Last Week: 1
|Joba Chamberlain, RP |
While starter Phil Hughes has shown a few cracks -- after skipping a turn to keep his innings low, he wasn't very good in two of his last three starts nor in the All-Star Game -- it's Chamberlain that is fully broken. He's 1-4 with a 5.79 ERA and blew two of the five leads he was handed this month. The bridge to closer Mariano Rivera isn't very sturdy right now, particularly as David Robertson also struggles and Alfredo Aceves remains hurt.
As the Yankees play with heavy hearts after the passing of longtime owner George Steinbrenner, they'll have to protect their No. 1 ranking -- and AL East lead -- while hosting No. 2 Tampa Bay in a three-game weekend series.
Last Week: 3
|Carlos Peña, 1B |
Will he ever hit? The first baseman has had a pretty steady downward progression since his career year in 2007, his average and on-base percentage each dropping at least 20 points per season from .282/.411 in '07 to .203/.321 this year. He's kept his power -- 18 home runs and counting -- but with Jason Bartlett and B.J. Upton also scuffling at the plate, the Rays need more from Peña, the guy with the bigger contract and the more proven track record.
Last Week: 4
|Jason Heyward, RF |
In April and May Heyward proved he had the ability to be considered among the game's future stars. In June he slumped a little and was derailed further by a thumb injury, and with Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth still floundering in season-long funks, the onus is on Heyward to provide some power from the outfield. By trading young and talented but underachieving shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays for a veteran like Alex Gonzalez sent a clear message that the Braves want to win this year, a point that's doubly important with manager Bobby Cox set to retire at the end of the year. In other words, Heyward doesn't have to continue developing but will need to produce in the second half.
Last Week: 5
|Jed Hoyer, GM |
The pressure will be on the Padres first-year general manager to push for the franchise's first playoff berth since 2006 by making a trade to add veteran talent at the deadline or risk pushing his young starters too far past their innings limits. But San Diego's future is not now. Hoyer should resist the urge to mortgage what's looking to be an increasingly bright future (for his pitching staff, at any rate) and stay the course of trying to compete with the guys he has.
Last Week: 7
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B |
Somewhat surprisingly, the Red Sox have kept afloat despite their rash of recent injuries, but it's their former MVP second baseman that they'll miss the most. Foot injuries, especially a break like Pedroia's, can be especially slow to heal. He's trying to stay a part of the team, taking grounders from his knees and hobbling around on crutches so that he could join his fellow All-Star teammates in Anaheim. Pedroia was batting .500 (26-for-52) in his last 13 games before the one in which he got injured, including a 5-for-5, three-homer game the night before.
Last Week: 9
|Gordon Beckham, 2B |
The White Sox surged into first-place in the AL Central just before the break but have been competing all year without the services of Beckham -- or so it has seemed. Despite a .216 average and .277 OBP with only three home runs, Beckham hasn't lost his starting job at second base. Maybe manager Ozzie Guillen's confidence in the No. 8 overall pick in 2008 will be rewarded: In his last 13 games before the break Beckham has hit .310 (13-for-44) with two of his three homers on the season. With Beckham producing, the White Sox could have the firepower to win the division without making a bold trade for Adam Dunn or other big hitter.
Last Week: 8
|Rick Porcello, SP |
Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp is adamant that Porcello, who was demoted to the minors after beginning the year 4-7 with a 6.14 ERA, will return to form. "He'll be back," Knapp said. "There's no timetable, but I'm certain he'll get it right and get things worked out. I don't think he's lost any of his confidence. I don't know he was really any different than last year. It's the trials and tribulations of a 21-year-old. He's just growing into his body." In Triple-A Porcello is 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA in four starts, and a return to his 2009 major-league form (14-9, 3.96 ERA) would be a major boon for Detroit, which has one of the game's best starters (Justin Verlander) and little reliable rotation support.
Last Week: 2
|Cliff Lee, SP |
The Rangers traded for Lee to be their ace and take the ball in Game 1 of each playoff series, and they sure look to be one of the safest bets for the playoffs in an otherwise troubled AL West. Before acquiring Lee, Texas had a good regular-season rotation -- in other words, starters like Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter who can regularly take the ball and keep the team in games -- but with Lee the Rangers have a bonafide ace who can win twice in a short playoff series.
Last Week: 13
|Todd Helton, 1B |
The stat OPS+ standardizes OPS (on-base plus slugging) to put it on a scale, so that the average major-leaguer has an OPS+ of 100. The best hitters -- this year that means Miguel Cabrera and Justin Morneau -- have an OPS+ of 182. Helton, meanwhile, has an OPS+ of 69, putting him in the company of light hitters Ryan Theriot, Juan Pierre and the aforementioned Beckham. Helton has just 12 extra-base hits (10 doubles, two homers). It won't be easy for manager Jim Tracy to bench Helton, but Colorado needs more production out of the best hitter in franchise history.
Last Week: 14
|Jeff Weaver, RP |
Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo are All-Stars, but the rest of the bullpen has been a little shakier. Now the club's third-most reliable reliever, Ronald Belisario, has been placed on the restricted list for a second time, this one for vague "personal reasons" and then the club reportedly placed ineffective Geroge Sherrill on waivers. The trickle-down effect is that Weaver, still relatively new to relieving, may have to pitch in more high-leverage situations. He's done most of his work earlier in games, and in the 10 times he's appeared in the eighth inning, he's posted a 6.35 ERA.