|After an awful start, Pujols and the Angels are living up to expectations. (US Presswire)|
1. Albert Pujols, Angels 1B
After missing the All-Star game in his hometown of Kansas City, Pujols seems to be on a mission. In the last week alone, he has six home runs (and five doubles for 11 extra-base hits) and 13 RBI. The OPS is an otherworldly 1.566 for the week.
While the Angels haven't been as dominant as they probably hoped they'd be to date, they can at least feel relief that the player they have for another nine years and another $200-plus million is still a great one. It'll never be known what caused his astoundingly bad start -- a month into the season he had no home runs and a .194 batting average -- but it doesn't matter now, as Pujols is Pujols again, the very man for whom new Angels GM Jerry DiPoto bargained.
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2. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox C
He was one of the most obvious All-Star snubs, and he'd tell anyone who'd listen he belonged in Kansas City. You know what? He was right.
Part of the problem, and Pierzynski knew it, was that his peers were never going to vote for the man known as the league's most unpopular player. But even before Pierzynski's latest tear, A.L. All-Star manager Ron Washington should have found room for Pierzynski. The White Sox catcher has homered in each of the last five games and now has 21 home runs, 61 RBI, a .289 batting and .889 OPS. (The OPS ranks with his more offensively accomplished teammates; Kevin Youkilis is at .899, Paul Konerko .897 and Alex Rios .886).
3. Adam LaRoche, Nationals 1B
This must be All-Snub week. From the start, LaRoche has been extremely valuable for the Nationals, through all the injuries to his teammates and again now when the lineup is back together. The last week has been his best, though, with four home runs, 11 hits, eight RBI and a 1.563 OPS.
He won't get much publicity on a team with 19-year-old sensation Bryce Harper and a host of bigger names, but LaRoche is exactly the veteran lefthanded power presence the Nats have needed. He now has 23 home runs and 71 RBI to lead his first-place team, by a lot. He isn't a threat to beat Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen for MVP, but he should sneak onto some ballots ... if folks have been noticing.
1. Ryan Dempster, Rangers SP
He wanted to force his way onto the Dodgers with the use of his 10-and-5, but as it turns out he just should have accepted the Braves deal, like everyone expected he would. We'll never know how open Dempster suggested he was to Atlanta, but the Braves certainly thought he was coming after they agreed to trade highly-touted pitching prospect Randall Delgado for him.
Word is, Dempster's good pal Ted Lilly, the Dodgers pitcher, was telling him how much the Dodgers wanted him. But Dempster finally understood, either by listening in to the trade conversations with L.A. or talking directly to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti (that is one of many things that isn't exactly clear about this strange saga), that the Dodgers weren't exactly clamoring to get him. So with a half-hour to go he approved the Yankees and Rangers, two winning American League teams in small ballparks.
The Yankees viewed Dempster much the same as the Dodgers did, but the Rangers, who had just lost Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz for the season, absolutely needed to have someone. And even though he wasn't anywhere near the top of their original list of pitching targets, Dempster became the one. A competing GM described the situation as this: "It was like 3 a.m. at the bar." In other words, the Rangers and Dempster had little other choice.
Dempster had been brilliant for the Cubs this year, but he was pounded in his Rangers debut, allowing nine hits and eight runs (all earned) in 4 2/3 innings against the archrival Angels. It wasn't anything like one of his Cubs starts. But just as different, his team bailed him out, pounding ex-Ranger C.J. Wilson, to win 15-9.
2. Roy Oswalt, Rangers RP
The other reason the Rangers needed another starter was Oswalt's failure in that role. But apparently, he doesn't want to give up his starting job, even after being yanked from the rotation.
Rangers' manager Washington reported after Oswalt's two scoreless innings in relief Sunday that Oswalt declined to pitch a third inning. While Oswalt wasn't around afterward to talk to the Rangers press, he had earlier made his negative feelings known about moving to the bullpen.
Oswalt had a 6.49 ERA in six starts, and he's thrown four scoreless innings in relief. But that isn't the main reason he should play along with his new relief duty.
Oswalt's once pristine reputation has been taking hits throughout a year-long soap opera, beginning with what sources say was a rejection of the Tigers' $10-million offer after it was suggested to them he'd come for that very figure. Eventually, Oswalt's courtship dragged for months, highlighted by a few false reports about where he might go (wonder where those ideas came from?), until he finally got his way and got himself to the Rangers, one of the two teams he wanted all along (the other was the Cardinals). But right now he's not acting like he got his first choice.
3. Nate Eovaldi, Marlins SP
Eovaldi (the o is silent) was the big catch in the trade to send the longtime and often malcontented star Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, and after starting fine in Miami his last outing has some wondering whether he's a starter.
"He's not ready for the big leagues, and ultimately, he's probably a reliever," one scout said after a 6-1 defeat to the Braves that was a debacle. Eovaldi allowed all six runs on eight hits in two innings.
The main purpose of the "trade" for Miami was to rid itself of the $38 million left on sometimes unhappy Hanley's contract, which was originally thought to be team friendly. But of course, friendly is a word that fits Ramirez only sporadically, and ultimately, the Marlins believed a trade of Ramirez would benefit their newly imported star Jose Reyes (who's now on a 24-game hitting streak). If Eovaldi becomes a major-league starting pitcher, it's a bonus. However, that's a big question now.