team, with little weight given to the fourth starter and no weight to the fifth starter, who's normally in the bullpen. You especially focus on the team's No. 1 starter, who often pitches twice in a five-game series and as many as three times in a seven-game series. You also must factor in how much workload a pitcher has had in the regular season, how they've pitched at the end of the season and any signs of fatigue, something that's not controllable outside of a cortisone shot to lessen the inflammation in a shoulder or elbow.

History shows that pitchers who can miss bats and post higher strikeout rates often perform better in the postseason than contact pitchers. Why is this? Well, these hurlers are facing the game's best lineups, and they need to have the stuff and command to win those battles. Having impeccable command of all pitches in and out of the strike zone is a necessity, because many hitters on playoff teams don't have many weaknesses to exploit.

With that as a preface, here are my rankings of this year's postseason rotations based on scouting, statistical and sabermetric analysis, with specific matchups, workloads, trends and intangibles all factored in:

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John Hart's offseason to-do list 

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
John HartAP Photo/David TulisInterim Braves GM John Hart reportedly is mulling the team's offer to take over the job full-time.
Longtime executive John Hart has been offered the full-time general manager job (and senior VP) with the Atlanta Braves, and I think he will take it (although it might be for only the next three years before he passes the torch to 35-year-old John Coppolella). The Braves' GM job would give Hart an opportunity to put closure on his baseball career by building the type of starting rotation he wasn't able to in Cleveland or Texas while also making the Braves' lineup a force like he did in Cleveland.

I'm sure it's tough for Hart to walk away from his present lifestyle, which includes being an analyst for MLB Network and a senior adviser for the Braves, not to mention plenty of time with his family and on the golf course. But once a GM, always a GM, and there is no doubt the lifestyle he is enjoying now will be waiting for him on his 70th birthday, which is right about when he'd be ready to return to it.

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Players who are poised to rebound in '15 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Jason Kipnis, Jay BruceGetty ImagesJay Bruce and Jason Kipnis, both former All-Stars, have been disappointing this season.
Every year there are players who underachieve, and when it happens, opposing general managers pick up the phone and call that team's GM to find out if they can "steal" the player in a trade. GMs view players with the same mindset they do the stock market, trying to acquire players when their stock is down, much like fantasy baseball owners do. Whether it's a real GM or a fantasy GM, identifying those players who will rebound early and getting them before their opponents can is important to success.

As such, I suspect Braves GM Frank Wren, for instance, will be calling Indians GM Chris Antonetti to see if he can pry away Jason Kipnis while his stock is down, and I would expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to call Reds GM Walt Jocketty to see if he can steal Jay Bruce from them. Here are five players, including Kipnis and Bruce, who I expect to rebound, whether it's with their existing club or the teams they're traded to this offseason:

1. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians

Kipnis, 27, signed a six-year, $52.5 million deal through 2019 last offseason, with a team option for 2020. His first year of the deal has been a disaster; he has not been getting on base, not hitting home runs and not driving in runs.

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The secrets to the Cardinals' success 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Lance LynnAP Photo/Jeff RobersonLance Lynn (15 wins, 2.73 ERA) has been a key factor in St. Louis' rise to the top of the NL Central.
They trailed the Milwaukee Brewers for the first five months of the season, were trudging along at six games over .500 as recently as Aug. 12 and have had to hold off the surging Pittsburgh Pirates, but there the St. Louis Cardinals sit, right back on top of the National League Central. They're on their way to winning a second straight division title.

But this is not the same Cardinals team that won the NL pennant a year ago. Sure, they have many of the same pieces, but many things have had to go right, they've had to fight through some setbacks, and adjustments had to be made. Let's look at how the Cardinals have climbed from third place in the NL Central as of mid-August to the top of the division.

They've maintained consistency

The Cardinals have had some valleys, but they've managed to grind through them and avoid prolonged losing stretches. In fact, they've posted a winning record every month this season.

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Possible pennant race X factors 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
    Jarrod DysonAP PhotoSpeed never slumps and Jarrod Dyson has plenty of it. He could impact KC's postseason chances.
    It's coming down to the wire, and every game counts in the pennant race. With several teams still clinging to postseason hopes, even the slightest developments -- an injury, a surprise performance, an emerging rookie -- can make the difference. These X factors can decide whether a team is playing October baseball or going home.

    Here are 14 American and National League players or managers who could be X factors for their teams as they march to the postseason.

    American League

    Kansas City Royals | Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore | OFs

    The Royals have the best two-speed weapons in the pennant race. Dyson and Gore, along with the Reds’ Billy Hamilton, are considered two of the fastest players in baseball right now. Dyson, 30, has stolen 33 bases this year and been caught just six times.

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Top 5 Executive of the Year candidates 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
Billy Beane, David DombrowskiUSA TODAY Sports/AP Photo Billy Beane and Dave Dombrowski have been busy GMs over the past 10-plus months.
Major league general managers have remained busy on the trade and free-agency front all year long, and their hard work has created some of the best pennant races we've seen in years. In fact, as the calendar turned to September, 21 of the 30 teams were still within 9 1/2 games of a playoff berth.

But there are five general managers -- coincidentally, all of them are in the American League -- who have stood out for the job they did this year building teams that have legit playoff, and possibly World Series, aspirations. Three of these GMs happen to work in one division: Oakland's Billy Beane, Los Angeles' Jerry Dipoto and Seattle's Jack Zduriencik in the AL West.

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Mike Matheny AP Photo/Jeff RobersonManager Mike Matheny, a former MLB catcher, has the best method for how to fix the collision rule.
The new home plate collision rule has worked in terms of reducing collisions at home plate and lessening concussion risks. However, it has failed the game in terms of getting the correct safe or out call at home plate. This is why Major League Baseball must act fast to tweak the rule and end all the controversy.

There are varying opinions from managers and players on what changes should be implemented, but an overwhelming majority agree that at least something must be done. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon told me last week he'd like to see the rule changed back to the old rule (which allowed collisions). Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the ESPN crew on "Sunday Night Baseball" that something needs to be done about the rule prior to the postseason, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told me earlier this week on my SiriusXM radio show that he would like to see a "must-slide, must-tag" rule implemented.

In fact, I haven't talked to a manager, catcher or GM who supports the present rule. In addition, multiple managers have told me they now plan to challenge almost every close play at the plate going forward because as one manager said, "You don't know what the umpire in the command center is going to call next." The command center can view only a certain number of camera angles, and it really can't get a true idea of the speed of a baserunner, position of the catcher or release of the throw by the fielder on the play. Managers tell me that often the call will go in their favor when it shouldn't, and vice versa. The bottom line is the rule is not working and needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Like Maddon, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is one of my favorite managers and people in the game, and both represent a good number of baseball people who want the rule reverted to the old rule. But that's just not going to happen because the new generation of baseball executives are making it a priority to protect catchers from unnecessary collisions and possible season- or even career-ending injuries such as the ones we've witnessed (Buster Posey, Ray Fosse). Even though it can be argued that if Posey had been in better position, the injury wouldn't have happened, or tweaking the old rule to add that, in the judgment of the umpire, a baserunner who purposely injures a catcher could be subject to ejection or suspension, it still wouldn't stop the injury risks.

Therefore, the best solution is to implement Matheny's aforementioned suggestion. A "must-slide, must-tag" rule means that catchers must leave a lane for the runner to slide and the runner must slide on any play at the plate.

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Rookie rankings: Jose Abreu still top dog 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Jose AbreuScott W. Grau/Icon SMINot only is Jose Abreu a top rookie, he also should garner some votes for the AL MVP award.
This spring, many analysts predicted that this year's best rookies would likely consist of a group of position players that included Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco and Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez and possibly a top pitching prospect -- the Arizona Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley, Colorado Rockies' Jonathan Gray or Seattle Mariners' Taijuan Walker -- or two.

Many of those players have surfaced and played a factor, but none of them reach the top 10 in our rookie rankings. The top of this year’s rookie rankings is anchored by a certain slugging Cuban import, with emerging youngsters and another import (Masahiro Tanaka) to follow. Certainly those aforementioned prospects still could end up being the best long-term players of the class. In fact, I'm sure at least a few of them will be. But they haven't been the best in their rookie seasons.

As we head down the stretch and into the final five weeks of the season, here's my ranking of the 10 best rookies in baseball:

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Bartolo Colon Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWith the injury to Garrett Richards, the Angels could use a return of their 2005 Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon.
As front-running teams gear up for the home stretch, these leading clubs have the chance to impact the last month of the season with a significant move or two. Making these moves could mean the difference in having great postseason success or perhaps not even making the postseason.

Here are five moves I'd like to see before Aug. 31, the deadline for which players can be traded after clearing waivers and the date by which a player must be on a roster in order to be eligible for the postseason.

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Rob ManfredAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoRob Manfred has a laundry list of improvements he could make during his tenure.
Major League Baseball owners made the right call by electing Rob Manfred as the 10th commissioner in baseball history. His experience, track record and leadership skills made him the obvious choice.

Most importantly, he was the candidate most likely to proceed in the same philosophies and direction as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig. Like Selig, Manfred’s modus operandi will be to gain the consensus of all 30 owners on major decisions, with an emphasis on continued competitive balance. During his news conference, Manfred referred to competitive balance as the bedrock of baseball.

He also understands that most owners want to see the game progress in many areas. My colleague Buster Olney explained some of the major issues Manfred must deal with immediately.

In addition to the issues Buster identified, here are 10 more issues and their various subtopics that I’d like to see Manfred pursue over the next couple of years.

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'94 strike: From 1st place to headed home 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
Davey JohnsonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesManager Davey Johnson and the Reds led the NL Central with a 66-48 record when the strike arrived.
Oh, what could have been.

We, the Cincinnati Reds, had worked to get to the top of our division and become one of the better teams in baseball. Over the course of a short, 20-month span, we had rebuilt and reshaped the team to make a playoff run. We were finally there. We felt we even had a shot at a World Series title.

Had a shot, that is, until Aug. 11, 1994, when at 9:45 p.m. PT, Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson struck out Oakland's Ernie Young, and the baseball players went on strike, resulting in a devastating 7-month work stoppage, which at that time was the longest in the history of major North American professional sports leagues.

The 1994 season was taken from us, and I wonder to this day how far that team could have gone.

1993 struggles

For me, the general manager of the Reds, it was especially tough to take, given the years that led up to it. I was hired by Marge Schott to become the GM of the Reds on Oct. 16, 1992. At the time, I was the youngest GM in the history of baseball, at age 31, and I came out swinging by hiring Tony Perez as manager, trading for Kevin Mitchell and Roberto Kelly, and signing free-agent starting pitcher John Smiley to a four-year contract. I was feeling pretty good about the progress we had made, and Baseball America even referred to me with the headline "Boy Wonder."

The next several months were a different story, and after them, the more appropriate headline would have been "Boy Blunder." Let's just say everything quickly turned into a nightmare.

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Seven moves to make Rockies contenders 

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
Troy TulowitzkiIcon SMITroy Tulowitzki has grown frustrated with his team's lack of success in recent seasons.
Future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter has announced that he will retire at season’s end and when he does, he’ll pass the torch to the next most important shortstop who wears No. 2 in major league baseball: Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, who might be handed the NL MVP award this offseason. Tulowitzki is not only the best player on the Rockies, he’s also their team leader and he made that fact extremely clear this week when he publicly ripped the Rockies' front office by saying, “something needs to change” with his team before the 2015 season.

Here's a direct quote from his recent comments:

“I think that’s why I came out numerous times and said I want to win. It doesn’t mean I want out of here. It means I’m sick and tired of losing. Something needs to change. Hopefully that comes fairly quickly. You can’t force it. But at the same time, we’re all frustrated with this year, especially me.”

The Rockies have had a difficult time over the years trying to find pitching that can win at Coors Field and the balance of power, speed and defense that can score enough runs at home as well as on the road. It hasn’t been an easy task as shown by their win-loss records and splits.

The best way to make the changes that Tulowitzki and Rockies fans would like to see made is to look back in history to see how the Rockies actually did win while playing half of their games at Coors Field.

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Grading the GMs: Dombrowski on top 

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
DombrowskiAP Photo/Paul SancyaTigers GM Dave Dombrowski has a good vantage point for the postseason following his July moves.
That was quite a busy and entertaining MLB trade deadline. Today we grade all 30 major league general managers based on how they did. But first, a few key points: 1) Just because a team didn't do anything at the deadline doesn't mean they should get a low grade, because in some cases, doing nothing is best for a team; and 2) There are more positive grades than negative ones because some trades are win-win based on the objectives of the general managers.

Let's get right to it:

Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers

Trades: Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson and Willy Adames in three-way deal for David Price; Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel for Joakim Soria.

Analysis: Dombrowski solidified himself once again as one of the best GMs of his era when he landed Price in a surprise blockbuster at the deadline, trading his fifth starter and starting center fielder for the former Cy Young Award winner.

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