NEW YORK -- Five Cuts as baseball's second half ominously kicks off on Friday the 13th:
1. Bronx Bombers
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira led the Yankees attack with two home runs, a two-run shot in the third and a game-tying three-run blast in the eighth, accounting for five of his team's six runs in a 6-5 win over the Angels on Friday, a battle between the two teams with the majors' best records over the past 11 weeks. Since April 28, the Angels and Yankees are both 42-25 (.627).
That's hardly any surprise for one of the most homer-dependent offenses in baseball history. The Yankees have scored 51.3 percent of their 417 runs via homers, the most in the majors by some four percent. If New York keeps up that pace, it would be the second-highest rate in baseball history, according to Baseball Prospectus, trailing only the 2010 Blue Jays, who plated 53.1 percent of their runs on longballs.
Good thing, too, as they have trouble scoring by more traditional methods. New York batted .231 with runners in scoring position in the season's first half, which was the worst average of any AL team. Before the eighth inning when Teixeira parked his game-tying homer and catcher Russell Martin smacked his game-winning RBI single, the Yankees were 0-for-8 with RISP through the game's first seven innings.
Then again, the 2012 Yankees are on pace for 256 home runs, which would rank fifth all-time for a single season. So even if they seem remarkably reliant on one run-scoring tactic, there's no reason to fear a power shortage. After all, the franchise record for home runs (244) -- when it ranked fourth in the majors in home-run-scoring rate (40.1) that season -- occurred in 2009, when New York claimed its 27th World Series title.
2. Down go the Angels
The Angels' hot streak followed a 6-14 start to the season and can be attributed to several key factors: the promotion of Mike Trout; the end of Albert Pujols' dire slump; the steady playing time of Mark Trumbo; and, what unexpectedly failed the Angels on Friday, the back of the bullpen.
Left-hander Scott Downs and right-hander Ernesto Frieri entered the game having allowed just one earned run in 56 1/3 innings -- a 0.16 ERA! -- while wearing Angels' uniforms this season. Neither had allowed a homer, and they combined for 64 strikeouts to only 30 hits and 23 walks for a sub-1.00 WHIP.
It's no surprise, therefore, that the Angels were 47-7 when tied or leading after seven innings -- until Friday, as Downs allowed four runs while only recording two outs, turning a 5-2 lead into a 6-5 deficit.
"As steady as they've been, they're not machines," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're confident we're going to hold leads. We've been as good as anyone at holding leads."
This one blip is hardly cause for concern,, though it did spoil a pair of good offensive performance from two of the Angels' All-Stars. In keeping up with Mark Teixeira, the other two M.T.'s --Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo -- had big days. Trout had two hits, both of which netted an extra base thanks to a steal; he singled and stole second in the third inning and doubled and stole third in the eighth.
Trumbo, meanwhile, hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh, a mammoth blast that cleared the visiting bullpen in left-centerfield and reached the stands beyond it -- no small feat given the two-mound-wide bullpen begins 399 feet from home. Trumbo, who was robbed of a possible second homer by New York right fielder Nick Swisher, has now homered in five straight games against the Yankees, and 15 of his 23 blasts this year have either tied the game or given the Angels the lead.
3. Pirates pick goes back to school
The Pirates were the only major league team who did not sign its first-round pick when it failed to come to terms with Stanford junior righthander Mark Appel, the No. 8 overall selection who turned down a reported offer of $3.8 million, according to Baseball America. Pittsburgh will receive the No. 9 pick in next year's draft as compensation.
"Selecting Mark was a calculated risk, as we knew he would be a difficult sign," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "As an organization, we need to continue to take these types of calculated risks."
Entering June's draft, many considered Appel a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall, but once he slipped a couple picks, he fell several more picks, seemingly because the next few clubs to select were scared off by his expected asking price. In years past, a team was not so tightly restrained in what bonus it could offer -- and often Pittsburgh spent big, totaling a league-high $47.6 million on the last four drafts -- but this is the first draft to occur under the new collective bargaining agreement, which implemented steep penalties for overspending on an allotted bonus pool.
Huntington said the Pirates' proposal was "essentially up to the last dollar" on what they could offer before forfeiting a first-round pick next year. (The pool amount for that pick was only $2.9 million but, had Appel gone first overall, he could have expected around $7.2 million.) The Pirates were willing to pay a tax for exceeding the bonus pool by up to five percent but chose not to withstand the severe penalty of a pick for surpassing the limit by more than five percent.
The purported rationale behind the CBA's draft changes was to more closely assign the best talent with the earliest picks by minimizing the impact of signability. That, however, did not help either Appel or the Pirates this year, though only one first-round pick and only eight total picks in the first 10 rounds failed to sign by Friday's underclassmen deadline.
That high signing rate is a little misleading, however, as far more college seniors were selected in the first 10 rounds (i.e. the rounds capped by the bonus pool) than previously; seniors have minimal leverage to negotiate bonuses, meaning clubs could allot more pool money to harder-to-sign picks.
It's hard to evaluate the entirety of a new system after only one draft, but what is clear is that Appel took a significant gamble by returning to school. Though he is likely to begin the year as the No. 1 prospect available for next year's draft, that's no guarantee he'll end it there, given normal attrition rates for performance or injury. That's why, just as Huntington said, drafting Appel was worth the risk.
4. Boston's outfield boost
Jacoby Ellsbury played his first big league game since April 13, when he partially dislocated his right shoulder. In his return he went 1-for-5 with a single and two strikeouts while grounding into a double play as the Red Sox beat the Rays 3-1.
His was a welcome return for a Boston club who has suffered in both the outfield and the leadoff spot in Ellsbury's absence. Red Sox leadoff hitters entered play with a .309 on-base percentage this season, which ranked 24th in the majors among top-of-the-order hitters. That's a far cry from last year when Ellsbury was the AL MVP runner-up, and BoSox leadoff hitters (mostly Ellsbury) led the majors with a .903 OPS and ranked second with a .366 OBP.
With Ellsbury back now and Carl Crawford, who hasn't played this season, expected back as early as Monday, the Red Sox are now reportedly shopping an outfielder (probably Ryan Sweeney) in the trade market -- an unexpected development after employing 13 different players in the outfield this season, three more than anyone else in the majors.
5. Watch out, Cal Ripken!
Brewers righthander Zack Greinke became the first pitcher to start three consecutive games in the same season since Hall of Fame righthander Red Faber did so for the White Sox in 1917. But it wasn't exactly a desirable showcase for the free-agent-to-be and potential trade chip, as he threw a total of just eight innings in those three starts and allowed nine earned runs, computing to a 10.13 ERA.
Such an unlikely streak was possible because Greinke only threw four pitches in last Saturday's game, at which point he was ejected after spiking the ball following an unfavorable close call at first base. He started again Sunday, lasting three innings and 66 pitches while getting no decision. Now, after four days off for the All-Star break, Greinke was knocked out of a game against the Pirates -- which Milwaukee nevertheless went on to win 10-7 -- when he gave up six runs (five earned) in five innings, allowing seven hits and two walks while striking out six.
It only boosted his season ERA to 3.57, however, as the 28-year-old Greinke is having a strong campaign as he enters free agency this offseason. In fact, he leads all NL pitchers in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 3.6, according to FanGraphs.com. Earlier in the day came a CBSSports.com report that the Brewers are willing to offer an extension close to five years and $100 million to keep him in Milwaukee.
Most pressingly in the short term, the Brewers are seven games back in the NL Central and six games back of a wild-card berth. They are in the midst of 12 straight intra-divisional games which will likely dictate whether the club buys, sells or holds as the trade deadline approaches.