Tag:Curtis Granderson
Posted on: August 17, 2011 9:53 am
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Pepper: Signing deadline needs to be moved up

Bubba Starling

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The last couple of days showed us some of the best of baseball, five walkoffs on Tuesday, Jim Thome's 600th home run on Monday, triple plays both Monday and Tuesday and so much more. But Monday night we saw one of the things that needs to be fixed, and that's the signing deadline for draft picks.

Yesterday I touched on this, but I suggested just moving it from midnight to a more reasonable hour. That was a selfish wish. Hall of Famer George Brett tells the Kansas City Star that the deadline needs to be moved up more than a month to something like July 4.

The reason is simple, the development of players is stunted by a year and the posturing could hurt players. According to Brett, the Royals and Scott Boras, the "advisor" for their top pick, Bubba Starling, didn't even start talking until 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. The two sides then agreed to a deal with 20-40 seconds left, Brett said.

"If they made the deadline July 4, these guys would sign July 4 and the guy would jump on the plane and play some real baseball rather than go to Arizona when the season is almost over after not picking up a ball and a bat for how long … and playing football … he's not baseball ready," Brett told the newspaper. "It's going to take him a while." 

Instead of playing baseball and cashing checks, Starling was working out with the Nebraska football team as a negotiating ploy, showing that he was "serious" that he'd turn down millions of dollars to play football. He was also risking injury and his future with no guarantee.

That said, with the way money was thrown around on Monday night, it seems to make little sense to sign early. The teams showed that players who wait to sign until the deadline will be rewarded. An agent I spoke to on Tuesday said he's had players sign early in the past -- which is all well and good for the teams, but did he do his players' a disservice by not waiting until the end? In his previous cases, no, it was still the right thing to do. But next time? When the 27th player picked gets $800,000 above slot, the waiting game pays. That's not going to change, the way to fix that it to shorten the wait.

Pirates' booty: Speaking of the draft signings, the Pirates spent $17 million in signing bonuses for their draft picks. While there are negatives, for Pittsburgh, this is a positive. For many years teams like the Royals and Pirates wouldn't draft the best available player in the draft, instead drafting the best available player that would fit into their budget. The Royals gave Bubba Starling a huge contract and the Pirates gave out several, including an $8 million signing bonus to No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole and $5 million for second-rounder Josh Bell. Last season we heard about how the Pirates weren't spending their luxury tax gains, but now we see an actual plan and owner Bob Nutting is putting money into the team. [MLB.com]

Right player, wrong position: Living in Cincinnati I've seen this before -- teams in MLB will often pick the best player available in the draft, regardless of position, now Yonder Alonso is in the big leagues with the Reds and has little to do because Joey Votto isn't going to sit the bench for him. The Nationals saw a player some considered to be the best in the draft fall to them and couldn't pass up Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, despite already having a 26-year-old at third base in Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals are happy to have Rendon and let that problem play out. [MASNSports.com]

Bundy eyes 2013: Orioles first-round pick Dylan Bundy said his plan is to be in the big leagues in 2013. The right-hander would be 20 in 2013. Brett would tell him if he was serious about that, he maybe should have signed sooner. [Baltimore Sun]

Overrated Howard: Baseball-Reference.com's Sean Forman made the argument in the New York Times that Philadelphia's Ryan Howard is not an elite hitter. The bigger argument was about overvaluing the RBI -- the stat that Howard provides much of Howard's worth. It does certainly help that he plays for the Phillies and has some pretty decent players in front of him in the lineup.

Umps visit kids: Jerry Meals may be Public Enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh, but not to 3-year-old Emily Berger. Berger, who had undergone surgery on Monday, was one of the children visited by a group of MLB umpires to visit a children's hospital on Tuesday. Meals, who famously blew the call at home plate to end a 19-inning game in Atlanta for Pittsburgh loss, and the rest of his crew hosted a Build-A-Bear workshop for dozens of children. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

Sizemore improving: The Indians hope Grady Sizemore can return next month after he started baseball activities on Tuesday as part of his rehab from a right knee injury and a sports hernia surgery. [MLB.com]

Granderson's rare feat: Curtis Granderson has a shot at leading the American League in homers and triples. The last player to do that was Jim Rice in 1978. [Baseball-Reference.com]

Mariners doing well: Jack Zduriencik won the offseason according to many before the 2010 season, and we saw how that worked. But even with that in hindsight, it appears Zduriencik has had a good couple of weeks despite his team's fall in the standings over the last two months. [Seattle Times]

More Thome: If you haven't had enough of Jim Thome (and really, it's not like we've even got to a tenth of the DJ3K madness yet), his hometown paper, the Peoria JournalStar put together a fantastic package looking back on his life and career. Make sure you check it out.

Give the people what they want: Nice job by the Brewers' promotion department with the announcement of  "Tony Plush Rally Towels" for the Sept. 9 game against the Phillies. "Tony Plush" is the "gentleman's name" of outfielder Nyjer Morgan. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Bashing Boise: No, not the Broncos and their "Smurf turf," but the city's Class A team -- Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said Boise's Memorial Stadium is "below standard." [Chicago Tribune]

Pros vs. G.I. Joes: Some White Sox players are playing video games with soldiers online. [MLB.com]

Hi, bye: Outfielder Jonny Gomes was traded from the Reds to the Nationals last month, but he wasn't informed until just before the Reds' game started, meaning he wasn't able to say goodbye to his teammates in Cincinnati. Now a member of the Nationals, Gomes got to say both hello and goodbye to the Reds when the team started their series in Washington. [Cincinnati Enquirer]

Cut those sideburns: Monday was the 20th anniversary of Don Mattingly sitting out a game for refusing to cut his hair. [MLB.com]

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Posted on: August 11, 2011 12:22 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Kipnis a big hit in Cleveland



By Matt Snyder


Jason Kipnis, Indians. On the night when Ubaldo Jimenez made a sparkling home debut for the Tribe, rookie second baseman Kipnis -- who the Indians feel can be their Utley or Pedroia -- torched the Tigers. He ended 5-for-5 with a double, home run, four runs and three RBI. He became the first Indians rookie since 1952 to accrue five hits and four runs in the same game (MLB.com). The Indians won and moved within two games of the Tigers in the AL Central.

Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays. The heavily-hyped rookie third baseman came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and his team trailing 3-2. He sent a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats for his first career grand slam to put the Blue Jays on top for good. He later doubled and scored to end the day 2-for-4 with six total bases, two runs and four RBI. He's hitting .389 with two homers and six RBI in just five games since his promotion.

Curtis Granderson, Yankees. He connected for home runs twice, driving in four on the two blasts, in a 9-3 Yankees win. It was a win that brought the Yankees to within 1 1/2 games of the Red Sox in the AL East, but we're listing Granderson here for a different reason. It was his 113th game of the season, and he set a new career high with 31 homers. He averaged 24 per season in the last five -- his only five full years in the bigs. The surge is a testament to the hard work in improving against left-handers, which came last August. Oh, and for those who want to complain about the ballpark, Granderson has 14 road home runs.



Jonathan Sanchez, Giants. When Ryan Vogelsong unexpectedly emerged as a solid starter, the Giants appeared to have a nice problem on their hands: Six viable starters. Then again, Barry Zito isn't very viable for the most part, and now Sanchez is falling out of favor as well. He only made it through 4 1/3 innings Wednesday afternoon against the Pirates, allowing four earned runs and, yes, four walks. Control continues to plague him. This was against a Pirates team that entered having lost 11 of their past 12 games. It's going to be interesting to see what the Giants do when Zito gets off the DL. Oh, and while we're here, the Diamondbacks won Wednesday night and took over first place in the NL West. The defending champs are certainly in danger of missing the postseason.

Aaron Crow/Joakim Soria, Royals. The Royals were in great position to win with their seemingly-adolescent offense -- in terms of age -- putting up seven runs, including three ninth-inning insurance runs. Instead, the bullpen unraveled. Crow and Soria combined to allow five runs on five hits while only recording two outs. The last run was unearned, as Sam Fuld hit a game-tying triple -- only to come home as the winning run on a throwing error. Just a miserable ninth for the Royals.

Dexter Fowler, Rockies. Don't just look at the box score here. Remember, we watch games. Those who played in college and maybe even high school will remember the Cardinal Rule of baserunning, which is to never, ever make the third out at third base. Well, Fowler did it Wednesday night. In the ninth inning. To end the game. And he was the tying run. He is absolutely fast enough to score on a single, so there was no reason for the blunder.

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Posted on: August 10, 2011 2:28 am
Edited on: August 10, 2011 11:15 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Wang wins at Wrigley

Chien-Ming Wang
By C. Trent Rosecrans

Chien-Ming Wang, Nationals: The Nationals right-hander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before giving up an infield single to Tony Campana. He left the game after the inning, allowing just Campana's hit, while striking out one and walking two. He earned his first win since 2009 when he was a Yankee.

James Shields, Rays: Shields recorded his eight complete game of the season -- the most in the majors this season. Not only does Shields lead the majors in complete games, only four teams (not counting the Rays) have more complete games than Shields -- the Phillies (14), Angels (10), Mariners (10) and Rangers (9). It was his fourth shutout of the season, one behind Cliff Lee and tied with Derek Holland for second-most in the majors. The Rays wrapped up their 4-0 victory over the Royals in a tidy 1 hour, 53 minutes, about the same time as a Yankees-Red Sox seventh-inning stretch.

Cliff Lee, Phillies: Lee didn't get his sixth shutout, but he did pick up is 12th victory of the season, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out 10 in eight innings. Sure, that seems like nothing too special for Lee. What made Tuesday's performance was what Lee did at the plate. In the third inning his sacrifice bunt helped lead to the team's first run and he did it all by himself in the seventh inning when he homered off of Dodgers starter Ted Lilly. It was his second homer of the season and his career.


David Pauley, Tigers: The right-hander came into Tuesday night's game on Wednesday morning. Pauley was the Tigers' seventh pitcher of the game and struck out the first batter he faced, Jason Kipnis. But from there he walked Asdrubal Cabrera and gave up a single to Travis Hafner. With a runner on third, he intentionally walked Carlos Santana to face Kosuke Fukudome, who was 0 for 5 with four strikeouts in the game. With a 1-2 count, he hit Fukudome to score the winning run. It was the Tigers' 12th straight loss at Progressive Field. 

Curtis Granderson, Yankees: With the Yankees down two in the ninth inning with two outs and two on, Granderson, the runner on third, fell for the fake move to third and Jordan Walden picked him off for the final out of the game. As if that wasn't bad enough, Mark Teixeira was at the plate for New York and didn't get a chance to give the Yankees a victory after Mariano Rivera blew his sixth save of the season on a two-run homer by Bobby Abreu in the top of the ninth.

Josh Spence, Padres: Spence didn't pick up the loss and wasn't even charged with a run, but he entered the Padres' game with two on in the eight and after a sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and a sacrifice fly, the game was tied. He then walked Ronny Paulino to load the bases and walked Ruben Tejada, a .246 hitter, to force in the winning run for the Mets in the eighth inning. The walk capped a three-run eighth inning for a 5-4 Mets win.

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Posted on: August 5, 2011 10:46 pm
 

Yankees narrowing gap against Red Sox

Colon

By Evan Brunell

The Red Sox and Yankees met up Friday for the first time in two months with first place on the line. The last time the two teams met on June 9, Dustin Pedroia's name was distant from the AL MVP discussion, Carl Crawford was a bust, five Yankees looked like complete zeroes with the bat and Rafael Soriano had already fallen out of favor in the Bronx.

Since then, Pedroia has heated up along with the Yankee bats, led by Nick Swisher. Phil Hughes, who was on the disabled list, has returned to the rotation while the Red Sox have battled injuries and attrition in their own rotation, acquiring Erik Bedard with minutes to spare before the trade deadline in an attempt to shore up the staff. While both these teams have undergone changes in the month since, one thing remains the same as it was July 9: the Red Sox is the team to beat in the American League. But the Yankees have improved since June 9 and have narrowed the gap.

On Friday, the Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 start thanks to a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI double in the third, followed by a towering David Ortiz bomb in the fourth. The Red Sox couldn't push another run across in the fifth when Adrian Gonzalez struck out with the bases loaded. Still, Boston was in control behind the arm of Jon Lester, until the sixth inning when all hell broke loose. Granderson delivered an RBI single, then Lester loaded the bases by walking Mark Teixeira. A crucial double play put two outs on the board, albeit with the tying run scoring. Just as it looked like Boston could get out of the inning with a tie game, Nick Swisher doubled Granderson in to provide the final run of the game, leading to a 3-2 victory for the Yankees and just their second victory against Boston this season, against eight losses to the BoSox.

The bullpen won the game for the Yanks, as Boone Logan would go on to contribute a full inning of relief after whiffing Gonzalez for the final out of the fifth. Cody Wade netted one more out, then Rafael Soriano entered the game for the third time since coming off the disabled list. Signed to an exorbitant contract to set up Mariano Rivera that was orchestrated by the ownership and not GM Brian Cashman, Soriano has been a total zero the entire season. But he delivered his third scoreless appearance post-DL, adding a strikeout for extra measure. David Robinson continued his emergence as a potential Rivera replacement with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Rivera, of course, set down Boston in the ninth.

Now the Yankees are in first place, while Boston falls to second for the first time since July 6. Order has been restored to New York's psyche. And yet, the Yankees shouldn't feel at all comfortable about its standing. For one, the Yankees continue to get surprising production out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the former of whom only lasted 4 2/3 innings Friday night, giving up seven baserunners and two runs. Phil Hughes seems a mystery wrapped in a riddle, while A.J. Burnett does what he can to make Yankees fans pine for John Lackey. Derek Jeter can't be counted on anymore and the days of a .300 batting average from Mark Teixeira is long past. Boston has its own host of problems, but still has far less risk than New York moving forward with a stronger club, at least on paper.

Of course, two months from now, things may have changed again. All that matters is who the stronger team is in October.

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Posted on: July 27, 2011 4:36 pm
 

Mariners break 17-game losing streak



By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Seattle Mariners will return to Safeco Field on Friday with a fresh one-game winning streak.

OK, one game doesn't really qualify as a streak, but maybe we can just bend the rules for a team that is coming off a 17-game losing streak (and 17 certainly counts as a streak). The Mariners snapped their streak on Wednesday with a 9-2 victory over the Yankees in New York.

Felix Hernandez allowed just five hits and one run over seven innings, while the Mariners exploded for five runs in the seventh thanks to an error by Robinson Cano that allowed Ichiro Suzuki to score.

Ichiro went 4 for 5 with two runs, while Mike Carp and Dustin Ackley combined to drive in seven of the nine runs. Carp had a three-run double with two outs in the seventh inning that bounced off Curtis Granderson's glove as he appeared to lose the ball in the sun.

Seattle also had, coincidently, 17 hits on the day.

The 17-game losing streak was the longest in baseball since 2005 and spanned 22 days thanks to the All-Star break. Kansas City lost 19 games in a row in 2005.

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Posted on: July 18, 2011 8:59 am
Edited on: July 18, 2011 12:59 pm
 

Pepper: Baseball's color issue



By Matt Snyder


There's a lengthy article in the Star-Telegram about the extremely low number of African-American players in baseball, and how it trickles down to fans. Curtis Granderson points out that he can rarely count 10 in the crowd, excluding stadium personnel. Is this a problem? Upon first glance, my thoughts were no. It's not an issue of racism, because it's pretty clear major-league teams will sign anyone that can help them win. My gut feeling is that more young African-American kids are drawn to basketball and football. Just look at the demographics and diversity in those leagues. As long as there's no discrimination, why does it matter what color the players and fans are?

But Corey Patterson of the Blue Jays makes a salient point (Star-Telegram).
"I really do like all of my teammates and I'm friends with them," Patterson said. "But it does bother me. It does. I'm not saying the whole stadium needs to be brown or black, it's not that. I could talk about this until I'm blue in the face, and you might sympathize, but it doesn't affect you, so you don't think about it too long.

"My mental processes might be different because of the environment I'm in.

"It's hard for me to explain. Someone might say it's fine and we're all cool, but it's easier said if you're the majority."
And he's right. Since I'm white, I don't know what the Pattersons and Grandersons of the MLB are going through. I always thought that just being accepting and supportive of everyone -- regardless of color -- was enough, but maybe the MLB does need to spend more money on campaigns to get all children in the country excited about baseball. After all, studies have shown most baseball fans are adults, while kids are more drawn to basketball, football and soccer. This could become less an issue of diversity down the road and more an issue of losing fans ... of all colors.

Getting defensive: The Rays are hanging around in the race this season despite having a less-than-exciting offense and having lost a lights-out back-end of the bullpen duo. They are, as usual, doing it with stellar defense. Steve Slowinski on TampaBay.com opines that this could be the best defensive team the Rays have had in the past decade. That's saying something, because they've been among the best defensive teams in baseball for the past four to five years.

Historic futility: The Mariners are on pace in July to have the fourth-lowest runs scored in a month -- in which the team plays at least 20 games -- in the history of baseball. No wonder they fell completely out of the race in a matter of two weeks. (The Seattle Times)

Runaway groom bride: A man wearing a wedding dress ran onto the playing surface during play at Turner Field Saturday night. The idiot was promptly tackled by security and arrested, but hey, I'm sure it was definitely worth it. (Big League Stew)

Pujols 'taunts' fans: After Albert Pujols' big three-run homer Saturday night in Cincinnati, Pujols told the Reds fans to quiet down, via body language (check out the screen-grab by clicking here). I can see some being up in arms about this -- because, let's face it, there is always at least one person who gets mad about anything these days -- but I have no issue. I actually kind of like it. Then again, I did grow up a Pacers fan and saw this from Reggie Miller on a regular basis. (via Hardball Talk)

Caught napping, literally: Saturday in Wrigley Field, the TV cameras caught Marlins relief pitcher Edward Mujica sleeping in the bullpen. Cubs broadcaster and former All-Star catcher Bob Brenly was aghast, calling it "embarrassing," though Mujica said it was less than five minutes that he had his eyes closed. Check out the video on MLB.com.

Already in trouble? As I noted in 3 Up, 3 Down Saturday night, Barry Zito had three really good starts before Saturday's debacle, but that seems to have been all he needed to shake the confidence of management. The possibility of skipping Zito's next turn is being discussed. Now, obviously it wouldn't be punishment of any sort, it's just that Zito is the No. 5 starter and the logistics of the schedule work out that a turn can be skipped. But had he thrown another gem Saturday, I doubt this would be a thought. (SFGate.com)

Let 'er rip, big fella: Adam Dunn has a pretty good shot at breaking the record for strikeouts in a season, and his manager isn't going to stand in the way. Ozzie Guillen told reporters that he'll bench Dunn if he's not helping the ballclub, but he won't specifically bench him to avoid the strikeout mark. (Chicago Tribune)

Cursed left hand: Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie was reportedly close to a promotion to the bigs before he was hit in the hand with a pitch May 31. The broken hand shelved him for weeks and he's now on rehab assignment. Saturday night, he was hit with a pitch on the same hand again -- only this time he walked away uninjured, due to a protective batting glove. At least he found out it works. (National Post)

Here today, gone tomorrow: Padres catcher Luis Martinez made his major-league debut Friday night and was then sent back to the minors less than 24 hours later. He still said it was a "dream come true" and is hoping to make it back. (MLB.com)

Happy Anniversary: Sunday marked exactly 70 years since Joe DiMaggio's famed 56-game hitting streak ended. Will anyone ever reach that mark again? I seriously doubt it. (Big League Stew)

80-dollar dog: Yes, there's a hot dog for sale with the hefty price tag of $80 -- the Broxton Rox, of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball. Here's the description of the monstrosity: "The foot-long wiener will get the royal treatment. After deep frying, it will be rolled in truffle oil, then coated in porcini dust. The dog is to be topped with white truffle shavings and crème fraiche. If that doesn't gild the lily enough, the frank will be finished with caviar and fresh roe." (ThePostGame.com)

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Posted on: July 11, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 7:15 pm
 

Granderson sees room for improvement

By Matt Snyder

In order to achieve career highs, Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson needs only six home runs and nine RBI after the All-Star break. Still, the slugger told CBSSports.com that he doesn't feel like he is totally locked in at the plate. Granderson also defended teammate Derek Jeter for skipping the All-Star festivities, despite some malign from other media members and also discusses how he views the All-Star Game in terms of preparation. Check out the video below.



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Posted on: July 11, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Killer lineup paces AL East All-Stars

Bautista
By Evan Brunell

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

This just in: The talent assembled in the AL East is really, really good.

Just take a gander at the lineup for the AL East All-Stars on your lower right. Where exactly is there a hole? It's so deep that Curtis Granderson leads off despite boasting the second-most homers in all of baseball, tied with teammate Mark Teixeira with 25 apiece behind only Jose Bautista. It's so deep that Yunel Escobar, who leads off for the Blue Jays, is slapped into the nine spot as a second leadoff man. No matter how good any of the other division all-stars are -- the NL East, NL Central and NL West, along with the AL counterparts in the Central and West -- there simply is no stopping the offensive barrage this lineup has.

Let's take a look at who makes up the lineup, plus whose strolling to the mound and getting a win virtually any time this team plays.

WietersC Matt Wieters, Orioles: Russell Martin got off to a strong start, but tailed off. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek have recovered from a lousy April, but April counts, plus the two split playing time. J.P. Arencibia is hitting .216/.280/.424. The Rays catchers... who are they, again? That leaves Wieters, who is hitting .267/.323/.410. Not great, but miles better than the average catcher is producing (.236/.305/.378 in the AL). He also receives strong marks for fielding and has caught 24 of a potential 54 would-be basestealers, a percentage that no other catcher is close to duplicating.

Gonzalez1B Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
: Freed from Petco Park, Gonzalez is annihilating pitchers in his first season with the Red Sox, rapping out a .352/.412/.589 line, slamming 17 home runs and contributing in virtually every facet of the game except stealing bases. And that's not necessary at all for Gonzalez to be one of the best players in the league.

Pedroia2B Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: Entering play Sunday, Pedroia and Cano were virtually the same hitter on offense, with a .373 mark in wOBA, essentially a better version of OPS, scaled to OBP. So why did Pedey get the nod? Because hitting's not the only part of the game -- fielding is. And there, Pedroia is flashing leather that could win the Gold Glove while Cano has slipped to being below average after showing progress in recent years.

ineup
No. Name Team Pos
1 Curtis Granderson NYY CF
2 Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B
3 Jose Bautista TOR RF
4 Adrian Gonzalez BOS 1B
5 Alex Rodriguez NYY 3B
6 David Ortiz BOS DH
7 Ben Zobrist TB LF
8 Matt Wieters BAL C
9 Yunel Escobar TOR SS
Rodriguez3B Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: A-Rod may be 35 -- 36 later this month -- but that doesn't matter when throwing up a .295/.366/.485 mark in 344 plate appearances, showing that the possible eventual home-run king has plenty left in the tank. While Rodriguez just underwent the knife for knee surgery and will miss the next 4-6 weeks, he's still outproduced every third baseman in the division, which is no small feat with Kevin Youkilis in Boston and Evan Longoria down in Tampa. For those counting, A-Rod's 13 home runs bring him to a career 626.

EscobarSS Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
:
In the midst of what can only be characterized nicely as a bad year in 2010, Escobar was traded to the Blue Jays among questions about his maturity and commitment to the game. I think Toronto's happy with his commitment, as the Cuban has a cool .292/.368/.441 line. Yes, the AL East is rather thin on productive shortstops (sorry, Derek Jeter), but Escobar would deserve this spot in almost any other division.

ZobristLF Ben Zobrist, Rays
:
One could argue that Zobrist has been the most valuable Ray this year. While he's been primarily playing second base, he's also been one of the best hitters with a .272/.359/.480 line, stealing 10 bases and being a fantastic fielder. Zobrist has moved around the diamond so much, playing every position over his career other than catcher. He only played one game in left last year of a career 24, but you make the All-Star team not just on hitting, not just on fielding, not just on stealing, but how valuable you are. And the ability for Zobrist to move around the diamond and play any position is ginormous.

GrandersonCF Curtis Granderson, Yankees
:
As mentioned above, Granderson trails only Jose Bautista in home runs, having knocked 25. He's leading off because... well, just look at that lineup. But it also helps that he's corrected his struggles against left-handers, boasts a .362 OBP and has swiped 15 bags on the year. When New York first acquired Granderson prior to the 2009 season, many felt he had at least one 40-homer season in store thanks to the short right-field porch in (new) Yankee Stadium. That didn't happen last year, but barring injury or a major dropoff, Granderson will reach that mark this season for the first time in his career.

BautistaRF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
(pictured): File under "Duh." Joey Bats has been the best player in baseball by far this year. That's what happens when you have an unconscionable (in the post-steroids era, that is) 31 home runs by the All-Star break with a sterling .468 OBP. If his .702 slugging percentage holds up, he will be the first player to crack that mark since Barry Bonds with .812 in 2004. And if you don't count Bonds because of his "alleged" steroids use -- nor Sammy Sosa, the last person is Larry Walker way back in 1999 with a .710 mark. But the dude had Coors Field helping him. So let's move on and bypass Mark McGwire too. You land on Jeff Bagwell's .720 way back in 1994. That's nearly two decades ago. Two other players also broke the .700 mark in '94 -- Frank Thomas with .720 and Albert Belle with .714. Before that, you have to trot all the way back to 1957 and Ted Williams' .731 mark. And that's why he bats third in this lineup.

OrtizDH David Ortiz, Red Sox
:
Surprisingly -- at least, surprisingly to those who jumped in a time machine from any time prior to this April -- this was an easy choice. Big Papi has raked all year and will represent the AL in the All-Star Game on Tuesday as the starting DH. Showing power not seen since 2007, the lefty has blasted 19 home runs in 343 plate appearances and has trimmed his strikeout rate to 13.4 percent. That's a career low for Ortiz, who is hitting .304/.391/.579 overall.

ShieldsSP James Shields, Rays
: Let's take a look at where James Shields ranks among all pitchers entering play Sunday. Seventh in innings pitched with 134. Ninth in ERA with a 2.47 mark and sixth in xFIP (ERA minus all the things pitchers aren't entirely responsible for, such as qualify of the defense behind him) with a 2.87 line. Ninth in K/BB ratio with a even 4.00 mark on the strength of 132 strikeouts against just 34 walks (one intentional). He's also tied with Roy Halladay in complete games with six. But we've got to put that in past tense, as Shields registered yet another complete game on Sunday, allowing just one unearned run to drop his ERA to 2.33. There's no question he belongs here.

RobertsonRP David Robertson, Yankees
:
Roberson has really come on this year and brings the heat with an average fastball velocity of 93 mph, pairing it with a curveball that befuddles batters. All that's handed him 56 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. We'll forgive his 23 walks given he's causing batters to windmill enough to power all of New York City, if not the state. Potentially Mariano Rivera's successor down the line, he has a 1.27 ERA on the year, with a more sane -- but still excellent -- 2.57 xFIP.

RiveraCL Mariano Rivera, Yankees
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If this feature had been running since Rivera first became closer way back in 1997, he's probably working on a 15-year streak. Oh well, he'll settle for being the inaugural AL East closer. Rivera has had some triceps issues lately, but that hasn't prevented him from being his usual automatic self, racking up 22 saves with a 1.85 ERA -- his fourth straight season with an ERA under 2.00 and eighth of nine seasons.

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