It's fight to finish (last)

Cubs, Twins, Padres and Royals figure to battle for worst record — and 1st pick in 2013 draft

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

10:59 PM CDT, May 26, 2012


It's too early to say who will be the first player taken in the 2013 draft — could be University of Florida pitcher Karsten Whitson or another advanced college prospect or a high school stud like Austin Meadows, an outfielder from Georgia, or Clinton Hollon, a hard-throwing pitcher from Kentucky. Who knows?

Whoever does go first overall, five years from now there will be some team that either used the pick to help turn around a struggling franchise or kicking itself for screwing up the privilege of making the pick. Barring a huge surprise, we already should have a good idea which team will get the pick.

With teams having begun the second quarter of the season, the five with the lowest winning percentages entering the weekend were the Cubs (.341), Twins (.341), Rockies (.372), Padres (.370) and Royals (.395).

At this time last year, the Twins, Astros, Padres, Nationals and Dodgers had the five worst records in the majors. They ended the season ranked, respectively, in this order among the 30 franchises: 29, 30, (tie) 26, 15 and 13. The Nationals and Dodgers were decent teams that just started horribly. The others finished about like they started.

This time around, the Rockies are probably the outliers. The bottom still could drop out for a few other teams, like the Brewers, Astros and maybe the Pirates (never count them out when discussing losing teams). But the "race'' for the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft shapes up as a four-team affair among the Cubs, Twins, Padres and Royals.

So how does the Little Four stack up?

• Ownership commitment: The Padres have funding issues, and it doesn't help their short-term results that $7 million of the $55.6 million roster goes to Carlos Quentin, who hasn't been on the field yet. The Royals' $64-million payroll is a big increase from 2011. The Twins have a bigger payroll than the Cubs when you factor in the $22.5 million the Cubs are paying Carlos Zambrano and Marlon Byrd to play elsewhere.

• Current performance: The Twins are the worst team in this group, allowing the most runs in the majors and outscoring only eight teams. It says a lot for the weakness of the pitching and defense that they are allowing the most runs, because Target Field is distinctly a pitchers' park.

The Cubs have been the next worst, ranked in the bottom seven in both runs scored and allowed.

The Padres can be tough to score on, especially at Petco Park, but they just lost lefty Cory Luebke for the season to elbow surgery.

The Royals should have a decent lineup to go with thin pitching, but Eric Hosmer's slow start has contributed to the lineup underachieving.

• White flag potential: Midseason trades that could strip the roster are a huge consideration in trying to figure how many games teams can win.

The Cubs could be huge sellers at the deadline, with starting pitchers Ryan Dempster (10/5 player with full no-trade rights) and Matt Garza, closer Carlos Marmol, first baseman Bryan LaHair, catcher Geo Soto (expected back from the disabled list in mid-June) and valuable bench players Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker available.

The Twins could move center fielder Denard Span but can't expect much return on pitchers Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano.

The Padres could deal Quentin (sidelined since spring training after knee surgery), closer Huston Street (on the DL with a strained shoulder) and third baseman Chase Headley.

The Royals don't have many veterans to trade but will get offers for their many power relievers.

• Reinforcements: There's almost no help coming in the second half for the Twins, which could help in sliding to the 30th spot.

The Cubs will promote Triple-A terror Anthony Rizzo by July, if not earlier, and could get a lift from center fielder Brett Jackson. The Padres are taking a patient approach with switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who recently was promoted from Double A to Triple A, but third baseman Jedd Gyorko makes Headley expendable. Right fielder Wil Myers is pushing for a spot with the Royals, and starters Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi could help this year.

• Strength of schedule: The Padres not only play tougher teams in the National League West than the Cubs, Twins and Royals face in their Central Divisions but also get the Rangers in interleague play. The NL Central is slightly weaker than the American League Central. The Royals get interleague series against the Astros and Pirates and figure to catch the Cardinals depleted by injuries.


It's anybody's ballgame, but score it disadvantage, Padres.

Right spot: Scott Podsednik might not have been lucky to hit a home run that was the difference in the Red Sox's 6-5 victory Wednesday over the Orioles, but he was lucky to be in the big leagues. The former White Sox left fielder was hitting .203 as a member of Ryne Sandberg's Lehigh Valley IronPigs when the Red Sox made a deal to get him.

The Red Sox have 13 players on the DL, and the seven outfielders include Carl Crawford (elbow), Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder) and Ryan Sweeney (seven-day concussion DL).

"I'm just happy to be back," said the 36-year-old Podsednik, whose Game 2 homer was the key hit in the 2005 World Series. "It has been a long haul, but you never know what can happen."

With the outfield in shambles, manager Bobby Valentine moved Gold Glover Adrian Gonzalez from first base to right field as a way to fit both Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks into the lineup. He's playing Gonzalez in the big right field at Fenway Park rather than the small left field because it allows him to maintain the same perspective as at first base. Sweeney should return this week, but Crawford and Ellsbury aren't expected back until July.

True rocket: The Giancarlo Stanton grand slam that temporarily knocked out a portion of the video display of the auxiliary scoreboard at Marlins Park shattered the record for highest velocity off the bat the ESPN Home Run Tracker ever has registered.

Stanton's blast was recorded at 122.4 mph, more than 10 mph above David Ortiz's mark that had been the leader in the rankings that began in 2006. It was Stanton's fourth grand slam, which made him the fourth player ever to hit four grand slams before age 23. The others are Ted Williams, Eddie Mathews and Ken Griffey Jr.

"That's good company,'' Stanton said.

The last word: "Only God knows my swing better than myself." — Albert Pujols, who recently spent time with Tony La Russa but said he did not seek any hitting advice.


Twitter @ ChiTribRogers