When the upstart Padres play past .500 for the first time this season -- on Padres Day, no less -- it's time to break from tradition and give this week's top spot in Stock Watch to a team instead of an individual.
Not many folks figured the young Padres would play .500 ball this year, certainly not after starting the season 5-15. Yet, here they are, a game over .500 and only two games behind the division-leading Diamondbacks in the very interesting NL West, where only the $220-million Dodgers are playing sub-.500.
The 35-34 Padres are still fourth in the tight and tough division, but after six straight wins -- against the Braves and D-Backs no less -- they lead this week's Stock Watch. The Padres top a couple of other worthy Bulls … and there are some Bears too, of course.
1. Padres: With the team's biggest star, Chase Headley, still having trouble getting going (.221) after beginning the year on the disabled list with a broken thumb, the team is led, fittingly, by some surprise stars.
Rookie Jedd Gyorko (pronounced like Jerko) has shifted seamlessly from Headley's third base to second, and has eight homers and a .284 batting average. Everth Cabrera is a sudden shortstop star, batting .305 with a league-leading 31 stolen bases, and he's superb defensively at short. Reliever extraordinaire Luke Gregorson has a 0.89 WHIP. Andrew Cashner is 5-3 with a 3.52 ERA. And Jason Marquis has managed a surprise 9-2 record.
Once Headley gets going, the Padres just might show they're a real threat in the West.
At least one thing looks pretty certain now that they're in contention: It's hard to see them trading Headley.
2. David Wright, Mets, 3B: Wright isn't letting all the misplays around him affect him, as he's played stellar two-way baseball, highlighted by a career-tying best nine straight times reaching base recently. The streak ended with a fly out to the wall Saturday, but overall Wright has a .297 batting average, nine homers and an .882 OPS.
He has also served well in his new role as team captain, telling the troops, "Dig deep and let's get out of this," the day before the Mets' four-run comeback against the Cubs ended the latest three-game losing streak.
The big challenge now will be for Mets fans to vote the beloved Wright in as a starter at third base for the All-Star Game at Citi Field, the Mets' home. GM Sandy Alderson complained when the Giants' Pablo Sandoval beat out a more deserving Wright last year -- but the Giants got in the last word when Sandoval not only helped the NL win the All-Star game but a few months later became the World Series MVP. Exuberant, loyal Giants fans are tough to out-vote, as they have Sandoval, currently on the disabled list, in front of a more deserving Wright. But the vote is close, 2.18 million to 2.05 million.
3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals, 2B: Rendon's talent is coming out in his second call-up, as he's hitting .462 over his last 10 games and become an on-base machine following a jittery early-season cameo with the Nationals. He's on base so much -- he had a second straight three-hit game Sunday and is at .361 overall -- that he has been moved up to No. 2 in the batting order. He's also handling the less familiar second base this time, a position he seems determined not to relinquish once injured Danny Espinosa's wrist injury heals.
1. Yankees hitters: Sure, they came back to beat the Angels 6-5 on Sunday, but Yankees hitters still have the worst OPS in baseball in June at .588. Their makeshift lineup did wonders for awhile, but it looks like the order is finally turning into the pumpkin most figured to would be. It was always going to be tough to weather the injuries to stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis following the loss through free agency of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. And so now it is.
Travis Hafner interrupted a 0-for-23 stretch with a big three-run home run Sunday. Vernon Wells has no extra-base hits since May 21 and no homers since May 15 (and his OPS is now actually lower, at .657, than in his two disappointing Angels seasons following a start that saw his OPS at 1.032 on April 20). Teixeira came back, briefly, but looks like he may be headed back to the DL after his 2-for-22 stretch.
2. Carlos Marmol, Cubs, RP: The beleaguered Marmol is a rough choice as the Bear Market staple had four straight scoreless appearances before Cubs manager Dale Sveum inexplicably put Marmol back in the closer's role Sunday with the Cubs ahead 3-0 only a couple weeks after saying he preferred not to use him there.
It was arguably the worst managerial call of the year (even if Sveum understandably didn't want to use Kevin Gregg a fifth straight day, he still had six other relievers) and also perhaps the worst relief performance of the season. Not counting the out the Mets gave him on a sac bunt, Marmol gave up a home run to Marlon Byrd, walked Lucas Duda, gave up a single to John Buck, then surrendered a walk-off, three-run home run to the .097-hitting Kirk Niewenhuis.
Afterward, Sveum said, "There are only certain people that can get those last three outs sometimes. We all know he's gotten a lot of saves in his career. But for some reason … he doesn't quite have the slider he used to, so it's not that easy." An easier choice would be to avoid Marmol with a lead in the ninth inning until further notice.
3. Barry Zito, Giants, SP: Zito has played a number of disparate roles in six-plus seasons for the Giants -- free-agent bust, innings workhorse, season savior -- and it's hard to know which way he'll go now. But two straight dreadful outings have left him with a 1.60 WHIP and .306 BAA, which would be career worsts.
One thing to keep in mind: If Zito reaches 200 innings, his option vests at $18 million, turning that $126 million contract into one worth $137 million (there's a $7 million buyout). At present he has thrown 73 1/3 innings, so despite his recent difficulties he's on pace for 204 2/3 innings -- and another cool $11 million.