Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cabrera, Tigers Keep Hold of 1st; Cain hurls Giants to Wild Card Lead

Players of the Day for Wednesday, July 29, 2009 American League Detroit maintained its 2-game lead in the AL Central, but Minnesota has moved a game ahead of Chicago and into second place with 4 straight wins while the Sox have dropped three in a row. The Tigers have struggled to keep hold of first place, but avoided a sweep in Texas with a 13-5 thumping of the Rangers on Wednesday. Leading the offense was Miguel Cabrera, who went 4-for-6, including a run-producing double in the 5th and a 3-run blast - his 20th - in the 7th as the Tigers banged out 19 hits. Justin Verlander earning his 12th win against 5 losses, allowing 3 earned runs over 7 innings, fanning 13. National League San Francisco's Matt Cain took the mound against the Pirates in search of his 13th win against just two losses and pitched brilliantly - giving up 3 hits and shutting out Pittsburgh over 9 innings - but failed to get the win as Zack Duke (7 innings) and John Grabow (2 innings), matched the zeroes on the scoreboard. In the 10th, Randy Winn singled home Eugenio Velez for the game's only run, and the Giants slipped into the wild card lead with a 1-0 win, 1/2 game past idle Colorado. Cain walked 2 and struck out 4 but remained 12-2. Though Cain's mound brilliance went unrewarded, he managed to improve some already impressive numbers. lowering his ERA to a ridiculous 2.12 while keeping batters in 2009 hitting at a .222 pace. For all the press given to fellow starter Tim Lincecum, Cain is having an equally dominant season. The two have kept the Giants in the heat of the wild card race, though they continue to trail the Dodgers by 7 games. With LA losing four straight, San Fran may be in a position to launch a run at first in the NL West. As July turns to August, the Giants host the Phillies for three games, then head to Houston for three before returning home to face the Reds and then the Dodgers in a three-game series August 10-12. If LA continues to falter and the Giants keep plying quality baseball, that series shapes up as a defining division showdown.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kennedy Key in A's Win; Wainwright Stifles Dodgers

Players of the Day for Tuesday, July 28, 2009 American League The Oakland A's aren't going to win their division this season, but that doesn't mean they can't make other teams hate them. Take Boston, for instance. with the Yankees losing at Tampa, the Red Sox had an opportunity to tighten the AL East race. A win would have gotten them to within 1 1/2 games of the streaky Yanks, but the A's, led by Adam Kennedy's 5-for-7 effort, battled back from a 6-2 deficit to win, 9-8, in 11 innings. Batting in the leadoff spot, Kennedy, usually relied upon to score runs instead of driving them home, drove in three, including the game winner, as he rapped out 4 singles and a double to pace the A's. Down at the bottom of the lineup card, teammate Mark Ellis gathered four hits in six at-bats - a pair of doubles and two singles - stole a base and scored four times. The A's are 17 games behind the Angels in the West, while Boston trails New York by 2 1/2 in the East. National League It's obvious to just about anyone who follows our national pastime that the St. Louis Cardinals have more than enough weapons to with which to compete for the NL crown. One often overlooked weapon is starter Adam Wainwright, who, in just his third season as a full-time starter, is compiling a resume worthy of close inspection. Wainwright picked up his fourth win in his last five starts, improving to 12-6 overall, teasing the LA Dodgers with 8 innings of shutout ball, allowing 8 hits and a walk while fanning five for a 10-0 Cardinal win. St. Louis moved back into first place in the Central with the win, as the Cubs were bested by Houston, 11-6. Wainwright is on his way to career bests in a number of categories in 2009, including ERA (2.80) and wins. His previous bests were 3.20 (2008) and 14 (2007). He's holding opponents to a .247 batting average and is among the league leaders in strikeouts with 135. At 27, the 6'7" Wainwright has a superb career record - 39-22 - and is one of baseball's most promising young stars. NOTES: Wide Open NL Wild Card: The race for the wild card in the National League is shaping up to be one for the ages. As of Tuesday's results, the Giants and Rockies are tied for the lead at 54-46, both teams trailing the Dodgers by 8 games in the West. After them, the Cubs are next, just one game back, then the Marlins, 2 behind, with the Astros and Braves both 3 games out. Those six teams include two from each division, setting up a potential late-season win-or-go-home scenario.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Martinez, Peralta Shine for Tribe; Lincecum Fans 15; Willingham Slams Twice

Players of the Day for Monday, July 27, 2009 American League The Cleveland Indians recently emerged from last place in the AL Central and extended their winning streak to five games on Monday, with a stunning 8-6 victory over the LA Angels courtesy of Victor Martinez's (left) 3-run ninth inning homer and Jhonny Peralta's (right) all-around excellence. Martinez slugged his 15th round-tripper against closer Brian Fuentes and Peralta added a solo shot on his final trip to the plate. The homers were back-to-back and provided the winning margin. Peralta also singled twice, doubled and drove in 3 while scoring twice in five at-bats. The Cleveland third baseman has been on something of a hot streak, hitting safely in each of his last six games, including multiple-hit games in his last four. In those four games he's gone 11-for-19 (.579) with 10 RBI and 2 homers. National League Tim Lincecum fanned a career-high 15 in a complete game, four hit, 4-2 gem over Pittsburgh. The 2008 Cy Young winner continued his quest for a repeat, improving to 11-3 and dropping his ERA to a minuscule 2.30, as the two Pirates' runs were unearned. He also extended his major-league leading strikeout total to 183. In Milwaukee, Josh Willingham stroked a pair of grand slam homers, becoming only the 13th in the majors to accomplish the feat, as the Nationals extended their win streak to three games with a 14-6 slaughter of the Brewers. The Nats remain in last place, but the loss dropped the Brewers 4 games behind the Cubs, who beat the Astros, 5-1, in 13 innings. Willingham's homers were his 15th and 16th on the year, and his 8 RBI tied the franchise record. He also stroked his 20th double of the season.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Morneau a Quiet Superstar; Harden Hurls Cubs Into First

Players of the Day for Sunday, July 26, 2009 American League Some players make a lot of noise and others, like Minnesota's Justin Morneau, just quietly do their job, racking up huge stats. On Sunday, Morneau was at his best again, smacking a pair of home runs to lead the Twins to a 10-1 win over the Angels, avoiding being swept and halting a four-game skid. Morneau launched a two-run shot in the 1st inning and added a solo blast in the 7th, retaking the AL lead from Tampa's Carlos Pena, with his 25th and 26th. Now in his 7th season in the majors - all with Minnesota - Morneau is on track to have his best season yet. Having already won the MVP award in 2006 with a .321 batting average, 34 homers and 134 RBI, Morneau numbers after 98 games - .315, 26, 82 - stack up very favorably. With the win, Minnesota moved to within 4 games of the Tigers in the AL Central as the White Sox won, 5-1, at Detroit. The Sox avoided a four-game sweep and clawed to within 2 games of Detroit. LA leads Texas by 3 1/2 in the West. National League While St. Louis was dropping a 9-2 decision to the Phillies, Rich Harden was pitching the Cubs into first place in the NL Central. Harden allowed a two-out solo homer to Joey Votto in the first inning and then proceeded to set down the next 16 batters he faced before leaving after six innings. The Cubs managed a 5-2 win over the Reds for their 4th straight victory and a 1/2 game lead in the division. Harden fanned 8 and didn't walk a batter, improving to 7-6 on the year, throwing 61 of 90 pitches for strikes. NOTES: Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, Sunday; Henderson on his first ballot and Rice on his 15th and final chance. Henderson is baseball's all-time theft leader, with 1406, and also the all-time runs leader, with 2295. Rice, who played his entire career in a Red Sox uniform, is the only player in MLB history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons, accomplishing the feat from 1977 to 1979. Rice batted .298 with 382 homers and 1451 RBI over a 16-year career.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rollins, Victorino Victimize Cardinals; Pena Leads Rays Comeback

Players of the Day for Saturday, July 25, 2009 American League After leading the Rays 8-1, the Toronto Blue Jays managed to squander all of that over the final four innings of regulation and finally lose the game, 10-9, in 12 innings. Jason Bartlett's double scored Ben Zobrist with the game winner, but it was Carlos Pena and his teammates who kept rallying the rays in the late innings. Pena went 2-for-6 with a bases loaded triple in the 7th inning and a solo homer in the 9th which got the Rays to within one run. Willie Aybar tied the game one out later. Pena drove in four runs and scored twice; his home run was his 25th, tying him for the league lead with the Yanks' Mark Teixeira. The Rays are still a factor in the AL East, trailing the Yankees by 5 1/2 games, and 4 games behind second place Boston. Toronto's loss dropped them 12 1/2 out in the division. National League With a 6 1/2 game lead over the Marlins and Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies are not only on cruise control in the NL East, they have shifted into overdrive, winning 16 of 21 games in the month of July. After taking one on the chin Friday in an 8-1 home loss to St. Louis, the Phils came back in the second game of the division-leader series with a vengeance, beating up Cardinals' starter Kyle Lohse and five relievers to the tune of a 14-6 laugher. The Phillies banged out the same number of hits as they scored runs, including home runs by Jimmy Rollins (left) and Shane Victorino (right), the #1 and #2 hitters in their potent lineup. The back-to-back, 6th inning homers were of the grand slam variety (Rollins) and a solo shot by Victorino. Rollins went 2-for-5, with 5 RBI and 2 runs, while Victorino also stroked three singles in a perfect 4-for-4 game, driving in 3 and scoring 3 times. The 5-run inning turned a 4-3 Cardinal lead into an 8-4 deficit and the Phillies added six more in the 7th to put the game away. Having gotten off to a very poor start in 2008, Rollins is batting .315 over the past 8 games, while Victorino has been solid all season, checking in at .318. NOTES: St. Louis' loss at Philadelphia assisted in tightening the race in the torrid NL Central, as the Cubs and Brewers won, while the Astros suffered a loss. The Cards' lead is down to just 1/2 game over Chicago, with Houston 1 1/2 back and Milwaukee 2 1/2 out. In the AL, the Tigers took their third straight from second place Chicago, improving their lead to 3 games in the Central. In the West, the Angels continued to gradually pull away, now 4 1/2 ahead of Texas, as the Angels won their 8th straight, 11-5 over Minnesota, while the Rangers dropped a 6-3 decision at Kansas City.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Verlander Stops Sox Charge; Ramirez Keeps Cubs Close

Players of the Day for Friday, July 24, 2009 American League The Tigers were feeling the heat from the White Sox, who had tied for the AL Central lead on the strength of Mark Buerhle's perfect game on Thursday, so in the first game of Friday's double-dip, the Tigers welcomed the Sox into town with their ace, Justin Verlander, on the mound. After a shaky start, the Detroit righty was throwing fire, finishing with a complete game 5-1 win, the sixth time in his career that he's gone the distance. Verlander (11-5) walked 4 and allowed six hits, but the lonely Chicago run was unearned. The effort dropped his ERA to a very respectable 3.12. After taking the opener, the Tigers wrested back control of the division with a 4-3 win in the second game, putting the Tigers in front by 2 games. while it may not be much of a lead, it was important to take two straight from a key rival. The Sox and Tigers continue their series with single games Saturday and Sunday. National League The St. Louis Cardinals welcomed Matt Holliday back to the National League and into the cleanup spot in their lineup and the former Rockie and A responded with a 4-for-5 night in St. Louis' 8-1 romp at Philadelphia. The Cardinals have bolstered their roster, no doubt because they realize the Cubs, Astros and Brewers aren't exactly going away. The Cubs, in particular, have been on a bit of a tear lately, especially since Aramis Ramirez has gotten back into the lineup after missing most of May and all of June. Since the All Star break, the Cubs are 6-2 and, along with the Astros, have drawn to within 1 1/2 games of the division-leading Cardinals,. In Friday's 8-5 win over the Reds, the Cubs' third baseman was at his best, going 4-for-5 with 3 RBI and a run scored. Ramirez got Chicago going with an RBI double in the first, then singled in another in the 3rd, adding a solo homer (6) in the 6th. His double in the 8th completed a super night at the dish, boosting his average to .325. With Ramirez back at full strength, the Cubs again look like a serious contender in the wide-open NL Central.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Buehrle Perfect Against Rays; Zito on Right Track Again

Players of the Day for Thursday, July 23, 2009 American League Mark Buehrle worked over the Tampa Bay Rays like little leaguers, tossing the first perfect game since Randy Johnson turned the trick in 2004, in Chicago's 5-0 win over the Rays. Buehrle (11-3, 3.28) struck out 6, got 11 batters on ground balls, 8 on flies and 2 on foul pops. In going the distance, he threw 116 pitches, of which 76 went for strikes. First baseman Josh Fields provided almost all of the offense with a second inning grand slam. The fact that Buehrle threw the perfect-o against the Rays is testament to the man's mechanics and work ethic. Tampa Bay has the 4th highest Batting average in the league, third in home runs and RBI, tied for second in on base percentage and third in slugging percentage. Buehrle shut down one of the best-hitting teams in either league. It was the 16th perfect game in major league history, and Buehrle's second no-hitter. He faced the minimum in his 2007, 6-0 win over Texas, walking Sammy Sosa, but then picking him off first base moments later. He joins six other players since 1900 who have tossed a no-hitter and a perfect game, Randy Johnson one of them, and the only active player in that group, The magic was almost ended in the 9th inning when Gabe Kapler launched a drive to deep left-center, but the ball was captured in an exceptional over-the-fence grab by defensive replacement DeWayne Wise to preserve the perfect game. Buehrle retired the final two batters with a strikeout and ground ball to short. Buehrle received a call from President Barack Obama following the historic effort. Just a week ago Buehrle met Obama personally in the AL All Star game clubhouse. The win moved the White Sox closer to the top of the AL Central, just .001 behind the Tigers and no games behind. The Tigers are 49-44, the Sox 50-45. National League Don't write off the Giants just yet. After losing five of six coming out of the All Star break, Barry Zito - who's been up-and-down for the past three seasons - turned in one of his better performances of the season, working over the Braves for seven innings in a 5-1 win for San Francisco. Zito allowed just three hits, punching out 6 on strikes while allowing five bases on balls. Clearly not working with his best control, he was around the plate enough to keep the Atlanta batters off-balance most of the night. After the Giants scored in the top of the 8th to make the score 2-1, Zito was lifted for a pinch hitter. The Giants scored three more times to guarantee Zito's 6th win against 10 losses this season and close to within one game of Colorado for second place in the NL West, but more importantly, closer to the wild card lead. The Giants have a wealth of pitching talent on their roster and hope to reach the post-season on the strength of their arms. Clearly Barry Zito will have to have more games like Thursday's if they plan on playing in October.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Man-Ram Pinch-Hits Dodgers to Win; Scutaro's Pair of Homers Lifts Jays

American League July has been a rough month for the Toronto Blue Jays. Amid swirling trade rumors for ace starter Roy Hallady, the Jays have put together a 6-10 record thus far and have fallen out of the AL East race, now 10 1/2 games behind the Yankees. As it has been for many of the recent years past, the Jays look like they're being reduced to play the role of spoiler down the stretch. Despite the hard times, leadoff hitter Marco Scutaro and some of his teammates continue to produce at the plate. In Wednesday's 10-6 win over Cleveland, Scutaro cracked a pair of home runs in consecutive at-bats in the 5th and 6th innings - a solo shot, and then a 3 run blast which put the game away. The Jays sent five balls over the walls in the win. A starter since 2004, Scutaro is having his best season to date, batting .286 with 8 homers, 43 RBI, 67 runs and 8 steals. National League Players of the Day for Wednesday, July 22, 2009All of LA anxiously awaited the return of Manny Ramirez from his 50-game suspension, and Manny, in his usual dramatic fashion has made the wait worthwhile. Since his return to the starting lineup July 3, Manny has produced at a .347 clip with 5 homers and 17 RBI, but none was more satisfying than his pinch hit grand slam in the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the Reds, breaking a 2-2 tie and sending the Dodgers to their 5th win in a row. The Dodgers maintained their comfortable 9-game lead over Colorado in the NL West. NOTES: Todd Helton laced his 500th double on Wednesday, in Colorado's 4-3 win over Arizona, and followed that feat up with an 8th-inning, game-winning solo homer for the second-place Rockies. Colorado continues to chase the Dodgers in the division, but has a 1 1/2 game bulge on sliding San Francisco in the wild card race. The Giants have lost 5 of 6 since the All Star break. Over in the AL, the Rangers completed a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, dropping Boston into second place in the AL East. Meanwhile, the Angels were doing the same to the Royals, keeping Texas 3 games back. The Rangers have crept to within 2 1/2 of the Red Sox in the wild card chase, still a distinct possibility, with nearly 70 games left to play for each team. The Central continues contentious, with the White Sox and Twins dogging the Tigers, 1 and 2 1/2 back, respectively. Key series this weekend include the White Sox at Detroit and the Twins at LA. In the NL, the Cardinals visit Philadelphia while the Cubs host the Reds.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aybar Goes 7-for-9 in Twin Bill; Furcal Sets Tone in Dodger Win

Players of the Day for Tuesday, July 21, 2009 American League After a rainout Monday, the LA Angels swept a pair of games from slumping Kansas City, winning the first, 8-5, before thumping the Royals in the second, 10-2. The Halos amassed 25 hits over the span of those two games, with shortstop Erick Aybar accounting for 7 of them. In the opener, Aybar went 3-for-4 with a double and two singles, an RBI and three runs, but he bettered that effort in the nightcap, with a double, triple, two singles, a stolen base, two runs and three RBI. Aybar has been a pleasant surprise for the Angels, finally playing full time at short with a .315 batting average. He is just a few plate appearances short of the minimum for qualified leaders, but will likely get those soon. The twin wins pushed the Angels' lead in the West to 3 games. National League The LA Dodgers have won four straight, reopening a fat 9 game lead in the NL West. Their latest hit-fest, a 12-3 home romp over the Reds, was spearheaded by leadoff hitter and shortstop Rafael Furcal, who singled twice, homered, drove in 4 runs and scored twice. Furcal and his Dodgers lead the NL in batting, with a .275 average and 895 hits. They are third in RBI and runs, with 446 and 472, respectively. NOTES: After a solid run, the Giants have fallen on hard times, losing four of five following the All-Star break and being overtaken for second place by the Rockies, who have won four of six over the same span. It all may be for naught, however, with the Dodgers seemingly on cruise control, 9 games out in front. The Rockies are in good position for the wild card, though, with a three-game edge over Atlanta. In the AL, the Yankees won their 5th straight and have finally overtaken the Red Sox for the top spot in the East. New York leads the Red Sox by one game, with Tampa Bay 4 1/2 back. Amid rumors that Roy Halladay is about to be traded, the Blue Jays have fallen out of it, now 10 1/2 back. The Yanks have gotten hot again. After losing three straight into the break, they've come out firing, winning their last five, and now appear to be the team to beat in the East.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Holliday Blasts A's Back to Win; Ibanez Helps Phils Win 9th Straight

Players of the Day for Monday, July 20, 2009 American League Oakland's Matt Holliday broke through with a grand slam in the 7th inning, tying the Minnesota Twins at 13-13, and then Jack Cust delivered the game-winner with a solo shot for the comeback 14-13 win. The Twins had led the game 12-2 in the 3rd inning, but starter Nick Blackburn and the Minnesota bullpen could not contain the A's attack. Holliday doubled twice and homered twice, driving in six runs and scoring four times in 5 at-bats. Minnesota's Justin Morneau drove in 7, with a pair of homers, one a grand slam. National League The Phillies won their 9th straight as Raul Ibanez belted his 25th home run, a 3-run, first-inning shot, to lead Philadelphia to a 10-1 win over the Cubs. The win pushed the Phillies to a 6 1/2 game lead over the Braves. The Cubs remained 2 games beind the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to Houston, 3-2. NOTES: Apologies for the scant coverage lately. My father, Nick Gagliano, 84 years of age, passed away on Thursday and I have been dealing with the funeral and other matters as best as possible. Thanks for your understanding during this trying time. The burial is today, July 21. -- Rick Gagliano

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lackey's 3-Hitter Lifts Angels; Fox A Solid Cubs Rookie

Players of the Day for Sunday, July 19, 2009 American League Despite a 5-4 record this season, John Lackey is a guy you have to respect every time he takes the mound. On Sunday, Lackey went up the hill at Oakland and dueled with A's starter Brett Anderson through 9 scoreless innings until Bobby Abreu sent a ball over the right field barrier for a 1-0 Angels win. Lackey pitched through the 9th, allowing just 3 hits and one walk, striking out 6. Brian Fuentes came on to finish up, allowing one hit, for his league-leading 28th save. The win kept the Angels three games ahead of the Texas Rangers and 4 up on Seattle. With the Angels getting healthy and pitchers like Lackey and Fuentes doing their thing, the race for the division flag may become an exercise in futility for their opponents in very short order. National League Here's a late entrant for NL Rookie of the Year: Jake Fox of the Chicago Cubs. With Milton Bradley failing to produce, Fox has been getting more playing time and he's responded in positive fashion with a .326 batting average, 5 homers and 19 RBI in just 86 at-bats. In Chicago's 11-3 win at Washington Sunday, Fox was filling in for Aramis Ramirez, who was taking a regular day off, and he made the most of it, going 3-for-5, with a 3-run homer, two singles, 4 RBI and 3 runs. The win moved the Cubs up to second place in the NLCentral, as the Cardinals remained 2 games in front with a win, while the Brewers dropped to 3 back, losing to the Reds, who are 5 1/2 back. In between are the Astros, 4 games behind. The NL Central continues to be the most contentious race in the majors, with 5 teams vying for the flag.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sabathia Keeps Yankees Close to Red Sox;

Players of the Day for Saturday, July 18, 2009 American League When the Yankees acquired C.C. Sabathia in the off-season, the front office brass was probably envisioning just this kind of scenario, with the Red Sox up in the standings and the Yankees needing a win from their stud starter. On Saturday, Sabathia outdueled Detroit's ace, Justin Verlander, over 7 innings, leaving the game after Alex Rodriguez homered and Melky Cabrera singled home another run to give New York a 2-0 lead. The burly lefty allowed five hits and three walks, but kept the Tigers off the scoreboard, improving his record to 9-6 and getting the Yankees to within 2 games of Boston, losers at Toronto, with a 2-1 win. Sabathia has had an up-and-down season, but still has enough in the tank to deliver the goods in big games. Though not the overpowering pitcher from last season, when he tossed 10 complete games and five shutouts, he may be hitting midseason form at the right time, though it's doubtful that Yankee manager Joe Girardi will allow his ace to be overworked. Sabathia does have 2 complete games and one shutout this season, and after throwing 116 pitches on Saturday, everyone in the AL is aware of his amazing stamina. National League Stationed near the bottom of the NL West, 18 games out, there haven't been many highlights for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, but starter Dan Haren has quietly put together an excellent first half and continued into the second half with a superb outing in Arizona's 4-2 win over St. Louis. Haren shut down the Central division-leading Cardinals on 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run over 8 innings, improving his record to 10-5. Considering the Diamondbacks' record (39-52), Haren's stats are mind-boggling: 1.96 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 137 Ks in 138 innings. With a lot of people viewing San Francisco's Tim Lincecum as odds-on to win the Cy Young Award, Haren is putting up numbers the voters will have to strongly consider. The win didn't do much for the D-Backs, who are hopelessly out of any race, but the Cardinals' loss tightened up the NL Central race. St. Louis leads the Cubs and Brewers - both winners on Saturday - by just 2 games, with Houston 3 back.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thome's 7 RBI Lifts Sox; McCann Gets Braves Back to .500

Players of the Day for Friday, July 17, 2009 American League The designated hitter (DH) rule has extended the careers of many a slugger, but maybe none more significantly than that of Jim Thome, who came back to the American League after three years in Philadelphia in 2006. Since then, Thome has aided the White Sox cause with 127 home runs and 352 RBI. On Friday, Thome delighted the partisan Chicago crowd with a pair of bombs - numbers 15 and 16 on the season - and 7 RBI, bringing his season total to 57, not bad for a guy who turns 39 next month. In Chicago's 12-8 win over the Orioles, Thome provided the key runs, first, with a 3-run shot in the 5th inning, putting the Sox ahead 6-3, and then again in the 6th, after Baltimore had scored two runs in the top of the inning, Thome blasted his 9th career grand slam, putting the game away at 10-5. Thome is almost certainly a future Hall of Famer. His 557 home runs rank him at #12 all time, and his RBI total of 1545 are enough to qualify him for immortality at Cooperstown. And he hasn't even mentioned retirement yet. National League While the Mets struggled to get two hits off Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens and three relievers, Brian McCann and the Braves' regulars were mashing out 14 hits in an 11-0 rout of the stumbling New Yorkers. McCann singled, doubled and knocked his 9th home run of the season, driving in four runs and scoring three times. The win got the Braves back to the .500 mark, at 45-45, though they tied for second place with the Marlins, both six games behind the surging Phillies, who have won 7 straight. The loss dropped the Mets even further behind, 8 1/2 games out. With the Phillies threatening to run away with the division title, the Braves find themselves in second place in the wild card race as well, 4 1/2 behind surprising San Francisco. NOTES: Out of the mid-season break, the Phillies, Dodgers and Cardinals have the upper hand in their respective divisions. While the streaking Phillies may make the East a laugher, the Cardinals lead three teams - the Astros, Cubs and Brewers - by 3 games. The Reds are still a factor, though they have fallen to 5 1/2 behind and the Pirates have assumed a stranglehold on last place, 9 1/2 out. In the West, LA hasn't really been playing the best baseball, having lost 3 of their last four and two straight, but their 6 1/2 game cushion is still comfortable enough. The American League, which claimed home field advantage again with their All-Star win on Tuesday, may prove to be a bit more contentious. Boston leads the Yankees by 3 games in the East with the Rays lurking just 6 1/2 out. Detroit has held sway in the Central most of the season, but their lead - 2 1/2 over the white Sox and 3 ahead of Minnesota - will be challenged. The West is shaping up to be a battle down the stretch, though the Angels have recently assumed control and lead the Rangers by 2 games. The dark horse Mariners continue to hang on, 4 games back. A replay of last year's Philly-Tampa World Series looks very much in doubt, though the defending champions from Philadelphia have emerged, along with the Dodgers, as the team to beat. Those two are rock-solid. The Cardinals, along with all of the other teams in the Central division hunt, appear to be second-tier at best. With the trade deadline approaching, a key trade or late-season injury could change the fate of any of the contenders.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lee Gets First win in a Month; Moyer Mows Down Marlins

Players of the Day for Thursday, July 16, 2009 American League In limited AL action (2 games), the Cleveland Indians got another solid outing from ace Cliff Lee, who has struggled to a 5-9 record despite quality stats (3.31 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), as they cruised to a 4-1 home win over Seattle. Lee allowed 9 hits and 1 earned run in the complete game victory, fanning six for his first win in over a month. His previous winning effort was also a complete game, a 3-hit shutout over St. Louis on June 14. In the interim, Lee took three losses and two no-decisions, even though he allowed more than 3 runs in any of those starts once. The Indians remain in the AL Central basement, 13 1/2 out. Seattle dropped to 5 games behind the Angels in the West. National League At 46 years old, one would not expect Jamie Moyer to pick up many wins, but the aged hurler is expert at changing speeds and hitting corners even though his fastball barely registers on a radar gun any more. On Thursday in Miami, Moyer was on top of his game, shutting out the Marlins on one hit over 7 innings in a tidy 4-0 Philadelphia win. Moyer put down the first 12 in order before allowing a single and walk in the fifth inning. After that little scare he didn't allow another baserunner before giving way to the bullpen to open the 8th. Raul Ibanez spanked a pair of homers (23 and 24) and Ryan Howard added a solo shot (23) for all of the scoring. The win inproved Philly's lead to 5 games over Florida in the NL East.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thames, Thomas Terrifying Tigers; Ludwick Carries the Load for Cards

Players of the Day for Sunday, July 12, 2009 American League At the All-Star break, the Tigers own a 3 1/2 game lead over the white Sox in the AL Central after scuttling the Cleveland Indians, 10-1. Justin Verlander earned his 10th win against 4 losses with 7 innings of shutout ball, but the victory belonged to two part-time players, Clete Thomas (left) and Marcus Thames (right) who victimized Cleveland pitchers all afternoon. Thomas was the most destructive force in the Tiger lineup, going 3-for-4 with a single, triple and home run, five RBI and a pair of runs scored. Thomas has played in just 37 games in 2008, and Sunday's was his most productive. In just 127 at-bats, Thomas has produced: 5 homers and 23 RBI. Thames showed the poise and steadiness that may eventually earn him a starting job in Detroit or elsewhere, knocking 4 hits in 4 at-bats (3 singles, double), scoring three times and driving in one. Like Thomas, Thames has had limited playing time. In 125 at-bats he has 9 homers and 22 RBI. Contributions from these players has been key in Detroit's rise to the top and certainly will be a factor the rest of the season. National League After splitting both their 4-game series and Sunday double-header at Wrigley, the Cardinals retained their 2 1/2 game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central and stayed 3 1/2 ahead of the third place Cubs. The Cards dropped the first game, 7-3, but came back in the nightcap, winning 4-2, as Adam Wainwright imporved to 10-5 and Ryan Ludwick accounted for all of the Cardinal runs. Ludwick went 2-for-4 in the opener, but neither scored nor drove in any runs. He continued to bear down in the later game, going 3-for-4 with a double and a pair of 2-run homers, his 14th and 15th of the season. That was all the cards needed as Wainwright allowed just 2 earned runs over 8 innings and Ryan Franklin picked up his 21st save by striking out the side in the ninth. NOTES: Division leaders stretched out heading into the mid-season break. The slimmest lead is in the AL West, as the Angels have the Rangers by 1 1/2 games. Boston leads New York by 3 in the East after the Yankees were swept three straight by the Angels; Detroit is 3 1/2 up on Chicago in the Central. In the NL, Philly is up by 4 over the Marlins; the Cards are 2 1/2 to the good over the Brewers and the Dodgers upped their lead in the West to 7 with a win at Milwaukee. Current wild card leaders are the Yankees (51-37) and Giants (49-39). The Red Sox have the best record in the AL at 54-34. The Dodgers lead the majors at 56-32.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Howard Brings Phillies Back; Youkilis Cranking for Red Sox

Players of the Day for Saturday, July 11, 2009 American League With the Yankees out on the coast, taking a daily beating from the Angels, Kevin Youkilis and the Boston Red Sox are increasing their AL East lead. The Yanks were throttled 14-9 Satuday, while the Red Sox were beating up on the Royals, 15-9, increasing their breathing space to 2 games over New York and 5 1/2 over Tampa Bay. Youkilis, the steadiest Red Sox player all season, singled and mashed a pair of homers - solo and one-run variety - drove in four runs and scored four in the rout. Batting .296, Youkilis upped his home run total to 16 and his RBIs to 52. The Red Sox and Royals close out their four game series on Sunday. A win would give the Sox a 3-1 series edge. The Yankees play the Angels Sunday afternoon with LA seeking the 3-game sweep and at least a 1/2 game advantage over Texas in the AL West. National League Ryan Howard had a perfect night at the plate in Philly's 8-7 comeback win over the Pirates. After singling and walking twice each, Howard saved his big hit for last, trailing by three with one out and two on in the bottom of the ninth, homering to deep center to tie the game at 7-all. Four batters later, Paul Bako completed the Philly revival, knocking in Raul Ibanez from third with the game-winner. Howard finished 3-for-3 with 3 RBI and 2 runs. He has 22 homers, tying him for 4th in the league with teammate Ibanez and Milwaukee's Prince Fielder. His 66 RBI are third-best in the National League. It was home run #199 in Howard's short career. Philadelphia's 4th straight win boosted their NL East lead to 4 games ahead of Florida, 5 over the Braves and 6 1/2 over the injury-plagued Mets. NOTES: The Phillies have established some space between themselves and the rest of the NL East by finally winning some home games. Before starting their current 10-game homestand, the Phillies were a shabby 13-22 on their own turf. Since then, they've won 8 of their last 9 at home and will look for 9 of 10 Sunday against Pittsburgh, which would be a nice way to head into the All-Star break. The NL West continues to get more interesting by the day. The Giants sliced LA's lead to 6 games with a 2-1 win over the Padres Saturday while the Dodgers were being handled, 6-3, at Milwaukee. Speaking of the Brewers, they remain 2 behind St. Louis in the NL Central. They are followed by the Cubs, Astros and Reds, 3 1/2, 4 and 4 1/2 out, respectively. Alex Rodriguez launched two homers on Saturday, career numbers 569 and 570, which moved him past Rafael Palmeiro into 10th place all time. Next up on the chart for A-Rod are #9 Harmon Killebrew (573), #8 Mark McGwire (583) and #7 Frank Robinson (586).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sanchez Tosses No-Hitter for Giants; Lester Tames Royals on 4 Hits

Players of the Day for Friday, July 10, 2009 American League It wasn't a no-hitter, but Boston's Jon Lester turned in a stellar pitching performance in Boston's 1-0 win over Kansas City Friday night. Lester allowed four hits over 8 scoreless innings, walking 2 while striking out 8. It was the third straight win for Lester. Over his last four starts, he's allowed just 4 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings, boosting his record to 8-6. Lester is among the league leaders in strikeouts with 131. The win was critical, as it pushed the Red Sox back on top in the AL East, one game to the good over the Yankees, who had their 3-game win streak ended in a 10-6 loss at the LA Angels. National League On a staff filled out with the likes of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum, the thought of Jonathan Sanchez tossing the season's first no-hitter seemed to be somewhat of a stretch. But that's what happened on a nearly perfect night for baseball by the Bay, as the 6'2" lefty from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico came within an error of a perfect game. Sanchez (3-8) put down the first 22 San Diego batters in order, until third baseman Jose Uribe mishandled a grounder with one out in the eighth. It was the only Giants' miscue of the night. An inning later, Aaron Rowand saved the no-hitter with a leaping grab in center field. Sanchez didn't walk a batter, struck out 11, got an equal number on fly balls and the other 5 outs on grounders. He threw 110 pitches, 77 of which were strikes. While he was mowing down Padres, his teammates gave him plenty of support in the 8-0 win. Pedro Sandoval cranked out a 3-run homer in the 5th inning and leadoff hitter Rowand went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI. The win kept the Giants 7 games behind the NL West leading Dodgers, who were busy beating Milwaukee, 12-8, in 10 innings.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Shoppach Slams White Sox; Hermida Covers the Bases in Florida Win

Players of the Day for Thursday, July 9, 2009 American League By the end of the third inning, Cleveland had already put up 9 runs on the host Chicago White Sox. Trouble was, the Sox had scored 6 themselves as the two teams began emptying their bullpens early. The rest of the game wasn't nearly as exciting, as the Indians scored just once more and Chicago plated two, as Cleveland held on for the 10-8 win. The big blow for the Indians came in the second inning, out of the #9 spot, on this night occupied by catcher Kelly Shoppach, a sub-.200 hitter with just 6 homers on the year. When Shoppach came to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded in the second, he unleashed his 7th bomb of the season, clearing the bases with a grand slam. Shoppach came to the plate just an inning later with the bases full again, but was walked this time, earning him his 5 RBI of the night. National League Entering the top of the 6th inning, the visiting Florida Marlins found themselves trailing Arizona by a 7-0 score. With victory seemingly in hand, the Diamondbacks and their fans had to be shocked by the sudden turn of events as the Marlins went on to score 3 runs in the 6th, 1 in the 7th and 10 in the 8th inning for a resounding come-from-behind 14-7 victory. Right in the middle of the action was utility outfielder Jeremy Hermida, who served in both left and right fields during the game. In the 6th Hermida launched his 9th home run of the season, a solo shot which made the score 7-3, and in the 10-run 8th, he singled, scored, got up to the plate and singled home another run and scored again. Five at-bats, three hits, 2 RBI and 3 runs was Hermida's stat line for the night. He, and the rest of the upstart never-say-die Marlin teammates are why Florida trails Philadelphia by a mere 2 games in the NL East, and are beginning to look like the most balanced team in the division. NOTES: With the exception of the NL West, races in the divisions could not have been much closer. As of Thursday night, the Yankees had caught the Red Sox and are tied for the AL East lead. Detroit still leads the L Central, but by a mere 2 1/2 games. The slimmest of margins belongs to the Texas Rangers in the West, who are just 1/2 game ahead of the charging Los Angeles Angets. In the National League, Philly leads the Marlins and St. Louis leads Milwaukee by 2 games each. The West is still dominated by the Dodgers, who are 7 games to the good over San Francisco.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jones' 3 Homers Lift Rangers to 1st Place; Rodriguez Keeps Astros in the Hunt

Players of the Day for Wednesday, July 8, 2009 American League After being sighted knocking baseballs out of the park last week in Arlington, Andruw Jones was at it again, blasting three homers in the Rangers' lopsided 8-1 victory over the Angels. The win completed the second 2-1 series win over the Angels in a week and put the Rangers back on top of the AL West, one game clear of LA and 4 1/2 ahead of third-place Seattle. With recently-returned Josh Hamilton batting third, Jones was in the four spot and cranked out solo homers in the 3rd and 5th innings, after busting a two-run shot in the first. The recent power surge - 5 homers and 11 RBI in his last four games - has been a welcome surprise for Jones and the Rangers, making them a legitimate threat to carry off the division title. National League While the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs get most of the attention in the wide-open NL Central, dark horses Cincinnati and Houston - both 3 1/2 back - continue to play just well enough to stay in the race. On Wednesday, the Astros finished their three-game series with the Pirates with their second win, a 5-0 gem mastered on the arm of starter Wandy Rodriguez, who allowed five hits and a walk while fanning 11 for his first complete-game shutout of the season. Rodriguez (8-6) matched his season-high in Ks and improved his ERA to a highly respectable 2.96. He ranks 8th in the NL in both ERA and strikeouts (108). With Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt, the Astros have a formidable 1-2 punch in the pitching department. Add another solid arm and some timely hitting and we may see the Astros contending come September.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Scott Drives in 7 for O's; Zito Delivers for Giants

Players of the Day for Tuesday, July 7, 2009 American League After being shut out, 5-0, on Monday, the Orioles' hitters got back at Mariners with a 12-5 rout highlighted by Luke Scott's 3-hit, 7 RBI night at the dish. Scott got things started for the O's in the first inning, lashing a bases-loaded single up the middle to plate the first two runs of the game. In the 6th, with the game tied at three, Scott struck again, this time with a double that brought home two more runs. He later came home on Melvin Mora's single, to up the lead to 7-3. But Scott was hardly finished. In the 7th he cranked out his 17th home run of the season, a 3-run shot that put the game on ice and upped his seasonal RBI total to an even 50. The 3-for-4 effort upped his batting average to .305. With the Angels and Rangers so far splitting their series in Anaheim - and now in a flat-footed tie for first in the division - Seattle remains 3 1/2 off the pace. After finishing up with the O's Wednesday, they host a crucial four-game series with Texas beginning Thursday. As for the O's, they're in their usual spot, dead last in the AL East, 13 1/2 back. National League With all the attention focused on Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the Giants' rotation. It was just a few years back that Zito signed a lucrative deal with San Fran, but since jumping across the Bay from Oakland, Zito has compiled a record of 26-38 and an ERA close to 5.00. On Tuesday, however, there was hope that Zito (5-8) still had what made him such a hot property as he mowed down the Florida Marlins on 4 hits over 8 1/3 innings en route to a 3-0 Giants' win. Allowing just one walk while punching out 6 on strikes, Zito's stuff wasn't exactly electric, but good enough to have Bay area fans buzzing about the prospects of running down the LA Dodgers in the NL West. With a healthy Barry Zito and Lincecum continuing his outstanding season, the Giants could continue to cut into LA's 7-game edge. As it stands right now San Fran is already the leader in the wild card race, a full three games ahead of their closest competitor, Milwaukee. A couple of caveats for the Giants: Randy Johnson, who went on the 15-day DL Tuesday, might be gone longer. He is, after all, 45 years old, but a healthy Big Unit back in time for late August into September couldn't hurt. The other big if is how well Ryan Sadowski will continue to throw. He's 2-0 with an ERA of 0.00, but he's only been on the mound for 13 innings. If the Giants can stay in the hunt until Johnson's return, the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Washburn Nearly Perfect; Phillies Drub Reds, 22-1

Players of the Day for Monday, July 6, 2009 American League Jerrod Washburn threw a one-hit shutout against the Baltimore Orioles, the only hit coming off the bat of Nick Markakis with two out in the 4th inning. With the 5-0 win, the Mariners kept within striking range in the AL West, 3 1/2 games behind the Angels and 2 1/2 back of second place Texas. Washburn (5-6) didn't allow a walk and no batter made it past first base. He put down the first 11 in order, and the final 16 after Markakis' scratch single. Despite his record, Washburn still sports high quality stats, with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, is allowing opposing batters to hit at a .230 clip in 2008. National League The Phillies struck for 10 runs in the first inning en route to a 22-1 beating of the Reds, the worst defeat in Cincinnati's storied history. The first inning was a bona fide disaster, with three walks, a batter hit by pitch, one single, two doubles and three home runs. Most of the damage was done to Reds' starter Johnny Cueto, who allowed all the hits and walks except Chase Utley's three-run blast which completed the scoring for the inning. Philly wasn't nearly done, however, banging out 21 hits (10 for extra bases), including a Jayson Werth grand slam and five RBI, a single, double and two RBI by Phillie starter Cole Hamels, and four hits for part-timer Greg Dobbs. But the best plate performance went to Shane Victorino, who homered, singled and cracked a pair of doubles in 5 at-bats, scoring 5 times and driving in 4 runs. He wore out the dish as well as the Reds pitching staff. The win gave the Phillies some breathing room in the NL East, as the Marlins lost to San Francisco, 5-4, dropping them 2 games back. Despite the pounding, the game still counts as just one loss for the Reds, who fell to 5th place, 3 1/2 behind St. Louis in the tight NL Central.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jeter Leads Yanks to 10th Win in Last 11; Nolasco Slices Up Pirates

Players of the Day for Sunday, July 5, 2009 American League The Yankees, who trail Boston by just one game, are doing their part to make the AL East race an interesting one, winning 10 of their last 11 games including Sunday's 10-8 win over the Blue Jays - thier third straight over Toronto, with the series finale Monday night in NY. Leading the way for the Yanks, and making his first appearance in 2008 as player of the day, was team captain Derek Jeter, who went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and three singles, scored 3 times and drove in two. Also going 4-for-5 in the game was catcher Jorge Posada, who doubled in the final run of the game and also stroked three singles, scored twice and drove in three. Jeter is batting .316 with 10 home runs, 34 RBI, 52 runs and 17 steals in 19 attempts. He is headed for his 10th All-Star game next week and will be the starting shortstop as the leading vote-getter in the AL. National League Often the brunt of jokes among fantasy league enthusiasts, Marlins' starter Ricky Nolasco doesn't get much respect, but after Sunday's 8 innings of shutout ball over the Pirates and the resulting 5-0 win, some people may be taking a closer look down the stretch, especially if the Marlins stay in the hunt in the NL East. With last night's win, Florida trailed Philly by just one game, with the Braves and Mets both losing and falling 4 games behind. Nolasco made life easy for the Marlins, allowing 3 hits and 2 walks over his 8 dominant innings. He fanned a season-high 12 and got 9 more of his 24 outs on ground balls. At 6-6, with an ERA of 5.42, the Marlins' patience with Nolasco may be finally paying off. He's won each of his last four starts and has allowed just 3 earned runs over his last 28 innings. Fantasy managers in need of starting pitching should take note.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

McGehee Impacting Brewers; Andruw Jones Sighted

Players of the Day for Saturday, July 4, 2009 American League There have been reports of Andruw Jones sightings lately in Arlington and Saturday, the real thing appeared. Jones, who has, in recent years, bounced from the Braves to the Dodgers to the Rangers, was in the DH slot as Texas thumped Tampa Bay, 12-4, to stay tied for first in the AL West with the Angels. Jones got the Rangers going in the right direction with a three-run homer in the first (his 10th of the year) and added another RBI with a double in the 6th as the score got out of hand. Jones finished 2-for-5 with 4 RBI. He is batting .245 on the season with 27 RBI. After playing in just 78 games with LA last season and hitting just 3 home runs, Jones may be finding his power stroke. He's left the yard three times in the past seven games. National League Impact rookie? How about Milwaukee 3rd baseman Casey McGehee? As the Milwaukee Brewers were dismantling the Cubs, 11-2, McGehee was doing his best to take revenge on his former club, going 4-for-5 with 5 RBI and 3 runs. After three singles, McGehee capped off his night with his 6th home run of the season, a two-run job to left field which completed the Brewers' scoring. In 46 games, McGeHee has accumulated 43 hits, a .331 batting average, 6 homers and 26 RBI. What's even more important is his filling up open spaces at second and third bases, problem positions for Milwaukee this season. His ability to handle either position has produced more playing time for the rookie. NOTES: Milwaukee's win kept them tied with the Cards in the NL Central, still the tightest race in the majors, with all six division opponents within 6 games of the lead. In the NL West, the Giants have closed to within 6 1/2 games. Tim Lincecum just keeps blazing his way toward the Cy Young award. On Saturday, he stopped the Astros on 3 hits over 7 innings in a 9-0 Ginats' win. The NL East is also up for grabs. The Phillies continue to hang onto their slim margin, one game better than the Marlins. The Graves and Mets are ties, 3 games back. In the AL, the West looks like it will come down to the Angels and Rangers, who are currently tied for the lead. The Central is becoming a 3-team race, with Detroit 2 1/2 ahead of the White Sox and 3 better than the Twins. Boston's lead in the East is down to 1 game as the Yankees have won 9 of 10. The Rays have fallen 5 off the pace. Toronto is 7 back.