The “Dog Days of August” are here, so it’s time for BBRT to reflect on MLB’s month of July. (BBRT apologizes; the July wrap is a few days tardy due to a busy schedule around my Car Club’s Annual – first weekend in August – Cruise and Car Show.) As usual, let’s start with a look at who stood where at the end of the month, with all statistics being as of end of MLB (Major League Business) July 31. If the season had ended at the close of play on July 31, the play-off teams would have been:
Division Leaders: Orioles, Tigers and A’s – The Orioles, thanks to a 17-8 month, displaced the Blue Jays (15-11 for the month) at the top of the East, where everyone except the Red Sox had a .500+ July.
Wild Cards: Angels and Blue Jays. The Blue Jays dropped from the AL East lead, but held on to a WC spot. The Mariners dropped out of a WC spot with an 11-14 July.
Division Leaders: Brewers, Dodgers and Nationals – The Brewers and Dodgers held their spots, while the Nationals road a 14-10 record to a 1 ½ game lead over the Braves, who played .500 ball (13-13) in July.
Wild Cards: The NL Wild Card race saw the Giants holding one spot (despite a 12-14 month), with the Cardinals and Braves tied for the other, and the Pirates just ½-game behind.
Full standings and each team’s July won-lost record can be found at the end of this post.
July’s Hottest Team – Tampa Bay
July’s hottest team was the Tampa Bay Rays, who played .739 ball (17-6). The Rays capitalized on pitching, recording MLB’s second-best ERA for the month (2.71), while finishing 19th in runs scored. (Surprisingly, despite their strong July, the Rays ended the month “sellers” in the trade deadline market – parting with 2012 Cy Young Award David Price. More on that later.)
The only other team playing at a .700+ pace for July was the Angels (19-8, .704), who still found themselves chasing the A’s, who went 15-10 (.600 for the month) and are the only team playing .600 or better ball on the season (66-41, .617). The Angels took a more balanced path to .700 than the Rays, leading all of MLB in runs scored in July (132), while boasting the fifth-best ERA (3.11). There were a few surprises during the month, like the Mets (15-10, .600) and Orioles (17-8, .680 and new AL East leader).
July Deep Freeze in Texas and Rocky Mountain Low in Colorado
July’s coldest teams? Both came from the West. In the AL West, the Rangers put up the worst numbers 6-20 (.231), and closed July a whopping 23 ½ games off the pace in the division. The Rangers’ pitching is the primary cause for their continued problems. In July, their 5.74 ERA was baseball’s worst (they finished 19th in runs scored for the month). In the NL West, the Rockies had the worst June showing (8-17, .320).
Some Tid Bits
Powering Your Way to Success – Not So Much
Home runs did not spell success in July. The AL leader in round trippers for the month was the Astros (32 homers), who won only eight games (8-19). Over in the NL, the July home run leader was the Cubs (29 HRs), who went 10-16 for the month.
Tough Month for Davis
The Orioles’ climb to the top of the East is even more surprising when you consider the problems first baseman – and key power hitter – Chris Davis faced in July. Davis (.286-53-138 in 2013) hit just .167 for July (13-for-78) and led all of MLB with 38 strikeouts. Davis closed July hitting .205-17-53, with 124 whiffs.
The Boston Red Sox continued to take their fans on a roller coaster ride. In 2012, the Red Sox finished at the bottom of the AL East (26 games out). Then in 2013, Boston rose from “worst-to-first,” beating the Cardinals in the World Series. In 2014, the Sox are threatening to do a “worst-to-first-to-worst” turn around. As of July 31, Boston sat at the bottom of the AL East with a 48-60 record (12 ½ games out of first and five games out of fourth).
More on Why I Hate the DH
On July 13, in the sixth-inning of a game against the Diamondbacks, San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner hit his third home run and second grand slam of the 2014 season. Bumgarner is the first pitcher to hit two grand slams in a season since the Braves Tony Cloninger became the first NL player (at any position) to hit two grand slams in a game (July 3, 1966).
In addition, Bumgarner’s slam followed a fifth-inning grand slam by Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, making the Posey/Bumgarner combo the first battery-mates in MLB history to “batter” the opposition with four-run blasts in the same game. The two long balls accounted for all of the Giants’ runs in an 8-4 victory. (Also of note, Bumgarner was on base – after hitting a double to deep left field – when Posey went yard.) Bumgarner, who got the win, ran his season totals to 10-7, 3.47 on the mound and .275-3-12 at the plate. Who says pitchers can’t hit?
A Couple of Unique Moments
On July 25, the Dodgers topped the Giants 8-1 in San Francisco and, although their Giants lost, the fans saw some rather unique baseball accomplishments. First, the Dodgers rapped five triples in the contest – and three in one inning (a five-run fifth). Second, Dodger center fielder Yasiel Puig collected three three-baggers in the game (the others belonged to second baseman Dee Gordon and right fielder Matt Kemp). Notably, none of these were MLB records. Puig’s three triples did, however, match the post-1900 MLB high (reached 47 times). Only George Strief (Philadelphia Athletics, 1885) and Bill Joyce (New York Giants, 1887) achieved four triples in a game.
One record was reached in the game, however. In the third inning, Dodger starter Zack Greinke tied an MLB record (shared by many) with four strikeouts in an inning and became just the third MLB pitcher to record multiple four-strikeout innings. Greinke started out the inning by fanning Giants’ catcher and number-eight hitter Hector Sanchez swinging (2-2 count); pitcher Tim Lincecum then went down looking (2-2 count); lead-off hitter and right fielder Hunter Pence swung and missed on a 3-2 count, but reached first on wild pitch; and center fielder Gregor Bianco ended the inning with a swinging strike out (3-2 count). It was the second four-strikeout inning in Greinke’s career. Only Chuck Finley (three times) and A.J. Burnett (twice) also have multiple 4K innings.
Trades, Trades, Trades
Lots has been written about July’s trades, particularly the deadline rush, so BBRT will just look at two teams who seem to be gearing up for the post-season – the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers.
On July 5 (deal agreed to July 4), the Oakland A’s – with baseball’s best record – fired the first salvo in the 2014 trade wars, acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for minor leaguers Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. Samardzija was only 2-7 with the Cubs, but sported a 2.83 ERA and 31 walks versus 103 strikeouts in 108 innings. Hammel, in his ninth MLB season, was 8-5, 2.98 for the Cubs. This clearly looked like a move by Oakland to both hold off the fast-charging Angels and bolster their starting pitching for the post-season – perhaps for a match-up with Detroit.
The A’s also made one of the last deals of July, shipping power-hitting outfielder Yeonis Cespedes and a player to be named later to the Red Sox for pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. This move by the A’s is clearly aimed at the post season, when pitching is considered premium. Lester, a free agent at season’s end (and rumor has it the Red Sox are intent on bringing him back), is a three-time All Star and was 10-7, 2.52 at the time of the trade. He also boasts a 6-4, 2.11 record in 13 post season games, and went 4-1, 1.56 in the 2013 post season. Boston got a power-hitting outfielder who should further increase his HR and RBI total moving into cozy Fenway.
If the Samardzija and Lester pickups were shots across the bow of the seemingly pitching-rich Tigers (Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez), Detroit was fully prepared to return fire. The Tigers pulled off a July 31 deadline deal of their own, acquiring Tampa Bay starter David Price – the AL’s 2012 Cy Young Award winner and 2014 AL strikeout leader. The July 31 deal involved three teams, with the Seattle Mariners getting Tigers’ outfielder Austin Jackson (an upgrade in center field for the Mariners) and Tampa Bay receiving Mariners’ prospect (shortstop) Nick Franklin, Detroit left-handed hurler Drew Smyly and Tigers’ shortstop prospect Willy Adames.
Detroit also strengthened its bullpen corps during the month, with a July 23 trade that brought them veteran reliever Joakim Soria (a two-time All Star with 177 career saves) for a pair of pitching prospects (Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson). Soria was the Rangers’ closer this season (17 saves and a 2.70 ERA at the time of the trade), but is serving as a set-up man in Detroit.
Clearly, both the A’s and Tigers are “arming up” for the post season – and, should they face off, we can expect some quality competition.
A few other moves that BBRT believes will impact the pennant races and post season:
- Angels’acquiring Padres’ closer Houston Street;
- Giants picking up starter Jake Peavy from the Red Sox;
- Cardinal signing A.J. Pierzynski and trading for Red Sox pitcher John Lackey;
- Yankees trading for Diamondbacks’ infielder Martin Prado.
Now let’s look at the “numbers” through July.
Batting Leaders – July 31 Close of MLB (Major League Business) and for the Month
Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki led the NL (and MLB) in batting average at the close of July – hitting .340 (with 21 HRs and 52 RBI. Tulo was trailed by Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig (.319) and Cardinals’ first baseman Matt Adams (.314). Tulo continued to feast on “home cookin’” – hitting .417 in Colorado and .257 on the road.
Over in the AL, the Astros’ 5’ 5” second baseman Jose Altuve held the batting lead at .339 – hitting a steady .339 both at home and on the road. Trailing Altuve were Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano (.328) and Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre (.323).
For the month of July, Cubs’ left fielder Chris Coghlan topped NL hitters (.376/32-for-84), while White Sox’ first baseman Jose Abreu led the AL (.374/37-for-99). A pair of speedy outfielders also excelled in July. The month’s batting average runners-up were Rajai Davis (Tigers’ left fielder) and Denard Span (Nationals’ center fielder) – both at .368.
Home Runs and RBI
In the power department, White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu led the AL with 31 home runs and 83 RBI – followed closely by Baltimore left fielder Nelson Cruz with 29 home runs and Detroit first sacker Miguel Cabrera with 81 RBI.
As of July 31, the NL home run lead was shared by Marlins’ right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo with 25. Stanton also led the league in RBI with 73 (to go with a .293 average). Dodgers’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was second in RBI with 71.
For the month, three players reached eight home runs: the Astros’ DH Chris Carter, Indians’ first baseman Carlos Santana and Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
The July RBI leaders were and Nationals’ right fielder Jayson Werth (26) and Boston’s veteran DH David Ortiz (25)
The speed lead went to Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon (48 steals) in the NL and Astros’ second sacker Jose Altuve in the AL with 42. “Running” second were Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton (42 steals) in the NL and Yankees’ center fielder Jacob Ellsbury (28 steals) in the NL.
MLB’s stolen base leader for July was the Royals’ center fielder Jarrod Dyson, with nine steals in nine attempts. Three players reached eight steals for the month: Dyson’s teammate Lorenzo Cain, Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon and Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton.
Pitching Leaders YTD (Through July 31) and for the Month
Wins and ERA
In the NL, the names Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright dominated mound stats through July. The Dodgers’ Kershaw and the Cardinals’ Wainwright were tied for the lead in wins at 13 (Kershaw 13-2/Wainwright 13-5) and also stood one and two in ERA (Kershaw 1.71/Wainwright 1.92). The NL boasted a host of 12-game winners: Madison Bumgarner (SF); Johnny Cueto (Cin.); Zach Greinke and Hun-Jin Ryu (LA); Wily Peralta (Mil.); and Alfredo Simon (Cin.). Notably, the Dodger top three starters contributed 37 victories through July 31 – best in baseball.
The AL lead in wins (as of July 31) was owned by Detroit’s Max Scherzer (13-3) followed by 12-game winners: Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir (Oak.); Rick Porcello (Det.); and Masahiro Tanaka (NY). The AL ERA leaders were the White Sox’ Chris Sale, who had a 10-11 record despite a league-low 1.88 ERA, and the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez (11-2. 2.01).
For the month of July, only two pitchers reached five wins and both were American Leaguers. Oakland’s Sonny Gray went 5-0, 1.03 in five starts, while David Price (traded at the deadline from Tampa Bay to Detroit) went 5-1, 1.74 in six starting assignments. Nine NL hurlers notched four wins in July. July’s ERA leaders were the White Sox’ Chris Sale in the AL (0.85 while going 3-0 in four starts) and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw – what a surprise – in the NL (1.04, while going 4-0 in five starts).
The strikeout leader (as of July 31) in the AL was new Tiger (former Ray) David Price, with 189 whiffs in 170 2/3 innings, while the NL was headed by the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (167 in 144 1/3 innings).
For the month of July, the Padres’ Tyson Ross led the NL in strikeouts, logging 48 in 41 innings (while putting up a 4-2 record with a 1.10 ERA). In the AL, the whiff leader was (here’s that name again), Tampa Bay’s (now Detroit’s) David Price with 45 K’s in 46 2/3 innings.
As of July 31, the NL saves lead was shared by the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal at 32 – with the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and Brewers Francisco Rodriguez close at 31.
In the AL, the saves leader – at 30 – was Seattle’s Fernando Rodney, followed by Greg Holland of Kansas City at 29.
For July, Zack Britton contributed to the Orioles’ surge with an MLB-leading 11 saves in the month, while the NL leader was Steve Cishek of Miami with nine June saves.
Standings as of July 31 (close of play)
TEAM W L PCT GB (July)
Baltimore 60 47 .561 (17-8)
Toronto 60 50 .545 1.5 (15-11)
NY Yankees 55 52 .514 5.0 (14-12)
Tampa Bay 53 55 .491 7.5 (17-6)
Boston 48 60 .444 12.5 (10-15)
Detroit 58 47 .553 (13-13)
Kansas City 55 52 .514 4.0 (12-13)
Cleveland 53 55 .491 6.5 (14-12)
Chicago WS 53 56 .486 7.0 (14-12)
Minnesota 48 59 .449 11.0 (11-15)
Oakland 66 41 .617 (15-10)
LA Angels 64 43 .598 2.0 (19-8)
Seattle 56 52 .519 10.5 (11-14)
Houston 44 65 .404 23.0 (8-17)
Texas 43 65 .398 16.0 (6-20)
Washington 58 48 .547 (15-13)
Atlanta 58 51 .532 1.5 (13-13)
Miami 53 55 .491 6.0 (14-12)
NY Mets 52 56 .481 7.0 (15-10)
Philadelphia 48 61 .440 11.5 (12-15)
Milwaukee 60 49 .550 (9-16)
St. Louis 57 50 .533 2.0 (13-11)
Pittsburgh 57 51 .528 2.5 (15-11)
Cincinnati 54 54 .500 5.5 (11-15)
Chicago Cubs 45 62 .421 14.0 (10-16)
LA Dodgers 62 47 .569 (14-10)
San Francisco 58 50 .537 3.5 (12-14)
San Diego 48 60 .444 13.5 (12-13)
Arizona 48 61 .440 14.0 (13-12)
Colorado 44 64 .407 17.5 (8-17)