Can a player hitting .233 with four homers and 14 RBI (entering Monday) really make that much of a difference in a division race? I say yes, and that guy is third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was traded from Boston to the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox on Sunday. It seems like a one-sided deal as the Red Sox only got utilityman Brent Lillibridge and Triple-A reliever Zach Stewart, plus they are sending almost $6 million to Chicago to pay a huge chunk of Youkilis’ remaining salary.
Youkilis is a three-time all-star but hasn’t resembled one this year with those numbers noted above. He also has spent time on the DL with back issues – never a good thing with a 33-year-old – and lost his job to rookie Will Middlebrooks. But Youkilis is a career .287 hitter and can only upgrade the black hole that was third base for the White Sox. Overall, Chicago third basemen have hit just .168 with one homer this season. Youkilis is slugging .377 with a .692 OPS (on-base plus slugging), almost .200 below his career average. His .311 on-base percentage is well below his career average of .388. But the White Sox's third basemen have combined for an OPS under .500.
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Plus, Youkilis remains a good fielder and is a terrific clubhouse guy. He was set to make his Chicago debut on Monday night at Minnesota. Reportedly Youkilis has a “chip” on his shoulder about how things played out in Boston and wants to prove he’s still a good player. That can’t be a bad thing.
That the Sox lead the Central with such lousy play at the hot corner is a minor miracle. Their schedule is about to get much tougher, however, the Twins series notwithstanding. Chicago has four games at AL East-leading New York starting Thursday, followed by a first-half-ending homestand against red-hot Texas and Toronto. After the all-star break, 16 of Chicago’s first 19 games are on the road, including visits to Texas, Boston and Detroit.
Don’t be surprised if super-aggressive White Sox GM Kenny Williams makes another trade before the July 31 deadline. A starting pitcher might be needed depending on when John Danks makes it back from a shoulder injury. If all goes well, Danks could return some time at the end of July or early August but he's not setting any sort of timetable.
The Tigers (three games out) remain the -200 AL Central favorites at Sportsbook.ag, but Chicago is now down to +200. I would still favor Detroit, especially with rumors rampant that the Tigers are hot and heavy after Cubs pitchers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.
Speaking of the Cubs, they might finally be ready to make some positive noise this week as top prospect Anthony Rizzo is expected to make his Chicago debut on Tuesday night at home vs. the Mets (who are -130 favorites for Game 2 of the series). Why not play Rizzo in Monday’s series opener? Cubs management didn’t want the lefty slugger to have to face lefty Johan Santana in his first game.
Rizzo was hitting .345 with 23 homers and 62 RBI in 69 games at Triple-A Peoria. He was Theo Epstein’s first big trade acquisition this offseason, getting him in a deal with San Diego for pitcher Andrew Cashner. Epstein had drafted Rizzo while in Boston before dealing him to the Padres. He struggled there last year, hitting just .141 with a homer and nine RBI in 128 at bats. But expansive Petco Park didn’t help matters and apparently Rizzo has fixed the hole in his swing.
Don’t be surprised if the Cubs go on a little mini-burst with Rizzo’s call-up generating some needed excitement. First baseman Bryan LaHair has played some in right field recently to make room for Rizzo. David DeJesus likely will take over in center field with Tony Campana going to the bench unless Chicago can find a sucker to take on Alfonso Soriano’s contract.
While the futures of the two Chicago clubs appear to be a bit brighter today, those of the Miami Marlins get gloomier by the day. Entering Monday’s series opener with visiting St. Louis, the Fish have won just three of their past 18 games. Miami looked like it might take over the NL East after going 21-8 in May, setting a franchise record for wins in a month, but is now 34-38.
Remember when shortstop Hanley Ramirez was among the top young stars in the game? He’s nowhere near the player he was at 25 when he won the batting title, hitting .342 in 2009. Ramirez, who is now at third base, is hitting just .258 this season and only .215 in June. Since homering June 3, he has not gone yard and has only three RBI, two of which came Sunday. His slugging percentage is just .380 this month and his on-base percentage is .295.
Miami is now eight games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East but only 4.5 games out of the top wild-card spot. Thus, look for the Marlins to be big-time buyers before the trading deadline. The bullpen could use some help for sure and starting catcher John Buck is hitting just .167. Who would have thought that this weekend’s series with the Phillies would be for last in the NL East instead of first? The Marlins, Phillies and Mets are all at +800 to win the division. I certainly like the Phils’ chances best of those three with Chase Utley due back this week and Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard set to return next month.
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