Tag:Alex Avila
Posted on: October 7, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 4:45 pm
 

Tigers vs. Rangers ALCS preview

By Evan Brunell

Detroit-Texas ALCS

The Tigers and Rangers share one thing in common -- both teams have AL pennants to their name in recent seasons, but fell short in the World Series. Jim Leyland took Detroit to the World Series in 2006, his first season with the club, winning 95 after the Tigers registered five straight seasons of at least 90 losses, including 119 in 2003. It's taken them some time to return to the postseason, but they're here after downing the Yankees in five games. Detroit will be leaning on the electric arm of Justin Verlander, who won Rookie of the Year in '05 but gave up 17 runs in 21 2/3 innings across the 2005 postseason. He'll get a chance at redemption against Texas, who appeared in the Fall Classic a mere season ago.

The revamped Rangers may have lost Cliff Lee, but their offense is as potent as its ever been in franchise history, adding Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli to its monstrous lineup. Seeking to become the first consecutive AL pennant champion since the 1998-2001 Yankees, Texas will be relying on C.J. Wilson and its formidable bullpen to keep the Tiger offense in check. However, Texas' own offense needs to play up to its billing, as the team scored just 16 runs in the LDS, least among any team. (Granted, Texas was the only advancing club to play a series in less than five games, bouncing Tampa Bay in four.)

TEAM INFORMATION

Detroit Tigers (host games 3, 4, 5*)
95-67, AL Central champions
ALDS
: Defeated Yankees in 5 games -- View coverage of ALDS Tigers-Yankees
Manager
: Jim Leyland
Regular-season batting statistics: .277 batting average (3rd in AL), .340 on-base percentage (3rd), .434 slugging percentage (4th)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 4.04 ERA (7th), 1.32 WHIP (8th), 2.27 K/BB (6th)
Star player: SP Justin Verlander -- 24-5, 2.41 ERA, 251 IP, 0.92 WHIP, 250 K

Texas Rangers (host games 1, 2, 6*, 7*)
96-66, AL West champions
ALDS
: Defeated Rays in 4 games -- View coverage of ALDS Rangers-Rays
Manager: Ron Washington
Regular-season batting statistics: .283 batting average (1st), .340 on-base percentage (5th), .460 slugging percentage (2nd)
Regular-season 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

*if necessary

WHO HAS THE EDGE? (Click player name for statistics)

Let's break each position down and see which team has the edge...

Catcher: Alex Avila vs. Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba


Being a quality catcher is difficult to do. You have to be able to call a game, develop a rapport with pitchers, block balls effectively, have a gun for an arm... and oh yeah, hit too. The latter category is what Avila and Napoli excel at, as both rank 1-2 in baseball in catcher offense. Napoli of course, blows away Avila in offense, but the Ranger also has 28 less games at the position, in large part due to another capable catcher also on the roster in Torrealba -- but the Tigers have Victor Martinez, too. Defensively, Avila holds the edge, and this is just too close to call.

First base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Mitch Moreland, Michael Young


Moreland could feasibly be at first base the entire series, as he's a favorite of the club and all of Detroit's starters are right-handed, but Young could steal a couple games if the team wants to get Torrealba or Craig Gentry into the lineup. Either way, both these players pale in comparison to Miguel Cabrera who, if it wasn't for Justin Verlander lucking into 24 wins (to be clear, he's a very good pitcher, but win-loss records have nothing to do with player quality), he could very well be the favorite for the MVP award. Cabrera led all of baseball in doubles, batting average, OBP and decided to swat 30 homers too. Moreland is still scrapping to be a full-time player and Young just can't field.

Second base: Ramon Santiago vs. Ian Kinsler


This isn't even close. The Tigers have cycled through six second basemen this season, with five of them receiving at least 17 starts. Santiago won the job basically by default, as Carlos Guillen can't stay healthy, Ryan Raburn split his time between left and second then lost his job for a complete inability to hit and Scott Sizemore was traded. Santiago is like Raburn in that he can't hit, but can flash a solid glove. Kinsler, meanwhile, was one of the most valuable second basemen in the game.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta vs. Elvis Andrus


Andrus can pick the ball, get on base and steal bases. Peralta can't steal any bases and can only play a passable short. But boy, can Peralta hit. Here's the thing, though -- people tend to overvalue offense because it's easily quantified, and you can see with your eyes the impact a bat can have. Stolen bases and defense, not so much. But they are important facets of the game as well, and when you factor everything in, this is a dead-even.

Third base: Wilson Betemit, Brandon Inge vs. Adrian Beltre


Adrian Beltre is an awesome player, there is no doubt about that. He posted the second-best season of his career and slugged three home runs to pace the narrative of Texas winning the ALDS. However, the gap between Beltre and the Tigers' crew isn't as large as one might think. Betemit rakes against righties, while Inge is capable against left-handers. But don't ask them to face the opposite-handed pitcher. Inge also has excellent defense at the hot corner and is a great late-inning replacement for Betemit. All told, the duo combines into a pretty good player. Good enough that the difference between Detroit and Texas at the spot is not significant.

Left field: Delmon Young vs. David Murphy, Craig Gentry


Young injured himself in Game 5 of the ALDS, but reports are that he should be fine for the ALCS. If not, Raburn will start in his place. Young has played his way into a 2012 role with the Tigers, but he's doing so on the backing of a hot streak that might not be sustainable long-term. He's a statue in left field and his value is tied up completely in swatting home runs. Murphy, meanwhile, parlayed a hot September into more playing time and has been sharing time with Gentry, with Murphy getting PT against right-handers and Gentry mostly playing against lefties. If Young wasn't performing well as of late, this would probably be a slight edge to the Rangers, but as long as Young's hot streak is carrying him, we'll call this even.

Center field
: Austin Jackson vs. Josh Hamilton


This isn't a difficult decision at all. Hamilton is one of the best hitters in the game and is the reigning AL MVP. Austin Jackson, meanwhile, rode a lot of luck to a .293 batting average last season that sank to .249 this year. He has strong defense, but is miscast as the leadoff hitter.

Right field: Magglio Ordonez vs. Nelson Cruz


At one point this season, Ordonez contemplated hanging his spikes up. Good thing he didn't, for he hit .365 from Aug. 21 to the end of the year and finished the ALDS with five hits in 11 at-bats, including a 3-for-3 effort in Game 2. When Ordonez is hot, he can still beat any pitcher, regardless of his advanced age. But his defense is questionable, and Nelson Cruz is a better hitter at this point. Although Cruz is slumping significantly, gathering just one hit in 15 trips to the plate during the ALDS against the Rays, he remains the better player.

Designated hitter: Victor Martinez vs. Young


A certain three-year-old, I'm sure, would pick Young here with an edge. But both Martinez and Young are remarkably similar in production at the DH spot, and the numbers are uncannily similar even though Young has played in 14 more games. Take a look:

Martinez: .330/.380/.470, 12 HR, 103 RBI
Young: .338/.380/.474, 11 HR, 106 RBI

How can you not call this even?

Starting pitching: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello vs. C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison


The order listed here is the order that both teams have announced will go in the ALCS, so let's judge it on these parameters. For one, the Tigers clearly lose by not being able to set up their rotation they way they wanted. Rick Porcello, obviously the lesser member of the quartet, will start twice while Max Scherzer only draws Game 4 after appearing in relief during Game 5 of the ALDS. Regardless, the Tigers still hold an overall edge here. You don't need me to throw more platitudes Verlander's way, and Fister has been a revelation since coming over from Seattle (although he's veering fast into overrated territory) and Scherzer is a quality pitcher whose potential breakout has been tantalizing pitchers for quite some time.

Over in Texas, C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but doesn't quite stack up to Verlander. Porcello matching up against Derek Holland pits a battle of proming young pitchers, especially Holland, who is showing signs of emerging into an ace but is lacks consistency and is prone to the wild inning if he lets the game get away from him. Lewis has an incredible postseason record, but his propensity to give up the long ball held him back in the regular season. Harrison impressed against the Rays by punching out nine but could only last five innings and the jury is still out on just how good a picher he is.

All told, yet another matchup where both teams look even -- but not quite, as Verlander is the man that tips the scales in the Tigers' favor.

Relief pitching: Jose Valverde and co. vs. Neftali Feliz and co.


Both Valverde and Feliz are good pitchers when on, but both can also be maddeningly inconsistent. The Tigers closer can point to his 49 of 49 record in saves, but he walks way too much to be reliable. Feliz, meanwhile, took a clear step back from last season when he closed 40 games as a rookie and lost his strong command. He's been much better since the All-Star break, though, and if I had to pick one closer, I'd take Feliz. Texas also has a vaunted setup corps, boasting Mike Adams (who is still one of the best relievers in the game despite a spike in home runs allowed), Koji Uehara, Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and Darrell Oliver most notably.

Texas' 3.79 bullpen ERA during the regular season was fifth-best in the AL and would have been even better with full years of all relievers mentioned sans Feliz and Oliver, who have been with the club all year. By comparison, the Tigers' two best relievers are Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit, but Alburquerque only pitched 14 1/3 innings in the second half and did not look good in Games 1 and 4 of the ALDS. The Tigers pen has a chance to be a good one, but Texas is the better bet to come out on top in the war of bullpens.

Defense


Defensive statistics are getting a bum rap these days, and it's understandable. Quantifying defense is a very difficult thing to do and no defensive metric out there can be relied on. However, when you have a large sample to draw from, multiple numbers to look at and enough of a disparity in the numbers, it becomes obvious which defense holds up. And that's the Rangers, who score well in defensive metrics, largely on the strength of Andrus, Kinsler and Beltre, while the Tigers are affected by the tin gloves of Betemit, Cabrera, and Young the most.

DetroitPREDICTION

Both teams shape up to be remarkably even all across the board -- even though both teams are the last two standing in the AL and it makes sense that they would be equals, it's not often you see such a balanced division. It will come down to the postseason mantra of good pitching always beating good hitting, and given the presence of Verlander, I'll give the nod to Detroit vanquishing Texas in six games, while Daniel Knobler likes Detroit too, but in seven.

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



Posted on: October 6, 2011 7:55 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 7:07 pm
 

See-saw ALDS comes down to Game 5



By Matt Snyder


You want to talk about momentum? Go ahead. It's proven incorrect through most the Tigers-Yankees ALDS.

The national narrative has constantly shifted in this series. After Game 1 was suspended, the Yankees had the advantage because Justin Verlander would only get one start. After Game 1 finished, the Yankees had the advantage. After Game 2, the Tigers had the edge as they were going home with a split. After Game 3, the Tigers had the series in the bag, because there was no way A.J. Burnett would pitch well. But he did. And now the Yankees have the advantage, as they head home with the momentum. Right? So goes the narrative.

This Game 5, like the entire series, is a complete toss up. Drawing conclusions based upon what we've seen in the first four games would be folly, because you can throw everything out the window. It's Game 5. Anything can happen. And it's great theater involving pretty opposite cities.

We've got a team that hadn't won a division since 1987 against a team that has won its division 12 times in the past 16 seasons, but it's also blue collar against white collar. It's East Coast against the Midwest. Wall Street against the auto industry.

And it all comes down to one game. Let's size it up.

Game 5: Tigers at Yankees, 8:07 p.m. ET, Yankee Stadium, TBS

LINEUPS

Tigers Yankees
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Austin Jackson CF 1 Derek Jeter SS
2 Don Kelly 3B 2 Curtis Granderson CF
3 Delmon Young LF 3 Robinson Cano 2B
4 Miguel Cabrera 1B 4 Alex Rodriguez 3B
5 Victor Martinez DH 5 Mark Teixeira 1B
6 Magglio Ordonez RF 6 Nick Swisher RF
7 Alex Avila C 7 Jorge Posada DH
8 Jhonny Peralta SS 8 Russell Martin C
9 Ramon Santiago 2B 9 Brett Gardner LF
  Doug Fister RHP   Ivan Nova RHP


PITCHING MATCHUPS

Nova vs. Tigers: He completely shut the Tigers down in the continuation of Game 1 through six innings, but faltered after that. Still, he now has one postseason outing under his belt and got some confidence out of it. The big stage won't phase him one iota Thursday night. As far as the hitters, we have a very small sample from which to judge. Not one Tigers hitter has more than six plate appearances against Nova. Victor Martinez has reached base four of the six times he's faced Nova. The only other thing that stands out is Nova's faced 38 Tigers batters in his career and has not allowed a single extra-base hit.

Fister vs. Yankees: He actually settled in for a short span in Game 1, but the final line looks ugly because he had a rough last inning and Al Alburquerque gave up a grand slam -- three runs of which were charged to Fister. I know some of the stat crowd would freak out to hear this, but it's possible Fister had some nerves last time out, too. He'd never pitched in the playoffs and he had to take the hill on the biggest stage of all. Now that he has one outing under his belt, it's possible he gets back into a groove. In a small sample, several Yankees hit Fister well, though. Derek Jeter is 5-for-13 (.385). Mark Teixeira is hitting .364 with a 1.273 OPS against Fister. Robinson Cano is 3-for-8 with two doubles. Overall, the Yankees are hitting .310 off Fister, but no player has faced him more than 13 times.

NOTES
New York-Detroit ALDS
  • The last time the Yankees won a deciding game (meaning a Game 5 in the ALDS or a Game 7 in the ALCS or World Series) was the Aaron Boone home run game. Seriously. In the 2003 ALCS, the Yankees won Game 7. Since then, they've either not needed to go the full series to beat someone, or lost a decisive game. They lost the 2004 ALCS to the Red Sox in seven. They lost the ALDS three games to two to the Angels in 2005. Otherwise they haven't played a series all the way to the final game.
  • This doesn't have anything to do with many of the current players, but it's still interesting: The only other time these two franchises met in the postseason, the Tigers beat the Yankees 3-1 in the 2006 ALDS. 
  • I'll again point out that Teixeira has an abysmal playoff track record. A-Rod gets showered with boos, but Teixeira is hitting .203 with an embarrassing .314 slugging percentage in 30 career postseason games. And his only hit since Game 1 in this series was a dribbler down the third-base line that Wilson Betemit thought would go foul.
  • Brett Gardner is 5-for-13 with a double, three runs scored and five RBI in this series.
  • Alex Avila is 0-for-12 this series after a brilliant regular season.
  • The Yankees have had the same batting order all five games, but the Tigers have had a different lineup in each of the five games.
For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 27, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 12:59 pm
 

Breakout of Year Awards: Ellsbury, Morse shine

Ellsbury, Morse

By Evan Brunell

There's been plenty of discussion recently on who should win the awards baseball will hand out after the postseason. There are no shortage of opinions on who should grab the MVP or the Cy Young Award, to say nothing of Rookie of the Years, Gold Gloves and Comeback Player of the Year. But where's the category that rewards players who broke out? There hasn't one ... until now. Here's a top three, followed by two others.

MLB Awards
  • MVP candidates: AL | NL
  • Cy Young Award: AL | NL
  • Rookie of the YearAL | NL 
  • Comeback players: AL | NL
  • Gold Gloves: AL | NL
  • Tin Gloves: AL | NL
  • Manager of the Year: AL | NL
Eye on Baseball will chronicle the five top candidates per league for the Breakout Player of the Year. It's important to keep in mind the separation between a breakout and a comeback. By its very name, to win the Comeback Player of the Year, you have to have "come back" from something. Breaking out has no such restrictions. Who had a season for the ages that has most adjusted a player's value for the better? Last season, Jose Bautista would have ran away with this award in the AL. Who takes the top spot this year?

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: Surprised? Don't be. Ellsbury is by all accounts one of the three top candidates to win the AL MVP award alongside Bautista and Justin Verlander. Just a year ago, Ellsbury played in just 18 games, struggling with fractured ribs suffered in an early-April crash. His commitment and toughness were called into question, and the 28-year-old was entering a make-or-break year. Safe to say he made it, with a .323/.378/.552 line with 31 homers and 38 steals, becoming Boston's first-ever 30/30 man. By Wins Above Replacement, Ellsbury has more than doubled his previous best season of 2008, his first full season in the bigs.

2. Doug Fister, Tigers: Last season, I picked up Fister in a fantasy baseball league midway through the season. That's how poorly he was thought of -- he was an injury replacement halfway through the year, even though he finished the season with 28 starts and a 4.11 ERA. While Fister displayed strong command, he didn't strike out many batters and averaged 88-mph on his fastball without a true out pitch. He wasn't considered a pitcher worth caring about. Except this year, his fastball velocity has ticked up and his slider has developed into a weapon. Then, he got traded to Detroit where he's gone bananas, giving Fister a total season ERA of 2.83 in 216 1/3 innings. Now, Fister is Detroit's No. 2 starter in October and no one thinks that's odd. So, yeah: Breakout.

3. Alex Avila, Tigers
: Fister's new batterymate in Detroit had a season truly out of nowhere. At least Ellsbury was a former first-round pick dripping with talent while Fister had previous success in the majors. Avila, though, struggled to a .228/.316/.340 line in 333 plate appearances last season. Certainly lower than his minor-league average line of .280/.373/.424, but even that didn't portend what was coming. In 2011, Avila was one of the best catchers -- strike that, one of the best players -- with a .298/.391/.513 mark in 543 PA, banging 33 doubles and 19 HR.

Also deserving:

Alex Gordon, Royals: One compared to George Brett, it took Gordon five years and a position switch, but he's finally delivering on his promise with a .303/.376/.502 figure.

Brandon McCarthy, Ahtletics: McCarthy had one of the best seasons a pitcher could have, dodging his way through a couple bumps and bruises to post a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts, allowing just 1.5 walks per nine and striking out 6.5. That's Doug Fister-ian. And just like that, the A's have yet another good pitcher.



1. Michael Morse, Nationals: Morse followed in Jose Bautista's footsteps by hinting toward a breakout season, slamming 15 homers in part-time duty. But a 30-homer season? That was tough to envision, and yet the 29-year-old broke out this year with just that and added to it by hitting .303. Now the Nationals have a fearsome middle-of-the-order bat at minimal charge and the ability to play either first base or left field. Morse's development is for real, and his power is here to stay.

2. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants: You had to know Vogelsong would land on this list. And why not? Vogelsong didn't throw one major-league pitch for four years before casually throwing up a 2.71 ERA over 179 2/3 innings this season. From 2000-06, Vogelsong was nothing short of an awful pitcher, so this is absolutely a breakout in every sense of the word ... and he began the year as a 33-year-old. His peripherals are strong enough that you can expect the fun to continue next season.

3. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: The former Yankees top prospect has found a home in Arizona, following up a solid 2010 with a sublime 2011 that should get him some Cy Young Award votes. Kennedy's soaked up 222 innings, posted a 21-4 record and a pristine 2.88 ERA, striking out 198 while at it. That's a fantastic pitcher through and through. While Kennedy may not have been ready for the AL East when he was with the Yankees, he'd certainly do just fine anywhere the way he's come along.

Also deserving:

Cameron Maybin, Padres: Maybin struggled for consistent playing time for years in Florida and finally got his chance with San Diego. His overall numbers are depressed because he plays in Petco Park, but his defense more than makes up for it. To give you an idea of how good he has been offensively, here are his road numbers: .294/.349/.457. Safe to say the Pads picked the pocket of Florida here.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Molina is a great defender with a fantastic arm. We all know that. He's also, for the first time in his career, been a significant contributor on offense with a .306/.349/.469 line, punching 32 doubles and 14 homers. It's power never seen before from Yadier.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 13, 2011 12:29 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 12:46 pm
 

What if MVP was decided like Manager of the Year?



By Matt Snyder


As my esteemed colleague C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out Monday in a really creative and entertaining way, the Manager of the Year award is routinely roped off for certain managers. For example, heading into this season, the Phillies and Red Sox were heavily predicted to make the World Series. The Yankees are the Yankees, and the Giants and Rangers went to the World Series last season. So right there, Charlie Manuel, Terry Francona, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington are virtually eliminated from the chance at winning the Manager of the Year award in their respective leagues.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong, because managing is far different from playing. It's totally apples vs. oranges. But it's fun to imagine if the MVP awards were decided in the same fashion. Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez would have zero chance at winning. Former winners like Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton and Dustin Pedroia? Sorry. Heavily predicted 2011 winner Adrian Gonzalez? Cross him off. Sluggers Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard? Nope, you guys are supposed to hit for all that power.

Instead, the candidates would be guys having amazing seasons that we might not have expected. Like Kirk Gibson being the runaway NL winner over Manuel. For example, Jose Bautista would have easily won last season in the AL.

Here are four candidates for the MVP of each league, if voters reacted as they did in the Manager of the Year voting -- along with who I think would win and why.

American League

Alex Avila, Tigers
2010 numbers: .228/.316/.340, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 28 R, 12 2B
2011 numbers: .302/.392/.523, 18 HR, 74 RBI, 60 R, 31 2B
The best part about these numbers is they came from out of nowhere. Avila only hit .264 with an .814 OPS in his only season of Double-A. It's not awful, but those are hardly the type of numbers that scream future All-Star. And Avila's likely to get some real MVP votes this year (remember, each ballot gets 10 entries). Don't discount what kind of stamina he has to have to catch 120 games and still keep hitting like this, either. It's been an absolutely stellar campaign for Avila, and he's going to be a starting catcher in the playoffs.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
2010 numbers: Doesn't matter, it was a lost season due to injuries. He only played 10 games.
2011 numbers: .317/.376/.533, 26 HR, 91 RBI, 104 R, 36 SB, 41 2B, 4 3B
He's got a real shot at the real MVP, and it's all due to his power increase. The average, OBP, doubles, triples, runs and steals aren't surprising at all, if you go back to Ellsbury's numbers pre-2010, and he's only 28. So we knew he had a real shot to drastically improve -- but he's approaching 30 home runs and 100 RBI. No one would have predicted that.

Alex Gordon, Royals
2010 numbers: .215/.315/.355, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 34 R, 10 2B, 1 SB (only 74 games due to demotion to minors and injury)
2011 numbers: .299/.371/.500, 21 HR, 82 RBI, 95 R, 45 2B, 16 SB
This wouldn't have been surprising in 2007 ... or 2008 ... or 2009 ... or maybe even 2010. But after four relatively failed seasons in the face of lofty expectations, people kind of gave up on Gordon. He went from a No. 2 prospect in all of baseball to an afterthought. And just when people gave up on him completely, he broke through in a huge way. Those 45 doubles lead all of baseball and he's doing pretty much everything well.

J.J. Hardy, Orioles
2010 numbers: .268/.320/.394, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 44 R
2011 numbers: .264/.304/.483, 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 R
This is a return to where Hardy was in 2007 and 2008, though his home run rate is the highest it has ever been. He worked his big season into a multi-year contract extension for the Orioles and has solidified the middle infield.

And the winner is ... Alex Avila. It's a really close call over Gordon. With Ellsbury, I believe we all knew the potential was in there and injuries killed him in 2010. The power increase is nice, but Avila and Gordon are more surprising. Hardy's done it before and he's not old. Plus, his numbers pale in comparison to these other three. Sure, Gordon has far exceeded expectations, but I think if you asked most people before the season who was more likely to impress this year between Gordon and Avila, Gordon would be the answer simply based upon minor-league pedigree. That kind of talent doesn't just abandon someone. Gordon starred -- albeit years ago -- but Avila had never hit enough to believe this kind of monster season was possible. I could easily be wrong on this decision, though, as this is total guesswork. To reiterate, it's really close.

National League

Lance Berkman, Cardinals
2010 numbers: .248/.368/.413, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 48 R
2011 numbers: .290/.405/.551, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 79 R
The newly slender "Fat Elvis" shed loads of pounds this past offseason as he was determined to revert back to vintage "Puma." He did. Many mocked the signing by the Cardinals, especially as Berkman had to return to right field. Well, he hasn't been good defensively, but he's swinging the bat like he did back in his prime and the protection he's provided to Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols has been instrumental in keeping the Cardinals in contention for much of the season.

Matt Kemp, Dodgers
2010 numbers: .249/.310/.450, 28 HR, 89 RBI, 82 R, 19 SB
2011 numbers: .318/.397/.566, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 97 R, 38 SB
If he doesn't win the real MVP award it won't be because he didn't do enough for his team. It will be because his team didn't do enough for him. Kemp has absolutely carried the Dodgers' offense this season in every facet. He has an outside shot at the triple crown and the 40/40 club, but he'd have to get scorching hot. Still, from a guy who didn't even hit .250 last season, this has been a rebirth. On the flip-side, we knew Kemp had this potential.

Pablo Sandoval, Giants
2010 numbers: .268/.323/.409, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 61 R
2011 numbers: .301/.345/.516, 19 HR, 60 RBI, 50 R
If the counting stats don't look overly impressive this year, that's because he's only played in 103 games. Last season it was 152. He was so disappointing in 2010 that he only started five playoff games -- just once in the World Series. It's been a huge bounce-back season for Sandoval, despite the fact that his team has regressed a bit.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
2010 numbers: .273/.356/.442, 17 HR, 69 RBI, 73 R, 27 2B, 18 SB
2011 numbers: .296/.378/.547, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 100 R, 38 3B, 21 SB
Here's another guy who will get real-life MVP consideration. While 2010 was a disappoining campaign, this is the Upton the D-Backs drafted first overall in 2005. Look at the number jumps across the board for Upton, and he's still only 24. And his team appears headed for the postseason. Like Kemp, however, we knew this was inside Upton.

And the winner is ... Lance Berkman. The other three players are young and have tons of potential, so their big turnarounds aren't entirely surprising, even if incredibly impressive. At least Upton, probably Kemp and maybe Sandoval were all predictable to have seasons like this. Kemp was definitely a bounce-back candidate, but not many would have envisioned him to be this huge in 2011. Berkman is 35 and many believed he was done as a productive major leaguer -- especially since the Cardinals were moving him back to the outfield. This one feels obvious, as opposed to the Avila/Gordon decision, which I'm still second-guessing ...

Wednesday: What if the Cy Young was decided with Manager of the Year criteria?

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 1, 2011 2:53 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2011 11:36 pm
 

Players of the Month: Avila, Lee



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Every year August is the month when some teams pull away in the playoff race and others fade -- it's one of the biggest months of the season, even if it doesn't have the drama of September or the stakes of October. By the time August is done, there are few surprises -- what you see is what you get.

August's Best
Expert Batter Pitcher
Knobler Ortiz Lee
Miller Granderson Lee
Brunell Avila Kershaw
Rosecrans Votto Lee
Snyder Avila Lee
Fantasy Avila Lee

While one surprise team (Pittsburgh) fizzled, another (Arizona) sizzled. The Diamondbacks started August two games back in the NL West and now lead the defending champion Giants by six games. The D-Backs finished August on a nine-game winning streak -- they also had a seven-game winning streak earlier in the month. Kirk Gibson's club did have a six-game losing streak in the past 31 days, but the Giants have struggled all month, allowing some breathing distance for the D-Backs. 

This August has seen Atlanta's Dan Uggla go from a disappointment to, well, Dan Uggla. His hitting streak ended at 33 games, but his average increased from .206 at the end of July to .232 at the end of August. In all, he hit in 22 of 26 August games and went .340/.405/.670 with 10 homers as the Braves solidified their hold on the NL wild-card spot. 

Uggla was one of three players with 10 homers in the month, along with the Yankees' Curtis Granderson and the Rays' Evan Lognoria.

But it's Detroit's Alex Avila who gains the nod as our Batter of the Month.

His value to the Tigers lineup sealed the deal. Avila hit .360 with seven homers, 19 runs, 18 RBI and a 1.169 OPS in the August. Getting that kind of production from anywhere is incredible, but from a catcher it's just gravy. Even better, Avila bounced back from an awful July in which he hit .197 with a .584 OPS. Some may have thought his breakthrough season was coming to an end, but August was his biggest month of the season.

Meanwhile nine different pitchers picked up five wins. Some of the names (Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander) aren't surprising, while some (Ivan Nova, Ian Kennedy, Ricky Romero) were young guns making their mark. Another was a pitcher (Hiroki Kuroda) finally getting run support and the last (Bruce Chen) was a total surprise.

But Lee was The Man. He started five games. He won five games. He only allowed two earned runs, which both came in the same game. He averaged nearly eight innings per start, saving the Phillies bullpen some extra work. He struck out nearly a batter per inning while allowing less than one baserunner per inning, meaning he kept the pressure off his defense. Basically, Lee did it all for the Phillies in August, and that's why he snags this Pitcher award for a second consecutive month.

Past players of the month: April | May | June | July


Batter of the Month
Danny Knobler Scott Miller
David Ortiz David Ortiz, Red Sox
Picking a player of the month wasn't easy, but David Ortiz's big two-run home run on Aug. 31 against the Yankees clinched it. Not exactly, but it helped. Even before that, Ortiz had a 1.308 August OPS that was the best by any major-league regular. In a month where no one player really stood out, he was definitely in the mix. And then he homered against the Yankees. So it's him.
Curtis Granderson Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Granderson's August catapulted him squarely into the AL MVP running. I love the symmetry, too: 29 RBI in August, and 29 runs scored. The runs led the majors and ribbies ranked second. Texas' Mike Napoli had a higher OPS (1.094-1.016) and deserves consideration, but if I picked one player to start a team with right now, it's Curtis G.
Evan Brunell C. Trent Rosecrans
Alex Avila Alex Avila, Tigers
Avila has really come into his own in 2011. In August, he hit .372/.481/.721 with seven homers in 25 games. Did I mention he's a catcher? Avila's grip on the starting spot is so strong, he caught 18 consecutive games at one point during August. "He's been absolutely unbelievable," manager Jim Leyland told  MLive.com. "He's been tremendous. There's no question about it. Pretty impressive. Pretty darn impressive." Indeed.
Joey VottoJoey Votto, Reds 
Votto's August was much like Votto himself -- quiet and excellent. The Reds first baseman hit .347/.483/.716 with nine homers and 19 RBI in August. The Reds aren't in the postseason race, so it's unlikely Votto will get much consideration for MVP, but he may have had a better season than he did a year ago when he won the award.
Matt Snyder Fantasy -- Al Melchior
Alex Avila Alex Avila, Tigers
Have you seen his average and slugging percentage in the month? That's just sick, especially for a catcher tasked with scouting opposing hitters and working with his pitching staff day in and day out. The young backstop just keeps getting better for the Tigers, who meanwhile keep winning games and appear headed for the postseason.
Alex Avila Alex Avila, Tigers
Avila wasn't the most productive hitter in Fantasy formats, but he was probably the most productive relative to his position. He lapped the field of catchers, hitting .360 with seven homers and 18 RBI. He also helped owners in formats that reward walks by drawing 19 free passes in his 109 plate appearances. While he didn't have the overall production of Granderson or Carlos Gonzalez, Avila helped his Fantasy owners immensely by providing elite-level production at a thin position.
Pitcher of the Month
Knobler Miller
Cliff Lee Cliff Lee, Phillies
In June, Cliff Lee went 5-0 and allowed just one run. In August, he went 5-0 and allowed two. That means he was slightly better in June than in August. It also means he's had two incredible months, and that he's my pitcher of the month -- again.
Cliff Lee Cliff Lee, Phillies
This is why Philadelphia re-signed this guy. No, not to pitch in August. But to pitch in October LIKE he's pitched in August. Yeah, the 5-0 record in five starts grabs your attention, but that's just the beginning of the dominance. The 0.45 ERA over 39 2/3 innings, the 39 strikeouts against just eight walks, the 0.78 WHIP ... until Wednesday night, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw was my guy, but Lee's WHIP and strikeouts/walks ratio even tops Kershaw's (0.95, 39/10).
Brunell Rosecrans
Clayton Kershaw Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw has been bandied about as one of the next great pitchers, but he's great right now, with a 5-1 August catapulting him into the Cy Young Award chase. Don't look now, but Kershaw has a better record (17-5 to 16-5) than Halladay, thrown more innings (198 2/3; 196 2/3) and has a lower ERA, with a 2.45 mark compared to 2.47 on the year. That's thanks to a month in which the lefty hurled 46 1/3 innings, checking in with a 1.55 ERA.
Cliff LeeCliff Lee, Phillies
Only three times in baseball history has a pitcher had two months in one season with five wins, no losses and an ERA under 1.00 -- Walter Johnson in 1913, Bob Gibson in 1968 and Lee in 2011. Lee threw 551 pitches in the month and just one resulted in runs -- a two-run homer by Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt on Aug. 17 in 9-2 Philadelphia victory.

Snyder Fantasy -- Scott White
Cliff Lee Cliff Lee, Phillies
August was the second month this season where Lee's just been lights-out. This time around, he went 5-0 with a 0.45 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in his five starts. His worst outing in the month came when Lee gave up three hits and two earned runs in a win against the first-place D-Backs.
Cliff Lee Cliff Lee, Phillies 
Lee made five starts in August and allowed zero runs in four of them, accomplishing the feat for the second time in three months. He won each of those five starts, averaging eight innings. He'll have his bouts with inconsistency, as was the case during an uneven July, but when he's on, he's arguably the best pitcher in Fantasy Baseball. He showed it again in August.

Danny Knobler and Scott Miller are Senior MLB Writers; Evan Brunell, C. Trent Rosecrans and Matt Snyder are Eye on Baseball Bloggers; Al Melchior is a Fantasy Data Analyst; and Scott White is a Fantasy Writer.

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Posted on: July 12, 2011 11:28 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 11:41 pm
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Under-the-radar All-Star version



By Matt Snyder


PHOENIX - One quick note: We're not going to use Prince Fielder or Roy Halladay as "up" guys because they have separate stories up on them. We'll spread the love a bit.

Hunter Pence, Astros. Pence had a single and scored a run, but that's not why he's here. In the top of the fourth, Adrian Beltre singled to left. Jose Bautista was on second and was sent home to score. Pence apparently didn't like that because he cut Bautista down easily at home with a perfect strike (see above). It didn't even bounce. That throw was the highlight of the night for me.

Heath Bell, Padres. The Padres closer only faced one hitter, but he got his jersey dirty. That's because Bell came sprinting out of the bullpen in Todd Coffey fashion. But when Bell got to the infield, he slid into the infield grass. He even left a huge divot. He was having fun and, dammit, that's what this game is all about. And he did retire the one hitter he faced, too, as Jhonny Peralta popped out.

Starlin Castro, Cubs. The youngest player in the game made his All-Star debut when he pinch-ran at first base for Troy Tulowitzki. Castro made the most of his opportunity, as he stole second and third. It made him the first player to steal two bases in the Midsummer Classic since Kenny Lofton in 1996. We'll just forget about that pesky strikeout and error.



C.J. Wilson, Rangers. The right-hander was tagged with the loss after allowing three hits and three earned runs in his inning. The big blow of the game -- Fielder's go-ahead three-run blast -- came off Wilson, too.

Alex Avila, Tigers. He gave up three stolen bases in one inning. There were Castro's two, and Rickie Weeks also got in on the action. Maybe it was working with an unfamiliar pitcher, but no catcher ever wants to cough up three in one inning.

The fans who booed (which was the majority of the crowd). Now, before I say more, I'll make sure to lay it all out there so there's no misunderstanding. Fans pay to see the game and have every right to boo if they want. I'm not angry about the fact that the fans booed nearly every player that wasn't a Diamondback. I'm shocked. I just don't get it. The All-Star Game is a chance for your city to see all the best players in the league. Instead, the booing was ferocious, even for players where it made absolutely no sense. I'd suggest these fans lighten up and have fun -- like Heath Bell. And no, it's not like that in any other stadium for the All-Star Game. Fans usually just boo rivals and that's it. Of course, I'm sure lots of people think booing is fun -- the same people who think it's awesome to slander people on Twitter and message boards.

For complete All-Star Game coverage, keep up with Eye on Baseball in Phoenix

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Posted on: July 11, 2011 7:55 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Avila's glad to be starter, wants home-field

By Matt Snyder

If someone told you back in March the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star Game would come from the AL Central, what would you have said? The answer is easy: Of course, Joe Mauer is going to start. This isn't news.

Instead, it's Alex Avila of the Tigers. I posed the hypothetical to Avila, and he had a pretty good answer. We also discussed how the All-Star Game takes on some meaning when playing for a team in the thick of a division race.



For complete All-Star Game coverage, keep up with Eye on Baseball in Phoenix

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Category: MLB
Posted on: July 11, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Verlander fronts AL Central All-Stars

By Matt Snyder

2011 All-Star Game
SEE THE OTHER DIVISION ALL-STARS: AL East | AL West | NL East | NL Central | NL West

The AL Central has been the most upside-down of all divisions in baseball this year, at least according to preseason expectations. Thus, the team doesn't much look like one we'd expect. Let's dive in.

C Alex Avila, Tigers: Very easy choice here, as the AL All-Star starter resides in this division. It's just that if you read that phrase at the start of the season it would have been very obvious we were talking about Joe Mauer. And if Mauer went down with an injury for a while -- as he did -- the next in line would have likely been Carlos Santana. Nope, it's instead Avila. With a .370 on-base percentage, 10 homers and 46 RBI, he's the man. It's been that kind of year in the Central.

1B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: This was a very tough call over Paul Konerko. The two are so comparable across the board that it's hard to make a distinction. We'll give the nod to Cabrera based upon the 40-point lead in on-base percentage, but this is really a dead-heat. The fans certainly got the AL "Final Vote" right when electing Konerko.

Lineup
No. Name Team Pos
1 Alex Gordon KC LF
2 Asdrubal Cabrera CLE SS
3 Miguel Cabrera DET 1B
4 Carlos Quentin CWS RF
5 Travis Hafner CLE DH
6 Jhonny Peralta DET 3B
7 Melky Cabrera KC CF
8 Alex Avila DET C
9 Gordon Beckham CWS 2B
2B Gordon Beckham, White Sox: This is a choice between the undeserving. Orlando Cabrera, Chris Getz, Alexi Casilla, Ryan Raburn. Yeah, those are the other choices. Beckham has at least shown flashes of being productive and -- at this point in their respective careers -- easily has the most potential. Unfortunately, that's what we have to go on here.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: Unlike second base, we're loaded here, with Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Alexei Ramirez. Alcides Escobar is a defensive stud, too. Cabrera, though, is hitting .293/.387/.489 with 14 homers, 51 RBI, 55 runs and 12 steals. Ramirez is our runner-up here, because we're doing something else with Peralta ...

3B Jhonny Peralta, Tigers: There was no other choice. I had to cheat and move Peralta back to third. Otherwise we were looking at Danny Valencia, Brent Morel, Mark Teahan, Jack Hannahan or the stuggled yet promising Mike Moustakas. Or some other players who aren't even close to All-Stars at this point, yet have been seeing time at third in this division. So we're using Peralta and his .312 average, 14 homers and 50 RBI.

LF Alex Gordon, Royals: After years of waiting, here is the Alex Gordon many were thinking would show his face in 2007. He's put up good numbers -- 11 homers, 50 runs, 50 RBI, 24 doubles, six steals -- and been a steady force in the lineup for the Royals. Even atop the lineup, which we didn't think we'd see when he arrived on the scene. This was a tough call over Brennan Boesch, but we're giving Gordon the nod.

CF Melky Cabrera, Royals: Grady Sizemore missed a lot of games due to injury, Austin Jackson has taken a step backward, Denard Span has missed a lot of games and Alex Rios has been awful. Who's that leave? Yep, Cabrera. Apparently it's the best last name to sport in this division, as 33 percent of the starting lineup has it. Melky has hit for average, hit for power, run well and been a leader for the young Royals. It's shocking to say it, but he's the easy choice here (again, it's backwards).

RF Carlos Quentin, White Sox: Once again, Boesch gets passed over. Quentin has 17 home runs, 51 RBI, a solid OBP due to walks and hit-by-pitches and plays solid defense in right for the White Sox. Plus, Konerko and Quentin have had to pick up some serious slack in the power department with the disappearance of Rios and Adam Dunn. This is actually a pretty loaded position, too, with Jeff Francoeur having a good year, Shin-Soo Choo's talent (when healthy), Michael Cuddyer and Boesch.

DH Travis Hafner, Indians: Sure, he's missed a small chunk of games, but Pronk has shown much more power than Victor Martinez, and that's what we want in a DH. Hafner has eight home runs and a .528 slugging percentage in 51 games, while Martinez has only hit six homers in 77 games with a .457 slugging percentage. Billy Butler also gets squeezed out here with having a bit less power than Martinez.

SP Justin Verlander, Tigers: Guys like Justin Masterson and Scott Baker are having pretty good seasons, but there's really no reason to even expand on the discussion. Verlander is starting to come up with Roy Halladay in the best-pitcher-in-baseball discussions.

RP Al Alburquerque, Tigers: The rookie has been a Godsend for the Tigers' bullpen, as he's taken over the setup role Joel Zumaya can never stay healthy enough to hold down. Plus, big-money free agent signee Joaquin Benoit faltered early in the season. Alburquerque stepped up and struck out 47 hitters in just 29 innings. Rafael Perez is the runner-up here, but Alburquerque gets the nod.

CL Chris Perez, Indians: Too bad Joakim Soria wasn't quite himself early in the season, because this could have been easy. Instead, we've got a three-way race with no right answer. No matter how many ways you look at Chris Perez, Sergio Santos and Jose Valverde, there's no real way to argue and ironclad case as one man emerging as the absolute best of the three. We'll go with Perez, but it's a coin-flip.

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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