Who will be MLB’s stretch-drive difference-makers?

As August heats up, here is a look at two hot rookies and two cold veterans and how their hitting figures to impact their teams’ chances of playing when temperatures drop in October.

Giants rookie Buster Posey is on a tear.
Giants rookie Buster Posey is on a tear.

Buster Posey, C, Giants
Few things in baseball are as maligned as the Giants’ offense. The schedule. Bud Selig’s refusal to implement more replay. Alex Rodriguez’s sincerity.

But perhaps it is time to stop bashing Giants’ hitters. Since July 1, the day Bengie Molina was traded and San Francisco made Posey its full-time catcher, the Giants lead the majors in runs scored. That’s right. Not the Yankees. Not the Phillies. The Giants, with an average of 5.4 runs in their past 30 games.

Posey isn’t the only reason, of course. Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres have provided plenty of offense. But they don’t lead the majors in batting average and on-base percentage since the end of June. Posey does, at .414 and .468, respectively. They didn’t reel off a 21-game hitting streak. Posey did.

The 23-year-old rookie has done his damage from the middle of the order, too. Since the club (finally) handed him the catcher’s job, the Giants lead the NL with a 22-8 record. Their pitching has been as good as advertised during that stretch, with a 3.18 ERA that is third-best in the N.L. behind the Reds and Braves.

The Posey-led offense has made the difference. Scouts believe Posey’s swing is so polished that he should avoid prolonged slumps. He hasn’t had an 0-for-4 performance since June 27. He is striking out only once every eight at-bats. He is hitting to all fields.

If Posey keeps this up, he might not only help the Giants to their first postseason appearance in the post-Barry Bonds era but he could wrestle rookie of the year honors from the Braves’ Jason Heyward.

Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals
When Ryan Ludwick went on the disabled list in early July, the Cardinals called up Jay. When Ludwick came off the disabled list, the Cardinals didn’t send down Jay.

Instead, they soon traded Ludwick. The Cardinals say a need for starting pitcher led to the move, but they don’t deny Jay’s play in Ludwick’s absence made the move more doable.

All Jay did was lead the NL in hitting last month with a .431 average while posting a .500 on-base percentage. The 25-year-old rookie played so well that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa couldn’t take him out of the lineup. "He’s a player," La Russa says. "He does something good every game."

Jay will be counted on to keep up the strong play. With Ludwick in San Diego and Colby Rasmus having an up-and-down second season, the Cardinals need Jay’s offense in front of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. The club went 8-1 when Jay started and scored at least one run in July. When he didn’t score, the Cardinals were 3-6.

When the inevitable rookie slowdown comes — Jay is 1-for-12 since Ludwick was traded — the Cardinals have Randy Winn and Allen Craig to play in the outfield. But Jay figures to get the majority of the at-bats in right field and perhaps some of Rasmus’ in center. "He’s earning them," La Russa says of the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2006.

If Jay is concerned about any added pressure, he hides it well. "I don’t take anything for granted," Jay says. "I’ll still come in every day to see if my name is in the lineup."

Troy Glaus has been struggling since mid-June.
Troy Glaus has been struggling since mid-June.

Troy Glaus, 1B, Braves
In his first month with his new team and at a new position, Glaus hit .194 with two homers and nine RBIs. The Braves didn’t fare much better, going 9-14 and finishing April in last place.

It was no coincidence that when Glaus got hot in May, so did the Braves. "After he started hitting, that was our big turnaround," righthander Tim Hudson says. "Other guys just seemed to fall in line."

The Braves moved into first place in late May and have remained there, though their seven-game lead over the Phillies on July 22 has dwindled to two. You can point to Glaus as the reason for this reversal, too. He is hitting .163 since June 15 and was worse in July (.182-0-5) than he was in April.

Glaus had legitimate reasons for his awful April: He was on a new team at a new position (first base) and he was coming off a season mostly lost because of shoulder surgery.

As for July, who knows? Hitting coach Terry Pendleton says the slugger is tired. Bobby Cox gave Glaus off Tuesday night for what he told reporters was a "breather." Glaus insists his shoulder is sound but doesn’t offer a better explanation for his slump.

The Braves could use reserve outfielder Eric Hinske more at first base, but he hit only .212 in July and likely would be more exposed as an everyday player. They have used second baseman Martin Prado there a bit but he is on the disabled list. Another possibility would be to call up first base prospect Freddie Freeman before the rosters expand Sept. 1, but counting on a rookie in a playoff race is hardly ideal.

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Rangers
One of the feel-good stories of the first half is not feeling so fine these days. Perhaps the Texas heat is slowing down Guerrero. After all, he spent the previous 14 seasons in Southern California and Montreal. Perhaps he is feeling his age (35) or perhaps the knee, shoulder, back and chest injuries that plagued him the past two seasons are acting up.

Whatever the reason, Guerrero has slowed after his All-Star first half. He entered today’s action with a season-low .304 average, a drop of 35 points since June 30. Only one of his 21 homers has come since the All-Star break. He recently went nine games without an RBI.

And he has just begun the hottest two months of the year in Texas.

The good news for the Rangers: A lot more would have to go wrong than a Guerrero slump for them to lose their lead in the AL West. Josh Hamilton has ensured that their offense has remained potent. The arrival of Cliff Lee has improved the pitching. They have continued to build on their division lead despite Guerrero’s slowdown.

Guerrero wouldn’t be the first to feel the drain of August in Arlington. The Rangers have gone 52-62 from August on since 2008. The difference this season: They have an eight-game cushion.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

As August heats up, here is a look at two hot rookies and two cold veterans and how their hitting figures to impact their teams’ chances of playing when temperatures drop in October.

Giants rookie Buster Posey is on a tear.
Giants rookie Buster Posey is on a tear.

Buster Posey, C, Giants
Few things in baseball are as maligned as the Giants’ offense. The schedule. Bud Selig’s refusal to implement more replay. Alex Rodriguez’s sincerity.

But perhaps it is time to stop bashing Giants’ hitters. Since July 1, the day Bengie Molina was traded and San Francisco made Posey its full-time catcher, the Giants lead the majors in runs scored. That’s right. Not the Yankees. Not the Phillies. The Giants, with an average of 5.4 runs in their past 30 games.

Posey isn’t the only reason, of course. Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres have provided plenty of offense. But they don’t lead the majors in batting average and on-base percentage since the end of June. Posey does, at .414 and .468, respectively. They didn’t reel off a 21-game hitting streak. Posey did.

The 23-year-old rookie has done his damage from the middle of the order, too. Since the club (finally) handed him the catcher’s job, the Giants lead the NL with a 22-8 record. Their pitching has been as good as advertised during that stretch, with a 3.18 ERA that is third-best in the N.L. behind the Reds and Braves.

The Posey-led offense has made the difference. Scouts believe Posey’s swing is so polished that he should avoid prolonged slumps. He hasn’t had an 0-for-4 performance since June 27. He is striking out only once every eight at-bats. He is hitting to all fields.

If Posey keeps this up, he might not only help the Giants to their first postseason appearance in the post-Barry Bonds era but he could wrestle rookie of the year honors from the Braves’ Jason Heyward.

Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals
When Ryan Ludwick went on the disabled list in early July, the Cardinals called up Jay. When Ludwick came off the disabled list, the Cardinals didn’t send down Jay.

Instead, they soon traded Ludwick. The Cardinals say a need for starting pitcher led to the move, but they don’t deny Jay’s play in Ludwick’s absence made the move more doable.

All Jay did was lead the NL in hitting last month with a .431 average while posting a .500 on-base percentage. The 25-year-old rookie played so well that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa couldn’t take him out of the lineup. "He’s a player," La Russa says. "He does something good every game."

Jay will be counted on to keep up the strong play. With Ludwick in San Diego and Colby Rasmus having an up-and-down second season, the Cardinals need Jay’s offense in front of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. The club went 8-1 when Jay started and scored at least one run in July. When he didn’t score, the Cardinals were 3-6.

When the inevitable rookie slowdown comes — Jay is 1-for-12 since Ludwick was traded — the Cardinals have Randy Winn and Allen Craig to play in the outfield. But Jay figures to get the majority of the at-bats in right field and perhaps some of Rasmus’ in center. "He’s earning them," La Russa says of the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2006.

If Jay is concerned about any added pressure, he hides it well. "I don’t take anything for granted," Jay says. "I’ll still come in every day to see if my name is in the lineup."

Troy Glaus has been struggling since mid-June.
Troy Glaus has been struggling since mid-June.

Troy Glaus, 1B, Braves
In his first month with his new team and at a new position, Glaus hit .194 with two homers and nine RBIs. The Braves didn’t fare much better, going 9-14 and finishing April in last place.

It was no coincidence that when Glaus got hot in May, so did the Braves. "After he started hitting, that was our big turnaround," righthander Tim Hudson says. "Other guys just seemed to fall in line."

The Braves moved into first place in late May and have remained there, though their seven-game lead over the Phillies on July 22 has dwindled to two. You can point to Glaus as the reason for this reversal, too. He is hitting .163 since June 15 and was worse in July (.182-0-5) than he was in April.

Glaus had legitimate reasons for his awful April: He was on a new team at a new position (first base) and he was coming off a season mostly lost because of shoulder surgery.

As for July, who knows? Hitting coach Terry Pendleton says the slugger is tired. Bobby Cox gave Glaus off Tuesday night for what he told reporters was a "breather." Glaus insists his shoulder is sound but doesn’t offer a better explanation for his slump.

The Braves could use reserve outfielder Eric Hinske more at first base, but he hit only .212 in July and likely would be more exposed as an everyday player. They have used second baseman Martin Prado there a bit but he is on the disabled list. Another possibility would be to call up first base prospect Freddie Freeman before the rosters expand Sept. 1, but counting on a rookie in a playoff race is hardly ideal.

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Rangers
One of the feel-good stories of the first half is not feeling so fine these days. Perhaps the Texas heat is slowing down Guerrero. After all, he spent the previous 14 seasons in Southern California and Montreal. Perhaps he is feeling his age (35) or perhaps the knee, shoulder, back and chest injuries that plagued him the past two seasons are acting up.

Whatever the reason, Guerrero has slowed after his All-Star first half. He entered today’s action with a season-low .304 average, a drop of 35 points since June 30. Only one of his 21 homers has come since the All-Star break. He recently went nine games without an RBI.

And he has just begun the hottest two months of the year in Texas.

The good news for the Rangers: A lot more would have to go wrong than a Guerrero slump for them to lose their lead in the AL West. Josh Hamilton has ensured that their offense has remained potent. The arrival of Cliff Lee has improved the pitching. They have continued to build on their division lead despite Guerrero’s slowdown.

Guerrero wouldn’t be the first to feel the drain of August in Arlington. The Rangers have gone 52-62 from August on since 2008. The difference this season: They have an eight-game cushion.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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