I was just about to work on a post on the biggest move this offseason being that of the White Sox signing slugger Adam Dunn when the Red Sox go out and acquire Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego.

The whole Gonzalez trade rumors have been discussed for a couple of years now at every trade deadline, but a move was never made until now. The Padres surprising success this year had something to do with them holding onto him throughout the season. But now he is a Red Sox, and we finally get to see what he can do is a ballpark outside of Petco.

Details on the trade are not official yet, but obviously the Red Sox will have an immediate return with a A+ power bat to plug into the lineup next to Big Papi and Kevin Youkilis. I just can’t wait to see what Gonzo can do going from an extreme pitcher’s park to a hitting haven like Fenway Park. Let’s break down Gonzalez’s career in San Diego…

In his five years with the Padres, Gonzalez hit a total of 161 home runs, an average of 32 bombs per year. This was coming out of a park that is considered one of the worst hitter’s park for homers in the league. Out of the 168 home runs in his career, 64 percent of those have come on the road. Plus, his average is 40 points higher away from Petco.

According to park factors.com, Petco Park is a -74 rating (76R, 72 HR), meaning that in the years 2007-2009 Petco produced 76 runs for every 100 runs scored in an average MLB park and 72 home runs for every 100 home runs. Petco’s ranking is dead last among all ballparks. On the flip side, Fenway plays close to neutral with a +101 rating (111R, 90HR).

Not only is the ballpark change going to be a huge factor, but Gonzalez rarely had any protection whatsoever in his seasons with the Padres. Add that up with him being in his prime (29 years old next year), and we could see a ridiculous 2011 season for Gonzalez in Fenway.

Berkman and Dunn signings
In other news, Dunn signed a four-year deal with the White Sox worth $56MM. This deal isn’t much of a surprise considering it’s no secret that the Sox have wanted Dunn for a while now. They went as far last year to acquire Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks in hopes that they could flip him to the Nationals for Dunn. There were plenty of rumors in July at the trade deadline of the White Sox front office being furious with the Nats for apparently backing off of a deal for Jackson after telling them they would deal Dunn for Jackson. Maybe if the White Sox acquire Dunn, their second half of the season would have been different, but anyway they have him on their roster now for four years. Speaking of park factors, Dunn moves into an absolute launching pad at Chicago’s US Cellular Field (+118 rating, 109R, 126HR) so expect to see his home run totals climb at a high rate.

Last up for today is the news that the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman to a one-year deal for $8 million. I’m not sure how much the 37-year-old slugger has left as he’s coming off his worst ML season (.248/.368/.413). He still gets on base a ton, but his power looks to be in serious decline. The weird thing about this pickup is there’s talk that the Cards will put Berkman in the outfield. Who would allow Berkman to touch the outfield? He hasn’t played it since 2007, and while I don’t live by some of the advanced defensive sabermetric statistics, his numbers in the outfield were pretty horrid.


I’ll be honest. Prior to the season and through the first five months of the season, I didn’t think there was a chance the Cardinals would lose the NL Central title. As we sit here on September 22nd, the division title hopes are long gone for the Cards, the Reds magic number stands at three and the Cardinals chances for the wildcard are near impossible (down 8.0 games behind three teams). Hell, they are only five games up on the Astros in the Central.

So how did we get here from when the Cardinals were sitting in first place a game up on the Reds a little over a month ago on August 13? Well since then, the Cardinals are on a 12-24 slide at the worst possible time a slump could happen for this team. I thought all year that while the Reds were proving to be a legit, surprise team that the Cardinals would end up pulling it out down the stretch because of the big three—Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Seemed like too much firepower for Cincinnati to handle. Turns out, I was wrong.

Let’s start with CC. Carpenter has not been good in August and September. Since improving to 12-3 with a 2.91 ERA on August 4, the former Cy Young award winner has been a pedestrian 3-5 with 4.34 ERA in his last nine starts, including losses in his last three games. Wainwright also has seen his ERA balloon the past month and a half. He sported a sparkling 1.99 ERA after a 7.0 inning gem against the Reds on August 11, but since then has not been himself with a 2-5 record and 4.13 ERA. So the two aces of this staff has been middle of the road in crucial time late in the season, the back-end of the rotation was never that stable to begin with. Kyle Lohse has been terrible all year (4-8, 7.18 ERA, 12.9 H/9), and Jake Westbrook, who the Cards acquired in a three-team deal that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, hasn’t been a savior by any means. Westbrook is 2-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine starts since arriving in St. Louis…hey, he’s actually posted better numbers than Wainwright and Carpenter since August. To state it blunt, the Cardinals pitching just fell apart. Their team 2010 ERA is at 3.61, but the team’s earned run average in the past 28 days is a different story—4.70.

The pitching isn’t the only thing to blame since the bats also went south for the crucial part of the season. St. Louis team slash line on the entire season is .263/.331/.406. Not bad. How about for the past 28 days: slash line of .237/.299/.361. Significant drop offs in all three major categories. Pundits rode Pujols a bit hard this year saying this was one of his worst seasons in his career. Well, he’s still on pace for one hell of a season. Most major leaguers would dream of a down year like this one. He’s one homer shy of two straight 40-HR seasons, recorded over 100 RBI for the 10th straight year, looks like he’ll finish with a BA over .300 and while it’s hit lowest of his career, he’s still posting a stellar .403 OBP. Not to mention he’s leading the league in runs with 105. He also has not been part of the Cards slump. In their 12-23 slump since August 13, Pujols hit 11 bombs, 23 RBI, a slash line of .293/.394/.631 and has recorded more walks than strikeouts. I cannot state this any clearer than this—Albert Pujols was not the Cardinals problem this year.

Their problem was after dealing Ludwick to the Padres, besides Pujols, Halladay and Rasmus the Cardinals lacked another power hitter or even pure hitter to mix in that lineup. Also, the lead off position has been a mess for manager Tony LaRussa as he used a combination of Skip Schumaker (64 games) and Felipe Lopez (65 games) at the top of the order all season to no avail. Schumaker hit .268/.331/.347 with a big five steals while Lopez was actually worse with a .231/.310/.340 line. Basically there was no catalyst to jump-start this offense, and that’s a major problem because talent like Pujols and Holliday need runners to knock in.

Basically this team went on a slide in mid-August and never recovered as it turned into a collapse. While the team has a handful of superstars including two aces, this collapse proved that there was not much else around them to pick up the slack when the others struggled.

To further prove a point of the difficulty to explain why the Cardinals have been a mess since the beginning of August…they’re on the verge of being swept by the hands of the Pirates. Ouch. That’s an unprecedented low.

After a short hiatus, let’s jump into an update on each pennant race going on around baseball. There are only two divisions pretty much wrapped up out of the six total, so it should be a very entertaining final month in Major League Baseball.

NL Central: A month ago I was pretty confident that the Cardinals would eventually beat out the Reds for the NL Central division title. Well, scratch that. Suddenly the Cards can’t win and the Reds can’t lose. The Reds 6-1 victory over the Red Birds Saturday gave them a nice eight game lead over St. Louis. Eight games?? Forget it, this race is OVE-VA! Who in their right mind had the Reds winning this division prior to the season? Oh wait, I had them as a surprise team in our 2010 outlook series. I need to take credit for something because I also had Baltimore in that list…whoops.

NL West: Another surprise team I had was the San Francisco Giants, who are currently just two games back of the sinking Padres. It’s actually amazing to think that the Padres have dropped nine straight and still lead the NL West by two games. The Giants stable of arms may have enough to leap past the falling Padres in this final month of the season. Plus, the Rockies are still hanging around as usual…5.5 games back in the division. A five-plus game difference is tough to make up in the final month, but the Rockies seem to find ways to go on a ridiculous run late in the year. This could be the closest race between more than two teams to watch in September.

AL East: Let’s head over to the AL East, where the Yankees are doing their thing—becoming a machine down the stretch that is immensely difficult to catch. The Bombers have won eight straight, and despite the Rays doing everything they can to keep pace, they remain 2.5 games behind New York. The Rays still have seven games this month against the Yankees, and if they don’t win five out of seven, we could be looking at another Yankees division title. In the end, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot because the runner-up in this division will end up with the wildcard.

AL West: Here’s how good it looks for the Rangers to be playing postseason baseball come October. Even if the A’s went on a tear and played .700 ball the rest of the way (19-8), the Rangers would have to go 10-17 in their final 27 games to lose the division to Oakland. Considering Oakland isn’t that good and the Rangers are pretty good, this isn’t going to happen. I’m excited about seeing what Cliff Lee/CJ Wilson tandem can do in the playoffs with this hitting behind them.

AL Central: Last year, it was a three-team race in September, but this year it’s only the Twins and White Sox battling to the end as the Tigers fell out of it a while back. The Twins are up today 3.5 games on the White Sox, but Chicago has been hot, winning five straight and seven of their past ten games. These two teams only meet up three more times this month in Chicago, but the Twins schedule is set up for them to win this thing. In their final 22 games that don’t include the White Sox, the Twins face the Royals six times, the Indians six times, the Tigers three times, the A’s three times and the Blue Jays three times. The Royals and Indians six times?? What a nice way to end it. If they end up blowing this 3.5 game lead, they only have themselves to play.

NL East: The Braves are clinging to a one-game lead as the Phillies are turning red-hot with their team getting healthy at the right time. This division looks like a clone of the AL East where the runner-up may be in the playoffs no matter what by earning the wildcard. If I had to pick a team to win the division though, I think the Phillies will still pull it out for another division title. The teams have six games remaining against each other with what could be a huge three-game series to end the season in Atlanta.

It’s the first of August and that can only mean good news for the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Braves, Cardinals and Padres. Historically speaking, the numbers show that teams leading their respective divisions on August 1 are pretty good bets to be winning that division at the end of the season.

Don’t believe me? Well let’s just take a look at the numbers. Since 1995 when MLB went to its six-division format (actually began in 1994, but there were no playoffs due to the strike), teams leading their division on Aug. 1 end up winning the division 82 percent (74-for-90) of the time. I’ll be honest, I knew the numbers were in favor of it, but until I researched it I never thought it was that high.

Breaking it down by league:

American League teams win the pennant 78% (35-for-45) of the time.
National League teams hold onto the division lead 87% (39-for-45) of the time.

Here are some other interesting notes:

– Two AL division leaders on August 1—Seattle in 2000 and Detroit in 2006—did not go on to win their division, but they still made the playoffs by earning the wildcard. So that adds two more teams to the numbers of division leaders making the playoffs.

– Speaking of the wildcard, the team that holds the wildcard spot on August 1 ends up as the wildcard 47 percent of the time. That’s decent news for the Giants and Rays, who currently hold those spots in each league.

– A very interesting finding is that it’s rare to see teams that are leading the wildcard race on August 1 come back to win the division at season’s end. There’s been only three in 15 years, which is 30 tries (10 percent) with both leagues. Oakland did it in 2000 when Seattle was the division leader and fell to the wildcard in October. The Diamondbacks did it in 2001, which was the year they won the World Series, and Cleveland made up the ground in 2007 to win the AL Central pennant.

– The National League had a bit of a run in the late ’90s. Every Aug.1 division leader ended up winning the division in the final two months from 1996 through 2000. The same occurred from 2004 through 2006 for the NL. The AL was generally more inconsistent with its biggest streak coming two straight years in ’98-’99.

– Last note is that the last three teams in the AL to blow the division lead in the final two months after leading in early August have all been the Detroit Tigers. The ’09, ’07 and ’06 Tigers all lost their divisions, including a blown 7.5 game lead over the Twins in ’06. Ouch.

So does this mean the division leaders today are shoe ins for the playoffs? Absolutely not. Anything can happen especially with the plethora of close division races currently taking place. The largest division lead is Texas over the A’s by 8.0 games in the AL West. The next closest is the Braves 3.5 lead over the Phillies while the Cardinals-Reds and the White Sox-Twins are each within a half game of each other. The Yankees hold a two game lead over the Rays in the AL East, and the Padres only have a 1.5 lead on the Giants. But historically speaking, it may not be wise to bet against 80 percent of them making the postseason.

MLB fans, GMs and players can now breathe again—the trading deadline has officially passed. Need a recap on everything went down? Here are some trade links to do just that…

MLB Trade Rumors is the authority on the trading deadline, and the folks over there put together a nice rundown of all the trades from the past couple of days.

MLB.com also runs down the plethora of trades today.

Jayson Stark of ESPN gives his winners and losers of the trading deadline.

Big League Stew of Yahoo! ranks the top 10 notable trades from this July.

I had to get my hometown Pirates in here as they were busy as usual on the deadline. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recaps the three trades the Buccos made today. From my viewpoint, the Pirates made some low-risk free agent pickups in the offseason and flipped most of them for some decent, young talent today. Not bad in my book.

Am I the only one who didn’t like the Jake Westbrook deal for the Cardinals? I mean parting with young hitter Ryan Ludwick for Westbrook when they also went after Oswalt and Lilly and end up with Westbrook. Seems like they panicked to me and settled for the lesser of three pitchers. I could see Westbrook find his groove against NL hitters, but it’s still a downgrade after losing out on Oswalt and Lilly.

Speaking of the Indians, they found a taker for Kerry Wood!?! The Tribe sent the struggling closer to the Yankees for a player to be named later or 500k. Uh, I’m pretty sure that cash will work just fine. I could see the Indians going to the Yankees in the offseason and say, “You know what, don’t bother sending anyone for the deal. We’re good.”

FanGraphs breaks down the Octavio Dotel trade to the Dodgers and wonders, along with many, what the Dodgers are doing giving up too much for bullpen arms, including a top prospect in Andrew Lambo now with Pittsburgh.

Also, the Reds stood pat and made zero moves. Interesting. After trading for Yunel Escobar earlier this month, the Blue Jays also were quiet at the deadline along with the Tigers, Mets, A’s (Billy Beane must have been sick), Brewers (they’re in contention though, that’s it), Red Sox and Rockies.

Well the non-waiver trade deadline gone, tomorrow is August 1 and back to our regularly scheduled program of baseball while teams battle for pennants the last two months of the season.

When does the moment strike where you can legitimately decipher if a team is for real or not? I believe that moment is sometime in June, but the month of May is a step toward that. We’ll know more about the makeup of these teams once  we move closer to mid-season. Let’s jump into the weekly recap…

Don’t look now, but the Orioles are on a three-game winning streak! Despite starting their weekend series with the Red Sox with a 4-18 record, the O’s remembered how to win and beat Boston around Camden Yards for a three-game sweep. It was actually the first Orioles sweep of Boston at home in 36 years, whoa. It’s nice to see Baltimore and players like Adam Jones and Miguel Tejada get going, but the real story is where does Boston go from here? Yahoo! ran a story Sunday on how the Red Sox need to have a momentum-building May to keep up with the Yankees and Rays, but a sweep to the hands of the Orioles is not the way to start in the right direction. The Sox have some problems and while I don’t think they will be in the two-team race in the East all year, they definitely are too talented to sputter under .500 for the majority of the season.

Who thought the day would come where the Rangers could pitch better than they hit. Well that’s currently the trend for the 13-12 first-place Texas Rangers. CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis were solid so far this season, and the bullpen is looking legit as well after the Rangers rallied from one down in the ninth inning to defeat the Mariners 3-1 in extras. Texas is enjoying a 3.48 ERA, third best in the AL, and the scary part is the bats will have to wake up from a .243 average through the first month. The return of Ian Kinsler this weekend from the DL should help out a lot.

This Austin Jackson kid might not be too bad. Jackson, one of the key young prospects dealt to Detroit in the offseason for Curtis Granderson, is off to tremendous start to his MLB career with a line of .367/.420/.495, 21 runs scored, one home run, five stolen bases and two triples in 25 games. Baseball Reference’s Stat of the Day blog did a great post on how many players since 1952 put together 11 or more 2-hit games within the first 25 games of their career. It’s an interesting list considering a couple of the players who have also done it did not go on to very good careers.

I’ve talked a lot about the Rays fast start and the Twins fast start and some surprises like the Padres, but one team not really getting much attention from their 17-8 start are the Cardinals. This is mostly because most experts predicted the Cards to be a top the NL Central for most of the season. They currently hold a 4.5 game lead over the Cubs and with every other team in the Central looking like they have plenty of problems, I would be shocked if anyone really gave St. Louis a run for the title. They are once again doing it with pitching, leading the National League with a sterling 2.56 ERA. Of course, their bats aren’t too bad either with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday locked into the middle of their lineup. Not to mention another rookie has come up and produce immediately for the Cards (see Colby Rasmus last year), but third baseman David Freese has been a nice surprise for this team. Freese has  three home runs, 16 RBI with one of the top averages in the NL at .355 behind only Andre Ethier of the Dodgers. Barring anything drastic with injuries, I don’t see the Cardinals relinquishing the lead in the Central at any point this season.