Midseason NL Cy Young Award

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This was a difficult call one third of the way through the season, when I went with a top three of Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley and Johnny Cueto, and not a whole lot easier now.

First, here’s the top 10 in ERA.

1. Dan Haren – 2.01 ERA in 130 IP
2. Tim Lincecum – 2.33 ERA in 127 2/3 IP
3. Matt Cain – 2.38 ERA in 117 IP
4. Josh Johnson – 2.74 ERA in 128 IP
5. Jair Jurrjens – 2.91 ERA in 114 1/3 IP
6. Javier Vasquez – 2.95 ERA in 119 IP
7. Wandy Rodriguez – 2.96 ERA in 112 2/3 IP
8. Adam Wainwright – 3.04 ERA in 130 1/3 IP
9. Johan Santana – 3.09 ERA in 116 1/3 IP
10. Clayton Kershaw – 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 IP

Santana and Kershaw are easy cuts from being serious contenders, given
that Santana leads the entire group with nine unearned runs allowed and
Kershaw ranks tied for 38th in the league in innings.

No one further back rates consideration. While Chad Billingsley,
Yovani Gallardo and Ted Lilly have been at least as valuable as Santana
and Kershaw, they’re not in the top five. Jason Marquis leads the
league in wins with 11, but the Coors effect doesn’t counter his 3.65
ERA. 13 starts doesn’t put Chris Carpenter into the mix.

So, let’s move forward with those top eight in ERA. Here they are according to VORP:

Dan Haren – 51.2
Tim Lincecum – 42.2
Matt Cain – 40.2
Josh Johnson – 39.0
Javier Vazquez – 32.3
Adam Wainwright – 31.8
Jair Jurrjens – 28.5
Wandy Rodriguez – 26.0

That’s two measures, both clearly in favor of Haren. Haren is also
far in front in WHIP (0.81) and average against (.189). He’s second in
the NL in innings, one-third of a frame behind Adam Wainwright, who has
made 19 starts to Haren’s 18. Also, he’s doing all of this while
working in a hitter’s park half of the time.

So why is this still a tough call? Let’s go to FIP for a moment. FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, tries to remove defensive support from the equation.

Tim Lincecum – 2.06
Javier Vazquez – 2.58
Dan Haren – 2.77
Josh Johnson – 2.92
Wandy Rodriguez – 3.65
Adam Wainwright – 3.68
Matt Cain – 3.84
Jair Jurrjens – 3.87

Even though Haren wins in pretty much every other measure, there’s
still a way to argue that Lincecum has been the NL’s best pitcher this
season. I don’t truly buy it. FIP measures what might have happened,
while ERA, VORP and most of the rest are measuring what actually did
happen. To place Lincecum over Haren, I think you have to make a strong
case that Arizona’s defense is quite a bit better than San Francisco’s,
and most of the defensive numbers would say the opposite is true.

So, I’m going with Haren over Lincecum for now. The third spot comes
down to Cain and Johnson. Cain wins in ERA, while Johnson has him by 11
innings. Both have allowed just two unearned runs, which is an
especially impressive stat for Johnson in that he’s a modest groundball
pitcher in front of an error-prone infield. It’s almost a tossup, but I
put Johnson slightly in front.

Midseason NL Cy Young

1. Haren
2. Lincecum
3. Johnson

Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results

CLEVELAND, OH -  JULY 26: The Cleveland Indians celebrate after Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians hit a walk-off RBI single to defeat the Washington Nationals at Progressive Field on July 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Nationals 7-6. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
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The Nationals took a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against the Indians, but Jonathan Papelbon couldn’t hold on.

Gio Gonzalez put together 6 1/3 solid innings, ultimately yielding three runs (two earned) on five hits and a pair of walks with four strikeouts. Even better, the Nats’ offense chased Indians starter and AL All-Star Danny Salazar after four innings.

Papelbon walked Jose Ramirez to kick off the bottom half of the ninth, then served up an RBI double to Tyler Naquin to make it a 6-5 game. Chris Gimenez moved Naquin to third base with a sacrifice bunt, but first baseman Ryan Zimmerman‘s throw to second baseman Daniel Murphy went wide, allowing Naquin to score and Gimenez to advance to second base. The Nats opted to then intentionally walk Lonnie Chisenhall. With Rajai Davis batting, third baseman Anthony Rendon charged towards the plate as he reacted to Davis bunting, but the bunt ended up going over Rendon’s head, loading the bases for Jason Kipnis. Nats manager Dusty Baker brought in lefty Oliver Perez with a lefty followed by a switch-hitter due up.

Kipnis lined out, giving the Nationals light at the end of the tunnel. Francisco Lindor squelched that with a game-winning RBI single to right field, securing the come-from-behind 7-6 victory for the Tribe. The win halts the Indians’ three-game losing skid, improving their record to 57-41. They are 5.5 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the AL Central now.

Box scores.

Tigers 9, Red Sox 8
Cardinals 3, Mets 2 (Game 1)
Mets 3, Cardinals 1 (Game 2)
Athletics 6, Rangers 3
Marlins 5, Phillies 0
Yankees 6, Astros 3
Brewers 9, Diamondbacks 4
Giants 9, Reds 7
Angles 13, Royals 0
Rockies 6, Orioles 3
Mariners 7, Pirates 4
Blue Jays 7, Padres 6 (12 innings)
White Sox 3, Cubs 0
Indians 7, Nationals 6
Braves 2, Brewers 0
Dodgers 3, Rays 2

Chapman has trouble remembering convo with Cubs management about off-field behavior

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CHICAGO — Star closer Aroldis Chapman joined the Cubs on Tuesday, arriving to a mixed reaction in Chicago and saying he couldn’t remember what management told him about off-field expectations and behavior.

After Chapman’s awkward introductory news conference, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein insisted Chapman understands what the Cubs expect of him after an offseason domestic violence incident.

When the Cubs announced the trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, the team released a statement from Chairman Tom Ricketts saying they were aware of his 29-game suspension to begin the season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

Ricketts said he and Epstein talked by phone with Chapman before the deal was completed and “shared with him the high expectations we set for our players,” adding that Chapman was “comfortable” with them.

But when asked repeatedly about that phone conversation before Tuesday’s game against the crosstown White Sox, Chapman said through an interpreter that he couldn’t recall details because he was taking a nap at the time the call came in.

The question was asked several more times. A Cubs spokesman once asked the question himself to the interpreter, coach Henry Blanco.

“It’s been a long day,” Chapman said. “Trying to remember.”

Asked again several minutes later during the group interview if he could now remember what Ricketts said, Chapman shook his head.

“I still don’t remember,” he said in Spanish.

Epstein called it a misunderstanding and that Chapman was “pretty nervous” as he faced seven cameras and more than two dozen reporters.

“I was on the call, Tom was on the call, Aroldis was on the call and Barry Praver, his agent, was on the call. It happened and it was real,” Epstein said before the Cubs’ 3-0 loss to the White Sox.

Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight gunshots in the garage of a Florida home in October. The woman later changed her story and no charges were filed.

“You learn from the mistakes that you make,” Chapman said.

The case caused the Los Angeles Dodgers to back out of an offseason trade for Chapman. Cincinnati eventually traded him to the Yankees, and after his suspension, the 28-year-old Cuban converted 20 of 21 save chances for New York.

The Cubs have long boasted of stocking their roster with high-character players, helping earn the “lovable losers” label they’ve carried for decades since their last World Series title in 1908.

But the Cubs (59-40) have retooled their roster under Epstein and have the best record in the major leagues despite Tuesday’s loss in which Chapman didn’t pitch. Chapman, who threw a 105 mph fastball last week, fills perhaps the team’s largest hole as he replaces Hector Rondon as closer.

The Cubs sent four players to the Yankees, including shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, to get one of the game’s top relievers. Epstein said they wouldn’t have made the deal if not for the phone call he and Ricketts had with Chapman.

“Tom laid out the exact same standards that he lays out to everyone in spring training,” Epstein said. “He said, extremely clearly, `Look, Aroldis, I tell all the players this in spring training and it’s important you hear it and I need to hear from you on this. We expect our players to behave. We hold our players to a very high standard for their behavior off the field. And we need to know you can meet that standard.’

“Aroldis said `I understand. Absolutely, I can.'”

The Cubs activated Chapman before Tuesday’s game and designated left-hander Clayton Richard for assignment.

Reaction to Chapman’s acquisition in Chicago has been tepid. While there were supportive fans on talk radio, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page column Tuesday criticizing the move. The back of the Chicago Sun-Times tabloid read “Spin City” over a picture of Epstein.

Chapman said he expected a “good reaction” from Cubs fans. He was also asked during the 20-minute meeting with reporters in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field if we would consider working with organizations looking to prevent domestic violence. Chapman said no.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon defended Chapman.

“He did do a suspension, he has talked about it, he’s shown remorse,” Maddon said. “Everybody else has the right to judge him as a good or bad person. That’s your right.

I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he could be a very significant member and he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you I will embrace him.”