By Tom Verducci
August 07, 2008

Where in your opinion does Ryan Ludwick stand in any early NL MVP discussions? A couple of stories have pointed out how his offensive stats mirror those of first-half favorite Chase Utley, and the last two weeks have demonstrated that he has worked his way through a June swoon and come back swinging. And if you've seen many Cards games you know that he can play a little defense, too (witness that game-changing double play he turned in the finale of the last series with the Cubs). -- Greg Pils, Madison, Wisc.

Ludwick right now looks like a guy who's going to be a top 10 MVP candidate, maybe even top five depending on what he does down the stretch. His biggest obstacle to winning the award is that he's not the best candidate on his own team. That would be Albert Pujols. Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun and Chase Utley are also great candidates, as is Lance Berkman if you don't give extra consideration to getting it done in a pennant race. (Of course, Ed Wade would argue that the Astros are in a race.)

Jason Bay could replace Manny Ramirez quite nicely in Boston. Bay's numbers are as good or better this year than Manny's (on a much weaker team), he runs better than Ramirez, is better defensively and is as good a guy as Ramirez is a whack-job. Bay's also seven years younger and is likely to be good for longer than Manny at this point. -- Matt Burk, Pittsburgh

There is no doubt that the Red Sox got the younger, more athletic player. It has a chance to work well for Boston. But you're talking about replacing one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, who gave Boston one of the best 1-2 punches of all time. Bay is not going to replace Ramirez's bat or presence in the lineup. He's just not in that class. But Boston is counting on his defense, baserunning and reliability to help them win games in ways that Manny could not. So to judge the deal I don't think you can just compare their hitting stats. And I do think not having Manny will have an effect on David Ortiz.

Will Giants GM Brian Sabean be given the green light in the offseason to stockpile offensively-capable position players to complement their four-pack of hurlers (Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez). Outside of Aaron Rowand that is the most unimpressive lineup in the bigs. Do they have the cash to land some big sticks? -- Ari Oller

Great question. The Giants have been tough to read on where they are going. They don't have a whole lot coming off the $76 million payroll. In fact, if they pick up the option for Omar Vizquel, they're on the hook for $30 million for Vizquel, Randy Winn, Dave Roberts, Bengie Molina and Noah Lowry, all of whom would be in their last year. They might be better off spending on a big stick this winter, biting the bullet for 2009 on a payroll increase, and counting on much of that $30 million becoming available in 2010.

The inclusion of the '62 Phillies in your list of teams with the biggest year-over-year improvement should have come with a Roger Maris-sized asterisk. 1962 was the year that the NL expanded to 10 teams and the schedule went from 154 to 162 games. A large part of that improvement can be chalked up to having two new patsies, the Mets and the Colt 45's (later Astros), on which to beat up. -- Bert Katz, Wheaton, MD

Yes, it's hard to find a team that exploited an expansion year more than those '62 Phils. They were dreadful in 1961, going 47-107. Then the Mets and Colt .45s come along, and presto! The Phillies have a winning record. They went 31-5 against the Mets and Colt .45s. Amazing.

I grew up a Pirates fan 50 years ago. I think their recent trades are better than some have reported. They were not going to re-sign Nady, and Marte was a luxury for them that wasn't necessary this season. I never was a big fan of Bay's; he always seemed too timid to me to carry a club as a big hitter. Any thoughts on the poor Buccos and their struggle to improve? -- Mark Rupert, Albuquerque, N.M.

I think the Pirates had exactly the right philosophy at the trade deadline, moving parts that probably didn't figure in 2009 for them (Marte had an expensive option, so he might have been traded later, anyway) for quantity and some quality. But I don't think you will know how well they did until you see what happens with Jose Tabata. He's the key to what they did. He could be an impact hitter or he could be a bust with poor work habits. In a perfect world you would like your key player in a deal to bring more certainty in terms of physical and mental makeup.

Disclaimer first: I am a Cubs fan. In the Aug. 4 game that was rained/lightninged out, the Cubs were up to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning when the game (rightfully so) was delayed due to lightning. Later the game was called, with Astros as the winners. I know a game is official after the 5th inning, but I always thought the home team would get its last at bat if a new inning was started. Should the bottom of the 8th and the 9th have been suspended and played the next day so that the home team would get its last at bat in an inning that was started? -- Jim, Poway, Calif.

Very good question. The game would have been suspended and picked up in the eighth in the event that the game was tied at that point. But the Astros had the lead, 2-0, with the game well past being considered official.

By dumping Manny Ramirez's $20 million per year, is that the first bid amount for Colorado's Matt Holliday? -- Mike, Longmont, Colo.

Holliday is a free agent after 2009, so unless I can sign him to an extension as part of a trade, I wouldn't give up a huge package to rent him for a year.

Why is it that Joba Chamberlain takes a lot of heat for pumping his fist once in a while, but K-Rod celebrates each save as if he won the World Series and no one says a thing? Are people afraid to criticize him because he's Hispanic? -- Tim, New York, N.Y.

No, I just think it's because Chamberlain is a Yankee, and all things in New York get amplified. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. Nothing wrong with getting excited out there. I mean, who enjoyed a big punchout more than Dennis Eckersley? Are these guys trying to show up the hitter? I don't think so. That's the bottom line.

Why is there such a big deal made about left-handed hitters hitting off of southpaw pitchers, but rarely is there fuss over a righty vs. righty matchup? Any manager who wants a job would never pinch hit a lefty against, say, recently traded Damaso Marte. However, not a half-second of thought would be given if a right-handed swinger was called upon to hit against a right-handed thrower. -- Brian P., Harrison, N.Y.

There is a slight difference. Right-handed hitters see right-handed pitchers about five times more often than lefthanded hitters see lefthanded pitchers. That's because there are so many more right-handed pitchers. So because righties see righties so often and lefties see lefties far less often, the right-on-right matchup doesn't favor the pitcher as much as the left-on-left. It's not a huge difference, but this year righties have hit .255 against righties and lefties have hit .246 against lefties. That said, most managers will try to gain the platoon advantage late in the game whenever they can to swing the odds a little more in their favor.

Since John Gibbons was fired, Cito Gaston has the Jays playing closer to their potential (but too little, too late for this season). But why has it taken 11 years for Cito to get a second managerial job? And with the same team that last fired him? Were his two World Series Championships considered gimmes with the good teams the Blue Jays had in the early 1990's? Or is managing in Canada like a career death sentence? And I'd hate to think race still would play a role in today's baseball. -- Shawn, Waterdown, Ont.

I don't think there's an easy answer that. Gaston's name did come up for a few jobs years ago, but the fit wasn't right for him. And I don't consider his two titles to have been gimmes. I thought he did a great job, less so after that when he seemed to lapse into autopilot mode. Then I think once you're out for that long, and not in uniform at all, you fall off the radar of organizations that don't know you. I always wondered why Larry Dierker, for instance, didn't get another job.

Why doesn't MLB make the umpires get off the inside corner when the catcher sets up outside? I am very tired of watching umps call pitches 6 inches outside strikes, because they won't move out to the corner. They act insulted when a player gets upset because a pitch is so far outside. A simple move with the catcher would make them far more accurate. -- Mick James, Norwich, N.Y.

I fear that if you wanted them moved to the outside they would have a tough time calling the inside pitch. And to stand above the catcher, as in the days with the old balloon chest protector, makes the low pitch tough to call. I think umpires by and large have done a great job in the past few years calling the width of the plate. Some pitchers are good enough to pound that outside corner enough to be able to expand the zone. That's a skill. My beef is with umpires who take so darn long to make a ball or strike call. There's no reason to delay so long on some of these calls. It strikes me as a form of showboating, of calling attention to oneself. The players and fans deserve better.

This isn't so much a question as it is a comment. I just wanted to thank you for your article a few weeks ago on Tim Lincecum. I added a longer stride and some hip rotation to my delivery (similar to Tim's but not quite as drastic) and got a faster fastball as well as an arm that took longer to get tired. My arm now isn't sore when I'm done throwing. Thanks! -- Brian P. Age 14, Harrison, Ohio

Chris Lincecum would be proud. Maybe we'll see you in the big leagues, along with a few more Lincecum-inspired young pitchers, in the same way that many pitchers once got to the big leagues parroting the mechanics of Roger Clemens.

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