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Tag:Danny Espinosa
Posted on: February 27, 2012 10:03 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
 

Spring primer: Washington Nationals



By Matt Snyder


The Washington Nationals have never had a winning record. They finished 81-81 in 2005 but came in last. Then they dipped all the way down to consecutive 59-win seasons before winning 69 in 2010 and going 80-81 last season. So is 2012 the time for the first Nationals winning season -- and possibly more? Unfortunately for the Nats, they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Fortunately for the Nats, they are improved from last season's third-place team.

Danny Knobler's camp report: Harper decision might make all the difference | Likes, dislikes

Major additions: LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Brad Lidge
Major departures: OF Layne Nix, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Todd Coffey

Probable lineup
1. Ian Desmond, SS
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Michael Morse, LF
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
6. Danny Espinosa, 2B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Roger Bernadina, CF

Probable rotation
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmerman
4. Edwin Jackson
5. Chien-Ming Wang

John Lannan is also a possibility as the fifth starter, and remember Strasburg is on a 160-inning limit this season.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Drew Storen
Set-up: Tyler Clippard, Brad Lidge

Important bench players

C Jesus Flores, IF/OF Mark DeRosa, OF Rick Ankiel

Prospect to watch
C'mon. You know who. We've all been watching Bryce Harper since he was about 15, and from everything said in camp it sounds like 2012 is the year we see him in the majors. Will he break camp with the club? Only if they're ready to play him everyday, which means Werth is shoved to center. I believe the Nationals would have to be 100 percent convinced Harper was ready to star right now, otherwise there's no reason to do so -- especially since the defense would suffer as a result. More likely, an injury or underperformance opens the door sometime in May or June. Regardless, scouts collectively believe Harper is an elite-level superstar when he does stick in the majors. Anthony Rendon bears watching as well, but not to the extent of Harper.

Fantasy breakout: Jordan Zimmermann
"One could argue that in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Zimmermann had already broken out. Last year the 25-year-old posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and only an innings limit kept him from being a top 40 starting pitcher. This season, Zimmermann won't be curtailed in terms of his workload, and better yet, there is room for him to perform better even on a per-inning basis. He averaged slightly less than seven strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, not meeting the standard he set prior to his surgery but he started to miss a lot more bats over his final 10 starts. Over that span, Zimmermann got to strike three 53 times in 58 2/3 innings. With more innings and a higher K-rate likely this season, look for Zimmermann to emerge as a No. 3 starting pitcher in mixed leagues." - Al Melchior [Full Nationals fantasy team preview]

Fantasy bust Jayson Werth
"Leaving a homer-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia behind, many expected Werth to have a down year in 2011, but the worst may be yet to come. Park factors may have worked against Werth with his move to Washington but even before he signed with the Nationals he was facing a steady decline in his home run per flyball ratio. While Werth's home run power seems to be evaporating the 46 doubles he hit in 2010 was merely an outlier as he has never hit more than 26 in a season barring that one year." - Al Melchior [Full Nationals fantasy team preview]

Optimistic outlook
Every player plays like he's capable and the Nationals don't have a major weakness. The offense has the potential to be strong top-to-bottom, with great starting pitching -- Edwin Jackson proving to be the best No. 4 in the league -- and a lock-down back-end of the bullpen. If everything comes together like it can, the Nationals would make the playoffs. They may not be able to win the toughest division in the National League, but with a possibility of two wild cards on the table -- seriously, Bud, how long until this is decided?!? -- there's certainly no reason to count out the Nats.

Pessimistic outlook
While there are good hitters in the lineup, the lack of an elite slugger in addition to a hole in center field holds the offense back. Werth's struggles bleed into 2012, Zimmerman again can't stay healthy and the pitching staff is plagued by Gonzalez's control issues and Jackson's inconsistency -- not to mention Strasburg's inning limit. Playing in the mighty NL East, the Nationals come in fourth or even last, with the Mets surprising and jumping over them.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook.
Posted on: December 12, 2011 11:49 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 11:56 am
 

Homegrown Team: Nationals/Expos



By Matt Snyder


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.

We continue the series today with the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos. Yeah, remember them -- the best team in baseball in 1994 before the strike ended the season without a World Series? If you don't, you'll need to be reminded of a certain Bartolo Colon trade, which ended up being awful for the Expos, who got 17 starts from Colon after coughing up three future All-Stars for him. What we see is a team that looks pretty good, but has loads of young talent either already developing in the bigs or soon to be arriving.

Lineup

1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Vladimir Guerrero, RF
5. Jason Bay, LF
6. Danny Espinosa, 1B
7. Ian Desmond, SS
8. Brian Schneider, C

Starting Rotation

1. Cliff Lee
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Javier Vazquez
5. John Lannan

Bullpen

Closer - Drew Storen
Set up - Bill Bray, Craig Stammen, Collin Balester, Miguel Batista
Long - Armando Galarraga, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Ross Detwiler

Notable Bench Players

Bryce Harper, Chris Marrero, Wilson Valdez, Anthony Rendon, Jamey Carroll, Orlando Cabrera, Geoff Blum and Roger Bernadina.

What's Good?

The starting rotation is really good, especially if you start to think about the future. Much like the real Nats, Peacock, Milone and Detwiler all have the potential to break through and really make this a strong top-to-bottom rotation. Here, you have a perennial Cy Young candidate sitting at the top, too. The batting order definitely has the potential to be good, but there are a lot of question marks, so we can't really be overly excited about it. But, much like with the rotation, there is some serious potential on the way in Harper and Rendon. Finally, the bench is really good. This team has depth.

And in case you're curious, the three All-Stars the Expos gave up for Colon were Sizemore, Phillips and Lee. None of the three had made their major-league debut at the time of the trade.

What's Not?

If we were really going to stick Vlad in right field, we'd have to pray no one hit the ball out there. Should I have gotten more creative and put Vlad at first, moving Espinosa out to right? Maybe. We could move Vlad to 1B and throw Harper into the fire, play Bernadina in the outfield and move Vlad to first or just bench Guerrero. I'm open to any idea, but the idea I used was to maximize the offense. Hey, it worked when the Cardinals put Lance Berkman in right this past real season, right? Also, Schneider is a pretty bad catching option at this point, but there were zero other options on current 40-man rosters or in free agency in the MLB (which is what we used to build these rosters). Finally, the bullpen is very thin in front of Storen in the late innings.

Comparison to real 2011

The real-life Nats are just on the cusp of breaking through, though it'll be tough in the stacked NL East. These Nats would be a bit better with the legitimate ace Lee and a great bench. Maybe mid-80s in wins, but with tons of help on the way. Much like with the real Nats, it's kind of a "watch out next year" type deal -- with the likes of Harper, Rendon, Peacock and Milone waiting in the wings while Strasburg, Zimmermann, Storen, Espinosa et al continue to get better.

Next: Boston Red Sox

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: November 30, 2011 1:18 pm
 

Hellickson, Kimbrel lead All-Rookie team

Craig KimbrelBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Just when you thought award season was over -- move over Justin Verlander, you're not going to be on this list -- the Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team was announced on Wednesday. This is actually the 53rd, or so they tell us, All-Rookie team the baseball card company has put out (and did include Verlander back in 2006).

So, here it is:

1B Mark Trumbo, Angels

2B Danny Espinosa, Nationals

SS Dee Gordon, Dodgers

3B Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays

OF Desmond Jennings, Rays

OF Josh Reddick, Red Sox

OF Ben Revere, Twins

C J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays

SP Jeremy Hellickson, Rays

RP Craig Kimbrel, Braves

In all, it looks fine. I'm a bigger fan of Eric Hosmer than Trumbo, but I can see why some would pick Trumbo. I'd also take Dustin Ackley over Espinosa, but otherwise, it seems difficult to nitpick all that much. And in the end, if you're nitpicking the Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team, you may need to get out of the house a little more.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
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: September 8, 2011 9:20 pm
 

NL East has league's best rookies



By C. Trent Rosecrans

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Rookie of the Year.

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP | AL Cy Young | NL Cy Young | AL Rookie of the Year

Last year at this time it appeared a Brave was a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year, but this time we mean it. The Braves will have the Rookie of the Year. Probably. The question is, which Brave will it be -- and will either avoid the sophomore slump that has plagued Jason Heyward a year after finishing second in the voting for the NL's top rookie?

The ballot asks for voters to vote for three rookies, but what's the fun in that? Here's three --plus one more in the race for the National League's best newcomer.

Danny Espinosa, Nationals: The Nationals second baseman was a leading candidate in the first half of the season, hitting 16 homers, driving in 52 and stealing 12 bases. In the second half he's hit just .206/.285/.311 with three homers and eight RBI in 47 games. Overall he's hitting .229/.316/.407. So while he's still under consideration, his drop off has been so drastic that he won't win the award, and may even struggle to get votes, because of the next htree guys...

Freddie Freeman, Braves: While Espinosa has sputtered in the second half, Freeman's just gotten better.
his home run rate has dropped, but his other stats are better since the All-Star break. The first baseman is hitting .295/.355/.462 with 18 homers and 67 RBI to go along with 30 doubles. Freeman will turn 22 next week, but already looks like a polished big leaguer, not just at the plate, but also in the field at first base.

Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Last year the American League's top rookie was a closer that took his team to the World Series -- the Braves hope it's their turn for that this season. Kimbrel leads the majors with 43 saves and hasn't allowed a run in his last 38 games, dating back to June 11. The power right-hander has struck out 115 batters in just 69 2/3 innings, walking just 26. As good as Neftali Feliz was last season, Kimbrel's already been better this year. Feliz recorded 40 saves and struck out 71 in 69 1/3 innings with a 2.73 ERA. Kimbrel bests him in all those categories, with an ERA (1.55) more than a run lower than Feliz had in his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Vance Worley, Phillies: On most teams it's not saying much to say a rookie has solidified himself as the team's No. 4 starter -- but this is the Phillies of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, three of the game's best. Worley's looked every bit like he belongs with that group. The 23-year-old right-hander is 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 starts and two relief appearances. He also has 96 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings. If anyone is going to challenge the two Braves, it's the Phillie -- which is only fitting.

So who do you have? Let us know in the comments your pick for the NL's top rookie.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 4:43 pm
Edited on: July 21, 2011 5:07 pm
 

Trade Deadline Primer: NL East

By Eye on Baseball team

Leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the National League East has an actual race -- as well as a team with a bloated payroll and no hope -- which leads to a great chance of some pretty interesting trades to and from the division. Here's a look at the five teams in the NL Eeast:

Philadelphia Phillies

Status: Buyers

Needs: Bullpen, RH bat

Notes: Manager Charlie Manuel said he'd love a right-handed bat (Philadelphia Daily News), probably in the outfield, but this is the Phillies and expect the team to focus on pitching -- at least that's what history tells us. And because their rotation is pretty good (you may have heard about some of these guys), they focus on relievers, likely ending a streak of five years of adding a starter midseason. The team is likely one of the many suitors for Padres closer Heath Bell, although some suggest the Phillies prefer Mike Adams. Padres owner Jeff Moorad has reportedly told Adams he won't be traded. However, according to Tom Krasovic of Inside the Padres, the Phillies are willing to give up Class A first baseman/left fielder Jonathan Singleton in return for Adams.

Another bullpen trade partner could be the Orioles, CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler said. The Phillies could be interested in Jim Johnson or Koji Uehara.

MLB Trade Deadline

As for the right-handed bats, the Phillies are in on the same folks everyone's chasing -- Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence and maybe Jeff Francouer. The biggest hurdle of all for the Phillies is money, as in they've already spent it and they're worried about the luxury tax. The team has just between $2 and $3 million to spend and avoid the luxury tax.

According to Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com, the Phillies and Royals have already exchanged names in a possible Melky Cabrera trade. Cabrera is a cheaper, younger switch hitter for those who fall short in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes.

Now, if they're going big and bold, Buster Olney of ESPN.com, tweeted the Phillies could go for Pence, centering the deal around right-hander Vance Worley.

Atlanta Braves

Status: Bargain shoppers

Needs: Right-handed bat

Notes: The Braves need a right-handed bat like Roy Halladay needs air conditioning. Atlanta looks like the front-runner for the National League wild card, but don't have much money to spend. The biggest issue right now for Atlanta is its inability to hit left-handed pitchers. Braves hitters are hitting just .211/.285/.337 against lefties, with Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer all below the Mendoza line against southpaws. That's why Jon Paul Morosi's report of the Reds' Jonny Gomes drawing the interest of the Braves makes sense, Gomes kills lefties to the tune of a .340/.446/.547 slash line this season and .281/..377/.510 in his career. There's also the regular names such as Ludwick and Beltran.

To make room for more payroll, the team could trade right-hander Derek Lowe, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien wrote. The Tigers could be interested in Lowe, but would have to take up the rest of the $20 million he's owed through 2012.

New York Mets

Status: One-stop shopping

Needs: Young talent under team control; pitching

Notes: Outfielder Carlos Beltran is the top position player on the market, but his future is clouded by the number of teams that could use an upgrade in the outfield and the fact that he's not for sale, he's for rent. Whatever team gets him won't even get compensation picks if he leaves as a free agent after the season.

The Mets would reportedly rather pay Beltran's salary and get a good young player or top prospect in return. They could unload him to a team willing to pay the roughly $8 million left on his contract, but then they wouldn't get much in return. The Mets would prefer big-league ready pitching talent. New York seems confident it can re-sign Jose Reyes, meaning they're not ready to throw in the towel and go full-on rebuilding anytime soon. 

Beltran, however, does have a no-trade clause. According to Tim Brown of Yahoo!, Sandy Alderson gave Beltran a short list of teams interested -- the Phillies, Red Sox, Braves, Giants, Brewers and maybe the Yankees -- and Beltran hasn't ruled any of them out.

It's pretty certain now that the Mets won't deal Reyes, but it appears they may be holding on to Jason Isringhausen, too, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman tweets.

Washington Nationals

Status: Listening to all offers

Needs: Leadoff man/center fielder of the future

Notes: The Nationals have pieces to deal -- from catcher Ivan Rodriguez to relievers Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Todd Coffey and Sean Burnett, plus starters Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez and Tom Gorzelanny. In short, they're open for business, with GM Mike Rizzo saying no player is "untouchable" -- but then following that up with "we're not going to touch our core." That means, "after a while, they don't ask for [Danny] Espinosa," Rizzo told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. Ryan Zimmerman is also likely untouchable, as well as catcher Wilson Ramos.

One name to watch is shortstop Ian Desmond, but that would take quite the return for the team to move the 25-year-old.

More likely to go are some of the team's relievers. The Nats are deep in the bullpen and it's a position that's always in demand. The top tier would be Clippard or even Storen, but that would require Washington receiving a leadoff-hitting center fielder in return, someone like B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Colby Rasmus or Denard Span, FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal writes.

Florida Marlins

Status: Sellers

Needs: Third baseman, starting pitchers

Notes: The Marlins have starting pitchers that would interest many teams, but they may not part with them. Next year they rename themselves the Miami Marlins when they move into a new stadium and ownership would like a competitive team on the field when that happens.

Ricky Nolasco is the top starter to be had, but Knobler says they'd have to get a younger, cheaper starter in return for the 28-year-old right-hander.

The one the team may part with is Javier Vazquez, but it's not really their decision. Vazquez has a full no-trade clause and isn't in any hurry to leave South Florida. There are few places he'd accept a trade.

Sure to be gone is closer Leo Nunez. The Phillies are interested in Nunez. The other teams desperate for bullpen help -- like the Cardinals and Rangers -- are likely to at least inquire what it may take to get him.

Randy Choate has been verbal this week about his problems with current manager Jack McKeon and could get shipped off for not being a good soldier.

Also on the block are free-agents-to-be Greg Dobbs and Omar Infante. Infante's value is a lot less than it was a year ago.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: July 8, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Loaded pitching highlights NL East All-Stars

By Matt Snyder

2011 All-Star Game
SEE THE OTHER DIVISION ALL-STARS: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL Central | NL West
The strength of this divisional All-Star team is going to be mitigated by the fact that we're only picking one starting pitcher, one non-closing reliever and one closer, because this sucker is stacked with pitching. The lineup is no slouch either, in what is probably the second-best division in the majors, if not better than the vaunted AL East. I would have said the NL East was better top-to-bottom if it wasn't for that dreadful June by the Marlins. Anywho, let's get to it.

C Brian McCann, Braves: It's an easy choice, but that doesn't mean the other guys suck. Not by any stretch. Carlos Ruiz, Ronny Paulino, John Buck and Wilson Ramos are admirable backstops to varying degrees, but McCann is the best catcher in baseball this season, hands down. He's hitting .314 with 14 homers and an OPS over .900, not to mention he calls the games for one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.

1B Gaby Sanchez, Marlins: Before freaking out, Phillies fans, remember we're using DHs in this little exercise (wink, wink). We're also going to set Michael Morse aside for later and Ike Davis is injured. So it boils down to Freddie Freeman and Gaby Sanchez. Freeman's been hot of late and is hitting .279 with 13 homers, 42 RBI and a .354 OBP. Sanchez is hitting .290 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and a .370 OBP. He's also superior defensively be several metrics, so it's Sanchez in a close call.

Lineup
No. Name Team Pos
1 Jose Reyes NYM SS
2 Shane Victorino PHI CF
3 Gaby Sanchez FLA 1B
4 Ryan Howard PHI DH
5 Carlos Beltran NYM RF
6 Michael Morse WAS LF
7 Brian McCann ATL C
8 Danny Espinosa WAS 2B
9 Placido Polanco PHI 3B
2B Danny Espinosa, Nationals: Tough call over Chase Utley here, but Espinosa has played in 89 games to Utley's 38, so that makes the choice much easier. Espinosa, the NL Rookie of the Year front-runner at this point, has played a great second base for the Nats in addition to developing as a power hitter. He has 16 home runs and 52 RBI to go along with 11 stolen bases.

3B Placido Polanco, Phillies: We'd be a lot stronger here if David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Chipper Jones were completely healthy and hitting up to their full potential, but things haven't gone that way. Jones is in obvious age decline, Zimmerman has struggled -- until very recently -- after a lenghty stint on the DL and Wright has been on the shelf for all but 39 games. Polanco, on the other hand, has provided steady defense for the Phillies at the hot corner and is hitting .274 with a .331 OBP. 

SS Jose Reyes, Mets: Back in early April, we may have thought this would be a three-horse race between Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Reyes, but it's not even close. Ramirez had been awful up until the past few weeks and while Rollins is good, Reyes has been an MVP candidate -- at least until he fell injured a few days ago. Reyes leads the majors in hits, triples and batting average while also leading the NL in runs scored.

LF Michael Morse, Nationals: Hey, he's played 27 games in left, even though he's primarily a first baseman now. I'm using him here because we wanted to put together the best possible lineup and the other choices out in left in this division weren't great. Logan Morrison was the next best choice, while Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are simply far overpaid at this point. Morse, however, has been tearing the cover off the ball since the beginning of May. He's hitting .303 with 15 homers, 48 RBI and an .887 OPS.

CF Shane Victorino, Phillies: The All-Star is really the only choice here. Angel Pagan was injured for a while Victorino has far exceeded the production of Roger Bernadina. Victorino's hitting .303 with a .376 OBP, 53 runs and 13 steals. He also plays a stellar center field behind that vaunted Phillies pitching staff.

RF Carlos Beltran, Mets: Who woulda thought this one coming into the season, huh? You've got the young studs Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward out in right in this division, meanwhile Beltran had to move to right from center to keep his knee injury from reaggravating. All he's done is go out and make his sixth All-Star team. In addition to leading the NL in doubles (26), Beltran is hitting .283 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI and a robust .372 OBP.

DH Ryan Howard, Phillies: If Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman were having better seasons or David Wright and Ike Davis were healthy, this might have been a much tougher choice. Stanton could be an option, too, but I'm going Howard. He has 18 homers, an NL-best 71 RBI, an .842 OPS and just feels like a menacing DH in the batter's box.

SP Roy Halladay, Phillies: Do I seriously have to pick just one? We could put together a five-man rotation of ace-caliber pitchers -- Halladay, Jair Jurrjens, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Tommy Hanson -- and still have the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Jordan Zimmermann and the injured Josh Johnson left over. What if Johan Santana and Stephen Strasburg were healthy? This is the most pitching-rich division in the majors, including the bullpen. And it's only going to get better as the young arms further develop and a dude named Stephen Strasburg gets healthy. Anyway, I have to pick one, so it's the best pitcher in baseball. Maybe Justin Verlander has a case over Halladay, but he's not in this division. Just remember, if we went out to 25-man rosters, this division would have the sickest pitching staff of all.

RP Jonny Venters, Braves: Antonio Bastardo has been excellent for the Phillies. He has a 0.87 ERA and has stranded over 99 percent of his baserunners. He's struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings and has now collected five saves. Tyler Clippard has also been outstanding. He has a 1.86 ERA and strikes out batters at an even higher pace than Bastardo. But Venters has been dominant in 53 1/3 innings (Bastardo has 31) and has thrown in more high-leverage situations than Clippard. According to FanGraph's wins above replacement player, the only relief pitcher in the NL more valuable than Venters this season has been Craig Kimbrel, who you'll see below.

CL Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Drew Storen and Francisco Rodriguez have been good, but Kimbrel leads the majors with 27 saves and has struck out 70 batters in just 45 innings. Sure, he's blown five saves, but none since June 8. Since then, he's closed all nine opportunities and hasn't even given up a run in his last 13 games. He definitely looks the part of a young Billy Wagner. Only workload is a concern for the 23-year-old at this point.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.


Posted on: June 26, 2011 10:55 pm
Edited on: June 27, 2011 10:07 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Romero does it all



By Matt Snyder


Ricky Romero, Blue Jays. Romero entered Sunday with a 2.98 ERA, but a 6-7 record. Here's the number of runs scored in support of Romero in his seven losses: 2, 1, 0, 0, 3, 2, 0. Sunday, Romero took matters into his own hands on the mound and in the batter's box as a veritable one-man wrecking crew. Romero went the distance on the hill, throwing a four-hit shutout and striking out five. He also had a two-RBI single in the sixth.

Danny Espinosa, Nationals. The Nationals didn't even record their first hit until the sixth inning, but Espinosa came through with the big blow in the seventh. The rookie second baseman hit a two-run homer of Philip Humber to give the Nats a 2-1 lead, and that ended up being the final score. Espinosa now has 14 home runs, 47 RBI and is possibly on his way to winning the NL Rookie of the Year, should things continue on this path. Meanwhile, the Nationals sent interim manager John McLaren out with a 2-1 record and have won 13 of 15 games.

Madison Bumgarner, Giants. The youngster was huge last year down the stretch in propelling the Giants to the NL West title and ultimately World Series championship with an absolute gem in Game 4. This season, Bumgarner had scuffled prior to Sunday. He came in with a 3-9 record and 4.06 ERA. He hadn't gotten lots of run support, but had also been knocked around a bit. His last outing -- 1/3 inning, nine hits, eight earned runs -- was an unmitigated debacle. But Sunday night, in front of a nationwide audience, Bumgarner stepped up with a huge outing. He worked seven innings and allowed just six hits, one walk and one run. He struck out a career-high 11 batters in the Giants' 3-1 victory. With the win, they swept the Indians and are now up 1 1/2 games in the NL West. While we're here, let's note Jeremy Affeldt pitched two perfect innings for the Giants to close it out and struck out five. Quite a day for the Giants pitching staff.



Jonny Venters, Braves. It was a rough afternoon for the man who entered Sunday as arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball. Venters brought in a 0.56 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 51 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. He'd only allowed 24 hits all season. Yet Sunday, in one of the best pitcher's parks in the majors against one of the weakest hitting teams in the majors, Venters couldn't finish the eighth inning. There were two infield singles and later an intentional walk that were out of Venters' control, but he walked the leadoff man and allowed back-to-back singles to Orlando Hudson and Chase Headley before being chased. Venters' final line showed 2/3 of an inning with four hits, four earned runs and two walks. He had only allowed three earned runs all season before the outing. This is likely only a blip on the radar, but it's still worthy of mention due to how big an outlier it appears to be.

Pirates defense. We discussed the Cardinals' defensive woes Saturday night and now it's time to look at another team in the NL Central -- which, by the way, is easily the worst defensive division in baseball. Only the Reds are better than average and at least three of the division's six teams are dreadful in the field. Anyway, I slightly digress. In going for the sweep against the Red Sox, the Pirates kicked the ball around Sunday. They committed four errors, which led to three unearned runs allowed and a two-run loss. These are precisely the kind of games the new Pirates -- who are still above .500 and within four games in the NL Central -- are trying to eliminate from their arsenal.

Diamondbacks bullpen. Starting pitcher Joe Saunders entered Sunday with a 4.35 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He had a 4-7 record for a team only a 1/2 game out of first place. All he did against a very capable Tigers offense was throw seven innings and allow just four hits, one walk and one run. He struck out eight and departed the game with a 2-1 lead. Just an inning later, the Tigers held an 8-2 lead and then ended up winning 8-3. The culprits: Relievers Aaron Heilman, David Hernandez and Bryan Shaw. The three combined to cough up six hits, six earned runs and two walks ... all in the span of only recording three outs. The Tigers' seventh run in the inning scored on an error, but the game had gotten out of hand by that point.

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