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Tag:B.J. Upton
Posted on: January 14, 2012 2:37 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 3:17 pm
 

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?



By C. Trent Rosecrans


We love interaction here at Eye On Baseball, comments can make us think and we like reading what you think. Sometimes you bring up a point we hadn't thought about and make us re-think our positions or reinforce our views. Often, you help copy edit and fact check, those contributions are equally appreciated. We love good, intelligent comments. Really, one of the reasons for the Would You Rather Have series was to get more involved with our readers and encourage disussion. So far, it's succeeded and we hope it continues.

That said, the one criticism of yesterday's comparison of Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria made no sense to me -- some commenters said we couldn't compare a third baseman and a shortstop. Really? Just hours after posting that, the Yankees and Mariners played their own game of Would You Rather Have, comparing a catcher/DH and a pitcher -- and nobody told them they couldn't do it.

Sometimes the pairings we come up with will be players of the same position, other days they may have other things in common. Yesterday we had college teammates and today we're looking at two of the best talents in the game, and two of the top four finishers in last year's National League MVP vote -- Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. The pairjust happen to play in the same division, but different outfield positions.

The case for Upton

Sometimes it's hard to believe Upton is just turned 24 at the end of August, it seems like he's been around for a long time now. And really, he has been talked about in baseball circles for quite a while. The younger brother of the Rays' B.J. Upton, the younger Upton has been on the radar since high school because of his own play, but also because his older brother went second overall in the 2002 draft. In 2005, Upton topped his brother by going first overall.

It didn't take long for Upton to show up on the big stage, arriving in the big leagues before his 20th birthday. In the four subsequent seasons, he's improved and blossomed into one of the game's best players, As a 23-year-old in 2011, Upton hit .289/.369/.529 while setting career-highs in hits (171), doubles (39), homers (31), RBI (88) and stolen bases (21), in addition to the best on-base percentage of his career. He's also turned out to be one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, winning the Fielding Bible Award for 2011.

What the numbers don't show is just how much room there is for Upton to improve. Putting up those kinds of results could be a career-year for many fine players, but Upton can be even better, which is scary.

The case for Kemp

Kemp, like Upton, appears to have all the talent in the world. And 2011 was when he put it all together, showing that he can not just be a very good player, but an MVP-level player. As much as anything, his teammates kept him from winning an MVP in 2011, as he put up a 10 WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com on the strength of his .324/.399/.586 season. In addition to leading the National League in homers (39), runs (115) total bases (353) and OPS+ (171), he led the majors with 126 RBI. Kemp missed out on the MVP, but did win the Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove (although advanced numbers don't like his defense as much as the voting bloc of managers and coaches do, apparently).

The Dodgers signed Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million extension after the 2011 season -- but if he continues to put up the numbers he did in 2011, the 27-year-old will be well worth the cost. Upton signed an extension before the 2010 season that will keep him in Arizona for the next four years at a total of $45.25 million, with a $2 million bump in 2012 over 2011, a $3 million raise in 2013 and a $4.5 million increase in 2014, before maxing out at $14.5 million in 2015. That's the thing with supreme talent, if you want to keep it, you must pay, and neither of these players will be living paycheck to paycheck anytime soon.

Our call

It's pretty much a coinflip. On one hand, you have the production and cost certainty of Kemp, knowing you'll have him through the 2019 season. On the other hand, there's the dream of just how good Upton can be, but then risk losing him right after his 28th birthday following the 2015 season and seeing him star elsewhere. If I were in a gambling mood, I'd take Upton. But as it is, I'm feeling conservative (or as conservative as you can feel when doling out $160 million) and take Kemp, hoping that 2011 was the start of a trend. Ask me again in 15 minutes and I could change my tune.

Fan Vote: Would you rather have Upton or Kemp on your favorite team?



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Posted on: December 8, 2011 8:43 am
 

Homegrown Team: Tampa Bay Rays

Josh Hamilton

By C. Trent Rosecrans


What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no minor or major league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams. To view the schedule/past entries of this feature, click here.

No team has had as much success drafting and developing its players like the Tampa Bay Rays. The one-time laughingstock of MLB is a model franchise to even the biggest spenders. The Rays have had big name leave, but keep replacing them with younger, seemingly better players. A year ago, the Rays lost Carl Crawford because they could no longer afford him. By the end of the season, Crawford and the Red Sox were sitting at home while the Rays were in the playoffs -- again. The reason is because they grown enough crops on the farm to have a successful harvest nearly every fall.

Lineup

1. Carl Crawford, LF
2. Desmond Jennings, RF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Josh Hamilton, DH
5. B.J. Upton, CF
6. Aubrey Huff, 1B
7. Reid Brignac, 2B
8. John Jaso, C
9. Elliot Johnson, SS

Starting Rotation

1. David Price
2. James Shields
3. Jeremy Hellickson
4. Wade Davis
5. Jeff Niemann

Bullpen

Closer - Dan Wheeler
Set up - Matt Moore, Andy Sonnanstine, Alex Cobb, Jake McGee, Jason Hammel, Jose Veras

Notable Bench Players

The Rays have a couple of decent bats off the bench in Delmon Young, Matt Diaz, Jonny Gomes and Jorge Cantu.

What's Good?

Crawford and Hamilton to go along with Longoria, Upton and Jennings? That helps, that's for sure. The rotation is exactly the same -- and that's a good thing. You've also got Moore sitting there. The starters are an embarrassment of riches. It's one of the main reasons the Rays can still compete in the AL East with a smaller payroll.

What's Not?

The bottom half of the lineup isn't great -- especially with Johnson at short. But there's enough help at the top of the lineup to make up for the bottom. The bench isn't deep defensively, but it's the American League so you don't need quite as much as you do in the National League. The bullpen isn't full of experienced relievers, but there are some quality arms that can switch from starting to relieving.

Comparison to real 2011

The same pitching staff plus Crawford and Hamilton make up for losing some of its Frankenstein bullpen and Johnny Damon. I put Hamilton at DH to try to save some wear and tear on his body, he can still play in the field every once in a while and give Jennings a day off and have someone like Young DH. Or Young can play in the outfield. The bullpen might be the most interesting question, but I think the offense and the starting pitching are enough to improve, if slightly, on the team's 91-71 finish.

Next: Philadelphia Phillies

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Posted on: November 7, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Monday trade sets stage for busy Hot Stove season



By Matt Snyder


Sure, Derek Lowe was dealt to the Indians in a salary dump and we've seen a few signings, but things have been pretty slow of late in Major League Baseball news. When the biggest name to sign a contract with a new team thus far is a backup first baseman/pinch-hitter (Jim Thome), it says everything you need to know about this past week in actual transactions. So forgive us for loving Melky Cabrera and Jonathan Sanchez swapping addresses. It's something, and it serves as a nice little unofficial start to the Hot Stove season.

With just one week to the general manager meetings in Milwaukee, it's time to focus on other potential trade candidates. Obviously rumors don't always come to fruition and we're shocked with non-rumored trades going down on occasion, but here are some names that either make sense or have been rumored to be on the move in the recent past.

• The White Sox's farm system is in absolute shambles and the major-league club doesn't appear ready to compete with the Tigers any time soon, so it's possible general manager Kenny Williams decides to rebuild. Since Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have no trade value, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Carlos Quentin would be the parts most likely to move.

Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie is a free agent after the 2012 season and he could be a helpful four or five starter for a contender. He's thrown at least 190 innings in each of the past four seasons.

Hot Stove Season
• Do new Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look to cut the sunk costs of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano? They'd have to eat a significant portion of the remaining salaries (and for Soriano it's $54 million left on the deal), but the duo isn't helping the Cubs win in 2012. Also, Marlon Byrd only has one year left on his contract and prospect Brett Jackson will likely be ready to take over in center soon. The guess is Byrd has more value by the trade deadline in '12, though.

Rays center fielder B.J. Upton has long been rumored to be a trade candidate, and this winter it might finally happen with Desmond Jennings clearly ready to take over in center. Also, if the Rays are ready to deal a starting pitcher, Jeff Niemann is most likely.

Denard Span was rumored to be a trade candidate back in July, and the Twins could part with their center fielder to shore up the pitching staff.

We've already heard the rumors about Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado from Atlanta, but it's possible since talks fizzled with the Royals that the Braves just hold both.

• Do the Angels try to shed Alberto Callaspo and/or Maicer Izturis and then land free agent Aramis Ramirez at third? They probably would need to shed more payroll in order to do so.

• Starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers could easily be on the move from Houston, but the guess is the ownership situation would need to be resolved first.

• After a disappointing 2011 season, the Rockies have plenty of trade candidates. Chris Iannetta probably stays put, but Huston Street, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and Ty Wigginton all make sense in potential deals.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney finished 2011 with a bang, which might mean it's the Dodgers last chance to get something of value in return for him. There are a few small-market matches, too, including the Indians.

• Finally, as we've already noted, the A's have put basically the entire team on the block.

So fasten your seatbelts, the action has only just begun.

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Posted on: October 6, 2011 7:35 pm
 

R.I.P: 2011 Washington Nationals

NationalsBy Evan Brunell

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series... 

Team name: Washington Nationals
Record: 80-81, third place, 21.5 GB
Manager: Jim Riggleman/Davey Johnson
Best hitter: Mike Morse -- .303/.360/.550, 31 HR, 95 RBI
Best pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann -- 8-11, 161 1/3 IP, 3.18 ERA, 31 BB, 124 K

2011 SEASON RECAP

The Nats were exactly 13-13 at the end of April, and it was a trend that continued all the way through the first half, with the club jumping out to a 46-46 record in the first half. It was an unexpected surge for Washington, who was expected to continue along its growth, but at a slower clip. It was quite the impressive display, especially since the club didn't have Stephen Strasburg and big-ticket signing Jayson Werth struggling to a .215/.319/.362 first half, along with Ian Desmond (.223/.264/.308).

The second half saw the return of Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang along with rebounds from Werth and Desmond. But those improvements didn't show up on the field, with a 34-35 record. In essence the team was exactly the same. Players who fell off in the second-half include Danny Espinosa, Laynce Nix, Livan Hernandez and Zimmermann, who was shut down at the end of August.

2012 AUDIT

The Nationals are in a pretty good position for 2012. Stephen Strasburg is back from Tommy John surgery and looking as electric as ever. Paired with Jordan Zimmermann, Washington has a strong one-two punch in the rotation. Offensively, the team is coming along and with a rebound year from Jayson Werth could be sneaky-good. This is a team on the rise, and the Nats smell blood in the NL East.

FREE AGENTS

Rick Ankiel, CF
Todd Coffey, RP
Alex Cora, IF
Jonny Gomes, OF
Livan Hernandez, SP
Laynce Nix, OF
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Chien-Ming Wang, SP

OFFSEASON FOCUS

  • Bring back Davey Johnson as manager. He wants to come back and there's no reason not to keep Johnson. The team seemed to respond to him and he has enormous cachet. Plus, and this is just speculation, but he would probably sign a cheaper deal than any of the other big-name managers available.
  • Sign Prince Fielder. While Albert Pujols would be a great get, Fielder is younger and frankly, more gettable. It would be the splash Washington needs to make the fan base perk up and put the club in prime position to contend in the next several years. The Nats have long said that the money will be there when it's time to compete. Owner Ted Lerner time to step up. The club will have limited flexibility if there is no payroll bump. If Lerner is miserly with his money, the rest of the moves here still should occur, but Adam LaRoche would simply remain as first baseman.
  • What to do with incumbent first baseman LaRoche if the team can sign Fielder? Tough call. His trade value is near zero and coming off the bench isn't a great idea. Washington either needs to bite the bullet and chew up the remaining $9 million on his deal ($8 million due in 2012, $1 million buyout in 2013 on a $10 million mutual option), or trade him in a swap of hefty contracts.
  • In the R.I.P. piece for the Tampa Bay Rays, I said that the Rays need to trade B.J. Upton to the Nats for Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. (Washington would likely also need to give up a solid minor-leaguer.) This would fulfill Washington's need for a center fielder, and Upton could fetch some nice compensatory picks if he has a great year and departs town as a free agent.
  • Moving Desmond allows the Nationals to put second baseman Danny Espinosa back at his natural spot of shortstop, and reports suggest Espinosa could be an even better fielder than Desmond. To fill the second-base vacancy, Washington can promote Stephen Lombardozzi.
  • The rest of the team's needs have to be fulfilled for small money, short years or through internal replacements from the minors with Upton, Fielder and Jayson Werth occupying a big chunk of payroll. The bench needs some fortification on offense. Adam Kennedy, Jerry Hairston Jr., Kelly Johnson, or Mark DeRosa would all make sense.
  • Extend Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman is one of the best third baseman -- no, one of the best players -- in the game. He's a free agent after 2013, and the Nats simply cannot let him go.
For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: October 4, 2011 7:19 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 11:09 pm
 

R.I.P.: 2011 Tampa Bay Rays

RaysBy Evan Brunell

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s
R.I.P. series...

Team name: Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 91-71, 2nd place AL East, 6 games back. Wild card champions, lost to Rangers 3 games to 1 in ALDS
Manager: Joe Maddon
Best hitter: Ben Zobrist -- .269/.353/.469, 20 HR, 99 RBI
Best pitcher: James Shields -- 16-12, 249 1/3 IP, 11 CG, 4 SHO, 2.82 ERA, 65 BB, 225 K

The Rays have now reached the postseason two years in a row, but dropped its second straight ALDS to the Rangers, making it to four games before the season ended. It was a remarkable run for a team that had to remake its bullpen and replace Carl Crawford in left field.

2011 SEASON RECAP

Tampa began the season as an afterthought in the eyes of many. After all, how were the Rays supposed to contend with New York and the revamped Red Sox? That didn't stop the team from producing, though, posting a record over .500 each of the first three months. The team got quite a bit of attention in April when Manny Ramirez retired instead of serving his 100-game suspension for failing a drug test for the second time. They weathered it though, despite losing someone that was supposed to be integral to the lineup. Sam Fuld dazzled the team for a while, but the Rays limped through the season offensively until Desmond Jennings was promoted in late July.

July wasn't kind to Tampa, finishing with a 11-15 record but they turned on the jets after that, going 35-20 and winning the wild card on the last swing of the regular season, with Evan Longoria's homer disappearing over the fence minutes after the Red Sox completed their collapse.

2012 AUDIT

The Rays have a decent amount of overturn coming, set to lose two starters from their lineup in Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon. Backstop Kelly Shoppach and reliever Juan Cruz also played integral roles, but the important thing to notice here is that none of Tampa's important players are free agents. That's huge, and while the Rays will doubtless be making some moves -- and if you see below, I have them making two significant trades -- they should enter 2012 with a team fairly recognizable from this year. This is a team poised to contend, and the riches in the minors will keep on boosting the team. Their postseason may have been cut short, but they'll be back plenty of times in the coming seasons.

FREE AGENTS

RP Juan Cruz
DH Johnny Damon
RP Kyle Farnsworth ($3.3 million club option)
1B Casey Kotchman
C Kelly Shoppach ($3.2 million club option)

OFFSEASON FOCUS

  • The Rays need to make room in the rotation for Matt Moore and fielded calls on James Shields this trade deadline. They need to field more calls and deal him to Cincinnati for first baseman Yonder Alonso, backstop Ryan Hanigan and a pitcher. Alonso can step in at first or DH, Hanigan can step in as the backstop and the pitcher can either be a back-end starting pitcher -- which Cincy has plenty of -- or a solid reliever. The move would give the Rays cost-control over Alonso for years and inject some thump into a lineup that could use another strong hitter.
  • Let Kelly Shoppach go and wait on Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon's market. Shoppach could be brought back on a smaller deal, but $3.2 million is too much for someone who hit .176/.288/.339, and fell under .200 in batting average for the second straight year. Similarly, Kotchman had a solid season with the bat but the Rays shouldn't rush to pay him, as there's a reason he's bounced from team to team. Let the market dictate Kotchman's price, then maybe you entertain bringing him back. The same applies for Damon. If the price is right on either, one of them can return to play first or DH opposite Alonso.
  • Trade B.J. Upton to the Nationals for Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. Upton just can't justify his salary anymore on the Rays, and the Nationals have big interest in Upton. Desmond can fix the shortstop hole in Tampa, while Sean Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist and Bernadina can help fill the hole in the outfield left by Upton's departure.
  • Pick up Kyle Farnsworth's option and use the money saved from Shields and Upton to sign Mike Gonzalez. The Rays need a shutdown lefty in the bullpen, and Gonzalez can be that man. J.P. Howell used to be, but coming off a bad year, you need another, reliable, lefty in the bullpen. Then, use the rest of the money to bring back Kotchman or Damon, or go after someone like Jason Kubel.
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Posted on: October 1, 2011 8:29 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 10:45 pm
 

Jittery Holland puts Rangers in Game 2 hole

Holland
By Evan Brunell

Last season, Derek Holland was asked to play an important part of the Rangers' run to the World Series, but gave up three runs in 4 2/3 relief innings against the Rays before stymieing the Yankees in the ALCS, then getting crushed against the Giants in two appearances. You could tell that while Holland had loads of potential, he was having trouble putting it all together on a national stage.

It's much the same Saturday in ALDS Game 2, as Holland has coughed up three runs to the Rays through four innings. Only one of those runs was earned, but Holland is still to blame for the other two runs scoring.

Holland started the game by loading the bases in the first inning and issuing a bases-loaded walk, coming unglued after B.J. Upton followed Desmond Jennings with a double. You could actually see Holland's body language change, and his pitches changed from crisp and around the zone to someone trying to force-feed the ball into a small space and instead throwing obvious balls. The skittishness continued into the second when Jennings doubled to left field with two out, hitting the chalk. A dejected Holland unfurled a wild pitch to send Jennings to second, then threw three straight balls to B.J. Upton on a 0-2 count before finally inducing a flyout. Through two innings, the lefty threw 51 pitches.

The third finally saw Holland's first clean inning of the game, but his inconsistency reared his head again in the fourth. After seemingly finding a groove and recording the first two outs, Holland pounced on a dribbler by Casey Kotchman and threw to first. Seeing how Holland didn't set his feet and how he tried to gear up the throw, it was no surprise to see the ball fly low and skip under first baseman Mitch Moreland's glove. Matt Joyce then made Holland pay with a towering shot to right field to lift Tampa to a 3-0 score after the top fourth.

As mentioned earlier, Holland has loads of potential. In 32 starts, he posted a 2.95 ERA on the season over 198 innings, punching out 162 and walking 67. In his last 15 starts, his ERA was 2.77. The 24-year-old was clearly on the rise, delivering the potential many saw in him for years. Unfortunately, Holland seems to wilt under pressure, but does show signs of eventually putting it all together.

The Rangers may yet be able to bail Holland out, as the club has loaded the bases with no out against James Shields. One run has already come in on a hit by pitch, Shields' second of the inning.

Click here to follow the action live on CBSSports.com's GameTracker.

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 2:57 pm
 

2011 ALDS matchup: Rays vs. Rangers

By Evan Brunell

The Rays and Rangers will meet for the second year in a row. Last season, Texas came away with a victory, needing the maximum five games to do so. They would go on to advance to the World Series before losing to the San Francisco Giants. Both teams are in dramatically different places this time around, with the Rays team undergoing turnover while the Rangers' offense is one of the most fearsome in recent memory. Let's break down each team's position and determine who has the advantage....

TEAM INFORMATION

Tampa Bay Rays (host games 3, 4)
91-71, AL wild card champions
Manager: Joe Maddon
Team batting statistics: .244 batting average (25th in AL), .322 on-base percentage (13th), .402 slugging percentage (13th)
Team pitching statistics: 3.58 ERA (8th), 1.22 WHIP (2nd), 2.27 K/BB (2nd)
Star player: SP James Shields -- 16-12, 249 1/3 IP, 2.82 ERA, 3.25 xFIP, 65 BB, 225 K

Texas Rangers (host games 1, 2, 5)
96-66, AL West champions
Manager: Ron Washington
Team batting statistics: .283 batting average (1st), .340 on-base percentage (5th), .460 slugging percentage (2nd)
Team pitching statistics: 3.79 ERA (13th), 1.24 WHIP (5th), 2.56 K/BB (5th)
Star player: C Mike Napoli -- .320/.414/.631, 432 plate appearances, 30 HR, 75 RBI

SCHEDULE (Click here to view the entire postseason schedule)

Full Playoff Coverage

Game 1: TB @ TEX, Sept. 30, 5:07 p.m. -- Matt Moore (1-0, 2.89 ERA) vs. C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)**
Game 2: TB @ TEX, Oct. 1, 7:07 p.m. -- James Shields (16-12, 2.82) vs. Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95)
Game 3: TEX @ TB, Oct. 3, 5:07 p.m. -- Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95)
Game 4*: TB @ TEX, Oct. 4 -- Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40) vs. David Price (12-13, 3.49)
Game 5*: TB @ TEX, Oct. 6 -- James Shields (16-12, 2.82) vs. C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)

* If necessary | ** all pitching matchups projected

TEAM BREAKDOWN (Click player name for statistics)

Catcher
Texas: Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba
Tampa Bay: John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach

The Rays' catcher situation is like that of shortstop: Choosing between bad or worse. Jaso and Shoppach have both combined for extremely disappointing seasons while Napoli was one of the best offensive players in the game, robbed of his due because his counting statistics aren't up to snuff due to playing in just 113 games, but Napoli can do serious damage. Torrealba isn't a zero either, but most of his value comes on defense.

Advantage: Rangers

First base
Texas: Mitch Moreland, Napoli
Tampa Bay: Casey Kotchman

Kotchman came out of nowhere to give Tampa fantastic value out of first base, hitting at a .306 clip and providing his usual stellar defense at first place. While no one expects Kotchman to keep this up next season, what matters is right now. And right now, Kotchman is head and shoulders better than Moreland, although if Texas goes with Torrealba behind the plate and Napoli at first base, this conversation changes.

Advantage: Rays

Second base
Texas: Ian Kinsler
Tampa Bay: Ben Zobrist

Both Kinsler and Zobrist had excellent seasons -- both at the plate and in the field. Picking one or the other amounts to nitpicking as both players have 30 stolen bases. Zobrist holds a small edge in batting average and Kinsler holds a small one in slugging percentage. Even fielding numbers aren't any help. This is as even as it gets.

Advantage: Tie

Shortstop
Texas: Elvis Andrus
Tampa Bay: Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac

As mentioned before, Tampa's shortstop spot is horrible. Between Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Eliot Johnson, Rays shortstops combined to hit .193/.256/.282. League average was .266/.321/.386. That's simply awful, awful production. The Rangers clearly win out here, with Andrus' solid bat and strong glove.

Advantage: Rangers

Third base
Texas: Adrian Beltre
Tampa Bay: Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria has been one of the best third basemen in the game for a long time. Up until this year, you could have argued that he was the best AL third-baseman for years running. Alas, Beltre's second straight excellent season has supplanted Longoria, coming off a down year. Beltre's 32 homers rank fifth in the AL, and he missed a month and a half! Add in his all-world defense, and he runs away from Longoria even though Longo is still a threat and hit .289/.454/.589 in September.

Advantage: Rangers

Left field
Texas: David Murphy
Tampa Bay: Desmond Jennings

Murphy looked like he would have a lost season, but turned it on down the stretch and forced the Rangers to move Josh Hamilton to center for the playoffs in order to get Murphy's bat in the lineup. It's easy to remember that Jennings debuted with fantastic numbers in August, but September told a very different story. All in all, both players have things working both for and against them and nothing quite standing out.

Advantage: Tie

Center field
Texas: Josh Hamilton
Tampa Bay: B.J. Upton

This is pretty easily Hamilton's domain here after Upton hit just .243. Hamilton remains one of the best players in the game despite being injury-prone. When he's on the field, he produces. Upton can't say the same, although he turned on the jets at the right time for Tampa and had a productive September.

Advantage: Rangers

Right field
Texas: Nelson Cruz
Tampa Bay: Matt Joyce

Here's an interesting matchup. Cruz missed time with injury but when he was right, enjoyed yet another productive season, missing 30 homers by just one blast. Cruz's calling card is power, while Joyce counters with a better overall game, flashing a strong glove. With both players' offensive games basically evening out, the balance tips to defense, and Joyce wins there.

Advantage: Rays

Designated Hitter
Texas: Michael Young, Napoli
Tampa Bay: Johnny Damon

Yet another win for the Rangers on offense. We all know what Napoli can do, but Young figures to get most of the at-bats at DH. Despite Young having to adjust to the DH spot on a full-time basis for the first time in his career, Young coolly racked up 106 RBI and should get some MVP attention. Damon, by comparison, falls far short.

Advantage: Rangers

Starting pitching
Texas: C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis
Tampa Bay: Jeff Niemann, James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson

The Rays win here, although Rangers fans will probably beg to differ. Yes, Wilson had a fantastic season -- you can't take that away from him. But Shields, Price and Hellickson all had excellent years as well. No one's shorting Holland and Harrison here, but at best, these two pitchers are no better than fifth best overall with three of the first four spots belonging to Tampa. The Rays are in the postseason for their pitching, not their offense.

Advantage: Rays

Relief pitching
Texas closer: Neftali Feliz
Tampa Bay closer: Kyle Farnsworth

Feliz's future as a closer was in doubt even as late as early August, but he clamped down the rest of the way and will pair with Mike Adams for a formidable 1-2 punch. There isn't a soft underbelly of middle relief either, and this bullpen has the potential to pick up the slack left over from the starting rotation to beat Tampa. But the Rays have taken a completely remade bullpen and turned it into an elite corps, too. Tampa's relief ERA of 3.73 is 10 spots higher than Texas' 4.11, but Texas' bullpen is different after importing Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez. Let's call it even.

Advantage: Tie

Total advantage: Rangers (5), Rays (2), Tie (3)

PREDICTION (click here to see full postseason predictions)

CBS Experts
Evan Brunell: Rays in 4
Gregg Doyel: Rays in 4
Danny Knobler: Rangers in 5
Scott Miller: Rangers in 4
Trent Rosecrans: Rangers in 4
Matt Snyder: Rays in 5

Evan's take: The Rangers are a fearsome club, there's no doubt about that. The offense is awe-inspiring and the pitching has the ability to hang tough with Tampa Bay. The Rangers basically cruised to the division title in September, so it's easy to overlook the club because of lack of press, but those who overlook the club are making a mistake. I selected the Rays in four because in the postseason, I believe far more in pitching than offense. I also give credence to how teams played down the stretch. Tampa went 17-10 in September (of course, Texas went 19-8, so there's that) and was in playoff mode for two weeks, constantly playing must-win games then seeing it all pay off when Evan Longoria's second homer of the night went over the fence to give T.B. the wild card. The combination of pitching and the hot hand tilt me toward predicting the Rays to advance.

More Rangers-Rays ALDS coverage

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 11:47 pm
 

Playoff race: Red Sox split DH, up 1/2 game


By Evan Brunell

During the first inning of the night game, we reached the point with the Red Sox's collapse where it was comical. Boston unfailingly kept finding new  -- and strangely familiar -- ways to choke away games. While the first game did go the Yankees way as expected, the second game saw a Boston victory. John Lackey surprisingly held on for six innings after gifting three in the first and the team rode a 14th-inning Jacoby Ellsbury homer to a 7-4 victory. That keeps Boston a game ahead of the Rays.

One would think that the Red Sox would still be in prime position to win the wild card thanks to facing the Orioles next, while the Rays draw the Yankees as the regular season comes to a close. But Boston dropped three of four to Baltimore prior to the Yankees series, so nothing can be assured. (The Rays, to be fair to Boston, also dropped three of four to the Yanks last weekend as well.)

The Rays did their duty Sunday, defeating the Blue Jays 5-2. Upton hit his 23rd homer of the year and is heating up at the right time -- he has a .333/.423/.583 line in September.

Boston Red Sox
89-70
Remaining schedule: 3 @ BAL
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 50 percent

Tampa Bay Rays
88-71, 1 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 v. NYY
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 50 percent

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com