|LaHair's OPS of 1.257 is second only to MVP frontrunner Matt Kemp (1.299). (US Presswire)|
Each Monday, after a week of play and of scouring the major leagues for the best information, Jon Heyman passes along tips on whose stock up and whose is on the decline.
1. Bryan LaHair, Cubs 1B: The 29-year-old newcomer finally is getting a chance to be a full-time big leaguer, and he's doing so much damage you have to wonder whether it was all one big injustice that he's spent so much time in the minor leagues before.
The old Cubs regime picked up the former 39th-round draft choice of the Seattle Mariners as a six-year minor-league free agent, but the new one is giving him his first full-fledged opportunity. And so far the big left-handed batter has been nothing short of a revelation to all, with a batting line of .390/.478/.779. Most remarkable of all, he's done this while striking out a whopping 29 times in 77 at-bats, meaning he's only made outs other than through strikeouts a mere 18 times. This could point to a bit of good fortune, but good fortune should never be tied to a talented player who waited until he's almost 30 for a major-league job.
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Lahair put up nice numbers in the minors, but his defense was seen as suspect and his power inconsistent, at least for most scouts' tastes. But now, his 1.257 OPS is second only to the incredible Matt Kemp (1.299). Doesn't seem like we'll be seeing the much more heralded Anthony Rizzo for a while.
2. Lance Lynn, Cardinals SP: This was technically his weakest week, as the big right-hander Lynn allowed two runs in a start for the first time following four straight starts allowing only one run. But he still improved to 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA and sport-best 0.77 WHIP.
He's been nothing short of a savior in the absence of injured ace Chris Carpenter. Lynn, who features three types of fastballs among his varied repertoire, and has walked only seven hitters in his five starts to go with 30 strikeouts, wasn't in the plans as a starter until a couple weeks into spring training when Carpenter went down with a neck injury.
Lynn was a contributor to last year's World Series championship out of the pen, but he's probably best remembered during their surprising run for arriving at the mound late in Game 5 when Cardinals iconic manager Tony La Russa thought he was getting Jason Motte instead. That was a rare misstep by an organization that doesn't make many of them. It's all good now.
3. Orioles bullpen: Baseball in the beltway is alive and well, thanks mostly to the Orioles' incredible pen and the Nationals' amazing rotation. Baltimore gets the nod here for the No. 3 spot, and not just because first baseman/DH Chris Davis, a high school pitcher, abandoned his regular post to put up two scoreless innings and become the first position player to get credit for a win in an American League game since outfielder Rocky Colavito did it for the 1968 Yankees.
Davis was shockingly effective; he managed to get outs with a fastball that fluctuated between 90 mph and 85. Even more amazing, Davis is only one of four Orioles "relievers" who has yet to allow a run this season, and Luis Ayala, closer Jim Johnson and Matt Lindstrom have combined for 41 1/3 scoreless innings between them. Beyond them are Darren O'Day, who's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and Pedro Strop, who's 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA. So it's no surprise then that the Orioles' overall open ERA of 1.52 is easily the best in the majors.
1. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox SP: Not often is a pitcher who's 3-1 going to qualify on the Bear Market side of the ledger, but Buchholz has been consistently bad through the first month-plus of the season, allowing at least five earned runs in all six of his starts and toting a 9.09 ERA. He'll keep his rotation spot, for now anyway. But if not for his breakthrough 2010 season, Boston's multiple early issues and a Red Sox offense that has spared him several defeats, he'd be out.
Buchholz looked like he was arguing to stay in Sunday's game, to no avail. New manager Bobby Valentine removed him after 3 2/3 innings, seven hits, four walks and the usual five runs in a game that really depleted their bullpen when it went 17 innings and outfielder Darnell McDonald took the loss to the Orioles, 9-6. Meanwhile, Buchholz should be buying gifts for Boston's hitters, who have more than offset the runs he has allowed by averaging a sport-high 10.86 runs in his starts. Colleague Danny Knobler adds that Buchholz is the first pitcher in at least 94 years to allow five-plus earned runs in each of his first six starts.
Jemile is hitless in five of his last six games, while Rickie has had only one multi-hit game since the second game of the season. Half of his six RBI came in one game. Jemile was thought to be on the cusp of stardom, and Rickie signed a $38-million contract only two winters ago. So better things were expected, much better. Rickie, in particular, needs to get going now, especially with the Brewers depleted after injuries to Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez.
3. Heath Bell, Marlins RP: I feel a little bad putting him on this list after he lost his closer's job, but Albert Pujols' first home run spared him (and frankly, Bell's numbers are too awful to ignore). Hard to believe this is the same guy who slid into the pitcher's mound in the All-Star Game. The slide has been quick, as he's been the worst of the closers in a difficult start for the position.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria expressed some concern in a conversation with me weeks ago, back when Bell only had two blown saves. He was finally removed from the closer's spot after four blown saves, an 0-3 record and sky-high 2.88 WHIP. In 8 2/3 innings, he allowed 15 hits and walked 10. That's not easy to do. Taking him out of the closer's spot had to be done, but the problem is the $25-plus million remaining on his $27-million, three-year deal. Bell has always been tough and smart but his stuff just isn't there.