Three up, three down: Huntington keeping foot on pedal
With Bucs closing in on first playoff berth since '92, GM continuing to stockpile assets
UP: Neal Huntington
The Pirates' general manager hasn't taken any time off. The Bucs are a lock to end their professional sports record of 20 consecutive losing seasons. They went into Monday needing three wins in their final 26 games to ensure that.
Huntington and the Pirates, however, have their sights set much higher than a winning record. They are focused on not only the team's first postseason appearance in 21 years, but also making the World Series for the first time since their 1979 title. Pittsburgh was eliminated in the first round of the postseason in 1990, '91 and '92, the only three times the club has advanced since 1979.
Looking to spark a stumbling offense that entered Monday ranked 10th in the National League with 533 runs scored and tied for 11th with a .246 average, Huntington added three players last week. First, he swung a deal with the Mets for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck, and on Saturday, he beat the Aug. 31 deadline for adding players who can appear on the postseason roster by picking up former American League Most Valuable Player Award winner Justin Morneau from Minnesota.
The Pirates went into the week tied with the Cardinals for the NL Central lead, and just as importantly, they were leading the NL Wild Card race, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Reds, in position for the second NL Wild Card, and 10 games ahead of the Nationals. Give a nod to owner Bob Nutting. The Bucs are a virtual lock to advance to the postseason in some form, but he was willing to spend the extra $2.3 million that Morneau will earn in September to add the bat of a man who had nine home runs and 21 RBIs in August.
DOWN: Mike Leake
The Cincinnati right-hander is in an extended funk. In the last month, Leake has gone 1-2 in six starts -- the Reds losing four of them -- and his ERA has risen from 2.59 to 3.51. He's given up 27 earned runs in 33 2/3 innings. What's more, Leake has lost twice to St. Louis, and then on Sunday, he was unable to get through the fifth inning at Colorado, creating concerns about the Reds' rotation for the stretch run.
The second loss to St. Louis and the one in Colorado are part of a 3-6 stretch in which Cincinnati has seen Washington revive its postseason hopes. Aroldis Chapman has had only one save opportunity in that stretch (which he converted).
The challenge continues for the Reds over the next week. They opened a four-game series with the Cardinals on Monday and welcome the Dodgers for a weekend visit. And six of Cincinnati's final nine games of the regular season will be against Pittsburgh.
UP: Brandon Moss
Moss is the ultimate modern-day A's player: A journeyman who has found a home in Oakland. He'd bounced from Boston to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and he was getting ready to head to Japan before taking advantage of what seemed like one last shot to land with the A's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento a year ago. Now look at Moss. He was the offensive catalyst to Oakland's September rush to the AL West title a year ago, and he stepped into a take-charge role for the A's last week, putting them in commanding position for a second straight playoff appearance. While the A's were taking three of four at Detroit last week, Moss was going 7-for-16 with four home runs and 10 RBIs, which set the stage for the A's return home last weekend to sweep Tampa Bay.
The A's head into the final four weeks of the season with a high probability of making the playoffs. They open a three-game series with AL West-leading Texas on Monday, trailing the Rangers by a game. Even more significantly, they are leading the AL Wild Card race, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Orioles, who trail the Rays by three games for the second spot, and six games ahead of both the Yankees and Indians.
Additionally, Oakland's remaining schedule is encouraging. Yes, the A's have six games in the next two weeks with Texas. The 20 other games remaining on their schedule are against four of the six AL teams with fewer than 64 wins -- Houston (four games), Minnesota (seven games), the Angels (six games) and Seattle (three games).
DOWN: Marlins' offense
The Marlins were officially eliminated from the NL East race last week, and they go into this week with a "tragic number" of two (combination of Reds wins or Marlins losses). That would make them the second Major League team officially eliminated from the postseason. The Astros were scratched from AL contention last week. Miami's pitching staff has done its part, but there has been little reward, and nothing underscores their struggles more than the last two weeks.
The Marlins went into Monday having lost 10 of 12 games. The two wins were shutouts -- 3-0 over Colorado by Jose Fernandez on Aug. 24 and 10-0 over Atlanta by Nathan Eovaldi on Sunday. Fernandez is 1-1 in two starts during the 12-game stretch despite a 1.38 ERA, and Eovaldi is 1-2, despite a 1.71 ERA. Miami scored only 29 runs in the 12 games -- 19 runs in the 11 games before that eruption in Atlanta on Sunday -- and hit just .201 with a .280 on-base percentage.
Moreover, the Marlins are last in the Majors with 431 runs scored this season -- 82 runs behind the White Sox, who are 29th.
UP: Todd Helton
The Rockies are on pace for their 14th losing season in 21 years of existence, but first baseman Helton is a big-time winner for the franchise. Sixteen years and one month after making his big league debut in Pittsburgh with a single and home run, Helton joined the 2,500-hit club on Sunday against Cincinnati, flipping an opposite-field double down the left-field line at Coors Field.
"It's a big number," said Helton. "I'm very proud of it. I'm very proud of every one of them. Sitting here, 40 years old and going out and playing baseball for a living, I don't take that lightly. I'm very humble and appreciative for every day I get to go out there and put on the uniform."
Helton has some impressive numbers in his career. He joined Stan Musial as the only players with 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a career average of at least .310. On all-time lists, Helton ranks 64th with a .317 average, 24th with a .415 on-base percentage, 36th with a .540 slugging percentage and 20th with a .955 OPS. He is 17th all time with 584 doubles, 76th with 365 home runs, 37th with 1,329 walks, 63rd with 4,253 total bases and 93rd with 1,389 runs scored.
DOWN: Evan Longoria
The rotation is the heart and soul of the Rays, but Longoria is the face of the team's offense, and there hasn't been much to smile about lately. After a charge to the top of the AL East, Tampa Bay has gone from a tie with Boston for first place to 5 1/2 back in eight days. While the Red Sox won six of seven in that stretch, the Rays lost seven of eight, including being swept the past weekend in Oakland. Tampa Bay went into its opener on Monday against the Angels having lost four in a row with only five runs scored.
Longoria has hit .125 during the eight-game slide, one of three Rays regulars below .200. Rookie Wil Myers hit .087 with 10 strikeouts in 23 at-bats and Desmond Jennings hit .160. Tampa Bay hit only .217 in the eight games, scoring a Major League-low 17 runs.
As well as slipping behind the Red Sox, the Rays fell behind the A's for the top AL Wild Card spot and saw their edge slip to three games over the Orioles for the second spot.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.