|Over Texas' nine-game road trip, Hamilton went 18 for 39 (.461), with five HRs and 14 RBI. (US Presswire)|
Each Monday, after a week of play and of scouring the major leagues for the best information, Jon Heyman passes along tips on whose stock up and whose is on the decline.
1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF: He may not have his MVP yet (with the emphasis on "yet"), but this is two straight appearances for him in Stock Watch, a much more amazing feat in the opinion of some. Kemp, my preseason MVP pick (and the pick of anyone else who's been paying attention), is leading the league in all three Triple Crown categories after threatening to be the first since Carl Yastrzemski to accomplish that near-to-impossible trifecta. His OPS is also an unheard of 1.467. The most interesting watch involving Kemp will be his progress toward his publicly stated 50-50 goal (50 homers, 50 steals), and so far he is on pace to post 101 combined homers and steals, but only because he's on pace for 91 homers (to go along with 10 steals). Come to think of it, 90-10 would be even better. Hey, it ain't bragging if you can back it up.
2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers OF: If it weren't for Kemp, Hamilton's numbers would look just plain crazy. He has seven home runs, 17 RBI and a .418 batting average, which is better than anyone but Kemp.
The Rangers love him and want him to stay there for years to come. But his negotiations are going to be very interesting because the team will also want to cover itself in case something goes wrong, meaning injury or relapse. It's probably tough for a player to agree to an injury stipulation in a long-term contract, but in Hamilton's case it wouldn't be unreasonable to accept extra safeguards in the event of a career-affecting relapse. So far, Hamilton has had only had minor relapses (none of them involved drugs, only alcohol), for which he's apologized.
A free agent at year's end, Hamilton hasn't conceded anything, and one competing agent said that despite his history of crack use, he shouldn't. That agent, not Hamilton's own guy Michael Moye, said, "He's done nothing but perform for them, and nothing he's done has affected him there. He's always performed there, and he continues to perform." Nobody has performed better, except Kemp maybe.
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3 to Watch: Rangers, Yanks set to see who's best in AL
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3. Phil Humber, White Sox SP: The man now on the list of 21 perfect game throwers can hardly believe it himself. "I don't know what Philip Humber is doing in this list ... But I'm thankful to be there," Humber told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune and other White Sox writers. Nice quote, nice story.
Truth be told, not everyone on the perfect game list is Sandy Koufax or Catfish Hunter (though they are there), but only one pitcher did it with fewer career victories than Humber's 11 (now 12). It's a heart-warming story for the big right-hander, who was drafted in 2004 and has been released twice. A virtual throw-in in the Mets' Johan Santana trade (the Mets were hoping to take Justin Verlander with their third pick), he was released by both the Twins and A's before finding success on Don Cooper's pitching staff. Cooper lists four reasons by text for Humber's new-found success: "aggressiveness ... four pitches now with a slider ... strikes ... and confidence."
Humber had only two victories by the time he turned 28, but has found a home on Chicago's South Side. He isn't a particularly hard thrower for a big fellow, so there are still questions from some; he was skipped in his first start to keep the White Sox's other four starters on schedule. Turns out to be a fortuitous move, as he needed just 97 pitches to throw his gem. It was his first career complete game.
1. Red Sox team: This one was an easy choice for the top spot, as even their manager Bobby Valentine declared, "We've hit bottom." He hopes so, anyway. With issues in their rotation and bullpen, who can be sure though? The losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford haven't helped, but the absence of Andrew Bailey and also Jonathan Papelbon have been devastating. The two men counted on to comprise the back end of their bullpen, Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves, have been nothing short of incendiary. Melancon's ERA was up to 49.50 before he was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket and Aceves's is only comparatively good, at 24.00. As a unit, their bullpen has an 8.44 ERA. (Only one other team has a 'pen ERA above 5.06 -- Tampa, which has a slightly better mark.)
Boston brass spent no more than $3 million on any one free agent last winter following the September collapse, so it's hard to blame someone besides ownership. Valentine, though, rather candidly suggested he's in a slump. "I've got to do better," he said. Funny, no Red Sox players rushed to defend him, though new GM Ben Cherington did, saying, "He's doing the best he can with the roster he has -- he knows that and I know that -- and along the way, if changes are needed to be made on the roster, that's my responsibility."
Still, with his forlorn looks in the dugout, Valentine has become the face of the 4-10 start. Owner John Henry seemed to support Valentine, telling Comcast New England, "This isn't a 14-game problem. This is a 41-game problem." Henry would prefer to suggest this is the problem of the predecessors who are gone, manager Terry Francona and especially GM Theo Epstein, who received a late make-up invite to the 100th anniversary celebration of beloved Fenway Park only after it was publicly noted that Epstein was snubbed. On the plus side, the celebration received no reviews.
2. Mark Reynolds, Orioles 3B: At one point a few years back, one GM told me he'd take Reynolds over David Wright. Now, after he was shuffled off to Baltimore, he appears to be hanging onto his starting job by a thread. Half of the left side of the vaunted University of Virginia infield (he was the shortstop; Ryan Zimmerman, the third baseman, is manning third on the other side of the Beltway, with the Washington Nationals), Reynolds currently has no home runs, and has just three RBI and a .125 batting average. His perennial bugaboo, strikeouts, are still too high; he has 22 in 48 at-bats. Many of the rest of the Orioles are off to nice starts, but so far Reynolds isn't contributing. Zimmerman just got a $100 million extension, while his old infield mate will have to pick it up just to stay in the lineup.
3. Pirates hitters: Andrew McCutchen has been terrific since signing his $51.5 million deal this spring, but he's going to need a little help. Just a little. So far he's getting none. The Pirates have scored 30 runs in 15 games, which you don't have to be a mathematician to know is two runs a game. That's by far the lowest total in the majors, no surprise, and that's just not going to cut it.
To this point, Clint Barmes has been a black hole in hitting .089, and what makes matters worse he has yet to walk. Barmes was imported for his stellar defense, but really. Some other averages: Jose Tabata .170, Pedro Alvarez .118, Rod Barajas .091. Cleanup man Neil Walker, the local kid who looked to possibly be in line for his own new deal, is hitting .240 and has no extra-base hits. No wonder they've scored fewer than two runs in 10 of 15 games and have yet to score more than five. The good news is that the pitching has been so good (a third-best in the NL 2.53 ERA), the Pirates have miraculously managed to win six of 15 games.