Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Central Stage: Span Puts Twins Back on Top; Pujols Pounds Pair as Cards Reclaim Lead

Players of the Day for Tuesday, June 29, 2010 American League Triples are pretty rare. Most players hit one or two a season, if any. Minnesota's Denard Span kept Detroit right fielder Magglio Ordonez busy by hitting three triples in one game, tying a modern major league record and leading the Twins back into possession of first place in the AL Central with an 11-4 win. Span added a single, going 4-for-4 with a walk, drove in five runs and scored twice. He tripled to lead off the bottom of the 1st and scored, singled and scored in the 3rd, tying the game at 3-3, then tripled in two runs in the 4th and smacked his third three-bagger with the bases-loaded in the 5th. By the time he was done, Span and the Twins had turned a 3-2 deficit into a 10-3 lead. To cap off the night, Jim Thome - who hit his first triple in seven years the night before - smacked his 572nd career home run, a 7th-inning solo shot, putting him one behind a Twins legend - Harmon Killebrew - for 10th place all-time. The Twins and Tigers have split the first two games of their series. First place in the division will be temporarily decided Wednesday, when the two teams meet in the rubber game. National League With Felipe Lopez on base (4-for-5, 3 runs) just about every time Albert Pujols stepped the the plate, Arizona hurlers had no choice but to pitch to him, and Mr. Pujols delivered in three out of four occasions, staking starter Adam Wainwright to a comfortable lead and an 8-0 Cardinal win. Pujols belted two homers, one in the 3rd inning and another in the 5th, both times with Lopez on board, and drove Lopez in again in the 6th with a slightly more pedestrian approach, doubling to left and later scoring on a wild pitch. Pujols went 3-for-5, with two homers (18), three runs and five RBI, giving him 57 on the year. Now third in the league in both home runs and RBI, Pujols led the Cards back into first place place in the NL Central, 1/2 game ahead of the Reds, with the rest of the division lagging far back. Milwaukee is 8 games off the pace; the Cubs are 9 back. Wainwright (11-5) went 6 1/3 innings, blanking the Diamondbacks on 5 hits, walking three and fanning seven. Hamilton Extends: Josh Hamilton singled n his second at-bat, extending his major league-best hitting streak to 22 games in Texas' 6-5 loss at LA. Despite the loss, the Rangers still maintain a 3 1/2 game lead on the Angels in the AL West.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Austin Jackson Leads Tigers Into First Place; Bourn Homers, Leads NL in Steals

Players of the Day for Monday, June 28, 2010 American League For the majority of the season, rookie Austin Jackson has been at the top of the Tiger lineup, and, from the looks of it, that's where he's going to stay. The fleet-footed center fielder is a leading candidate - along with teammate Brennan Boesch - for AL Rookie of the Year honors and there's a very good possibility that he'll be named an alternate to this year's All Star team (currently 12th among OFs, though three spots ahead of him are held by NY Yankees - Gardner, Granderson and Swisher - in an obvious vote-stuffing ploy by NY fans). Jackson's leadoff prowess was on display as the Tigers took the opener of a critical three-game series with the Minnesota Twins, 7-5, taking over first place in the Central division by 1/2 game. Jackson led off the game by being hit by a pitch from Twins' starter Francisco Liriano, and scored the first of a four-run, first inning barrage on Miguel Cabrera's double to the left center gap. He scored again in the 2nd inning when he singled, stole second, advanced to third on another single and scored on a fielder's choice. After striking out in the 4th, Jackson reached on a bunt single and scored what proved to be the winning run in the 7th inning. Jackson finished 2-for-4, with 3 runs and a stolen base. He's hitting a crisp .310, with 13 stolen bases and 44 runs, and his play in center field has been compared to Ken Griffey Jr.'s. Jackson's smooth gait and incredible speed make difficult plays appear routine. National League The Houston Astros have not been having a very good time of it this season, but occasionally a player will step up and do something special, like leadoff batter and center fielder Michael Bourn, who hit his first home run of the year in the Astros' 9-5 win over Milwaukee. Bourn homered to lead off the 3rd inning, though at the time the blast didn't seem to matter much, as the Brewers had already scored four times. The Astros added another run in the third, then scored 3 n the 6th and two runs in each of the 7th and 8th innings to complete the comeback. Bourn was on the basepaths seemingly all night, putting together a 4-for-6 effort, scoring twice, driving in a pair and stealing his league-leading 23rd base. Bourn led the NL in steals in '09 with 61 swipes. Streak Snapped: Jose Guillen's 21-game hitting streak - the longest in the majors this year, along with Josh Hamilton's current streak of the same length - came to an end in KC's 3-1 win over the White Sox Monday night. Guillen went 0-for-3. Hamilton will try to make it 22 straight when he and his Texas Rangers travel to play the LA Angels on Tuesday.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cano, Rivera Lead Yankee Comeback in LA; Tyler Colvin, Up-and-Coming Rookie?

Players of the Day for Sunday, June 27, 2010 American League Dodger manager Joe Torre has a very good team in LA. Playing against his old team, the NY Yankees, revealed what he doesn't have, by comparison. Where he has closer Jonathan Broxton, the Yankees still have Mariano Rivera (left). And Torre also has nobody to match up to this year's Yankee sensation, second baseman Robinson Cano (Torre normally starts either Ronnie Belliard or Blake Dewitt at second). These differences played a big part in New York's dramatic come-from-behind, 8-6, 10-inning win over the Dodgers Sunday night. With the Dodgers apparently cruising to an easy victory - leading by 4 runs at the end of eight innings - Torre called on Broxton to put the final nails in the Yankee coffin. The LA closer got Mark Teixeira on a called third strike, but the next batter, Alex Rodriguez, singled and moved to second on fielder's indifference. That's when Cano, hitless in his previous three at-bats, delivered a run-scoring double and opened the floodgates. Six more batters came to the plate before Broxton could extricate himself. The Yankees tallied four runs in the inning to tie the game at 6-all. After Mariano Rivera worked a perfect 9th inning of relief, it was Cano again, launching a homer to left with A-Rod aboard, to put he Yankees up 8-6, and, with Rivera still on the mound in the bottom of the 10th, it was game over, Rivera picking up his second win of the season. A win turned into a loss, or, from the Yankees' perspective, a loss that became a win. The Yanks kept their 2-game lead over Boston intact with the win, thanks to Cano, who is a shoo-in for his first All Star start. He currently leads Dustin Pedroia by about a million votes, and Pedroia just went on the DL, so pencil - no, pen - him in. Cano is having a spectacular season, with a league-leading .359 batting average, 15 homers and 53 RBI. As for Rivera, his excellence is evident, as usual. He's converted 17 of 18 save opportunities, allowed just 12 hits in 29 1/3 innings, with 6 walks and 29 strikeouts. Rivera's ERA is 0.92, with an 0.61 WHIP. Opposing batters are hitting just .122 against him this season. Might as well mark him down for his 11th All Star appearance. Hey, Joe, need a closer? How about a second baseman? National League The season slipping away, with one more chance to snatch a win from their cross-town rivals, the Cubs finally rose to the occasion, taking the last of their three-game series - and last interleague game of 2010 - over the White Sox, by an 8-6 score. Without Tyler Colvin atop the Cubs' lineup, the White Sox may have won their 12th straight game, but the rookie provided an offensive spark, starting the scoring with a three-run homer in the 3rd inning, and ending it with an RBI single in the 8th. In between, he singled and scored in the 5th inning, going 3-for-5 with two runs and four RBI. Colvin is having a nice year for the Cubs and certainly deserves more playing time, but with Alfonso Soriano in left, Marlon Byrd having a career year in center and Kosuke Fukudome entrenched in right field, there's no place to put the kid. In just 134 at-bats, Colvin is hitting .296 with 10 homers, 9 doubles, 27 RBI and 24 runs. By comparison, Fukudome - the player he'd likely replace - is batting .270 with 6 homers, 8 doubles, 24 RBI and 24 runs in 189 at-bats. Will manager Lou Piniella make the move? Tough call, though Fukudome, with just 27 homers in nearly 2 1/2 seasons, doesn't have Colvin's power, plus, his career batting average is a sub-par .260. Colvin appears to have great upside, and with the Cubs languishing 8 1/2 games behind the Central division-leading Reds - with the Cards and Brewers also ahead of them - it might be time for Sweet Lou to shake things up. Colvin batted leadoff in Sunday's game, whereas Fukudome was in the top spot in the order in the Cubs' two prior losses to the White Sox Sox, going 1-for-7 with no runs and no RBI. Keep an eye on the Cubs for a full-time change, even though Colvin, a left-hander, may be a bit of a liability in right field, though that shouldn't sway the argument against him. More Streaking: The White Sox loss to the Cubs ended their 11-game winning streak tying them with Texas for the longest in the majors this season. Meanwhile, both Texas' Josh Hamilton and KC's Jose Guillen extended their hitting streaks to 21 games. Hamilton blasted a long, three-run homer in the Rangers' 10-1 win over Houston for his only hit of the game. Guillen had two singles in the Royals' 10-3 win over St. Louis. They are the longest hitting streaks in the majors, creating some excitement as baseball nears mid-season.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Twins Blank Mets on Pavano 3-Hitter; Loney Delivers 4 RBI for Dodgers

Players of the Day for Saturday, June 26, 2010 American League With the Tigers and White Sox breathing down their backs, the Minnesota Twins could not allow their four-game losing streak to get any deeper, so a win against the Mets and their ace, Johan Santana, was a critical task for Saturday. Detroit was just 1/2 game back and the onrushing White Sox - winners of 10 straight - had drawn to within 1 1/2 games. Playing the Mets in New York wasn't exactly going to make matters any easier, as the Twins were 17-20 on the road. Minnesota's chances were quickly improved when the Twins busted out for four runs in the top of the first inning off Santana. After that, it was just a matter of starter Carl Pavano keeping the Mets' hitters in check, a task he performed with precision, blanking them. 6-0, for his first shutout of the season. It was Pavano's second straight complete game, and third this year. The Mets managed only three hits all day off Pavano, who has recorded wins in each of his last four starts. Throwing 75 of 110 pitches for strikes, he walked one and stuck out four, getting 12 more outs on ground balls and 7 on flies. Pavano improved to 9-6 and looms a solid choice for an All Star appearance. Better yet, the Tigers lost to the Braves, 4-3, though the White Sox extended their win streak to 11 - tying Texas for the longest in the majors this season - with a 3-2 win over the Cubs. Those results left Minnesota 1 1/2 ahead of both AL Central rivals. National League Considering all the attention usually focused around everything that happens in Los Angeles, the Dodgers haven't exactly been burning up the headlines lately. Part of the reason has to be the success of the teams to their South and North, the Padres and Giants, which currently control the top two spots in the NL West standings. The Padres lead San Fran by 3 1/2 games, and even though the Dodgers were just four games off the pace, their 9-4 win over the visiting NY Yankees on Saturday kept them in touch with the leaders. With much of the attention focused around Dodger manager Joe Torre coaching against his former team, center stage belonged to James Loney, who drove in four runs with a sac fly and a pair of well-timed singles, helping dispatch Yankee starter, A.J. Burnett, who pitched into the 4th inning but could not retire either of the first two batters he faced, as the Dodgers built an insurmountable 7-4 lead. Loney is quietly having what appears to be his best season since breaking in with the Dodgers in 2006. His two hits in four at-bats raised his batting average to .296 and he has 51 RBI, well on pace to better his total of 90, which he had in both 2008 and 2009. Though a big guy at 6'3", 220, Loney is not a power hitter. His five homers this season are about normal. His totals over the past three seasons were 15, 13 and 13. At the end of the day, the Dodgers were still in 3rd place in the division, 4 games back, with the Rockies another game behind them, though the Giants lost, improving San Diego's lead to 3 1/2 games.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Edwin Jackson Throws 149-Pitch No-Hitter; Peavy On Fire as ChiSox Win 10th Straight

Players of the Day for Friday, June 25, 2010 National League It being the year of the pitcher, just about anyone who steps to the mound seems capable of extraordinary feats, so when Edwin Jackson walked seven betters but didn't allow a hit over the first three innings, the stage was set. Jackson couldn't spot his fastball for strikes, but he was getting the slider over, and the pitch saved him. Working out of jams in each of the first three innings, including a bases-loaded, no out situation in the 3rd, Jackson seemed more likely to take an early shower than pitch the 4th no-hitter of the season. Inducing a pop fly and a couple of ground balls in the 3rd inning got Jackson though, with Ben Zobrist - who led off the inning with - what else? - a walk, forced out at the plate for the second out. After that, Jackson settled in. Including the final three outs of the 3rd, he set down 20 of the next 21 batters in order, his only miscue, the plunking of B.J. Upton in the 6th. Jackson cruised into the 9th, but there was more drama to come. After getting the first two outs, he walked Willy Aybar - his 8th walk of the game - before getting Jason Bartlett to ground out for the final out and the 1-0 win, the only run of the game coming on Adam laRoche's 2nd-inning solo homer. Jackson threw an amazing 149 pitches, with only 79 going for strikes. He fanned 6, got 8 on fly balls and 11 on ground outs. It was the second no-hitter this season against the Rays, who were victimized by the Dallas Braden's perfect game on May 9. The unusual no-hitter was an odd highlight for the hapless Diamondbacks, who are dead last in the NL West, 14 1/2 games out and 10 1/2 behind 4th place Colorado Rockies. American League A couple of weeks ago, nobody would have thought it possible, but the White Sox are back in the thick of the AL Central race after winning their 10th straight, a 6-0 win over the Cubs. Jake Peavy sparkled once again, allowing just three hits over seven shutout innings. Peavy walked two and struck out nine, matching his season high. Peavy led the National League in strikeouts in 2005 and 2007, when he was with the Padres. The win was the third straight for Peavy, now 7-5. He hasn't allowed an earned run in 20 straight innings, the last team to score on him being the Cubs, who touched him up for two runs back on June 11 in the second inning of a 10-5 White Sox win. Peavy shut them out for 5 more innings in that game, then tossed a 3-hit complete game shutout against Washington in his next start, June 19. While the White Sox have been screaming hot, the two teams ahead of them in the division standings, the Twins and Tigers, have been so-so. First-place Minnesota has lost four straight and lead the Tigers by just 1/2 game. Detroit has gone 6-4 to close the gap. The White Sox are just 1 1/2 behind the Twins, with teams getting back to normal after this weekend, when interleague play ends. The schedule has been favorable for the Sox and will continue to be so in the near future. They can tie Texas for the longest win streak in the majors with a win over the Cubs on Saturday. Texas' 11-game streak came to an abrupt end in a 7-4 loss to Houston Friday night. The Cubs and White Sox wrap up their series on Sunday, then the Sox close out the month of June with three straight at Kansas City while the Twins and Tigers knock heads in Minnesota. June has been turnaround month for the White Sox, with a 16-6 tally thus far. They have lost just once since June 9, winning 14 of their last 15.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pedroia Homers Three Times to Down Rockies; Gallardo Pitches Second Shutout

Players of the Day for Thursday, June 24, 2010 American League Emerging as the two best divisions in the majors, the AL East and the NL West are tough enough to have four teams each with records above the .500 mark. Two of them squared off in an interleague game Thursday with Boston looking to avoid being swept in Colorado, and they needed extra innings and a three-homer, 5-for-5 effort from Dustin Pedroia to get the job done. Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP, spent the better part of the night running the bases. In addition to his three round-trippers, he singled and doubled and scored four times. All of his five RBI came on his homers - a solo shot in the 4th and two-run blasts in the 8th and 10th, the last of which sealed the deal for a 13-11 Red Sox win. The Red Sox maintained their position, tied for 2nd place in the division with Tampa Bay, both two games behind the idle Yankees. The Rays downed the Padres, 5-3. With the Dodgers beating the Angels, Colorado dropped into 4th place in the NL West, 4 games behind division leader, San Diego. National League The Milwaukee Brewers have mostly struggled early on, but not starter Yovani Gallardo, who notched his second complete game and second shutout of the season with a 5-hit, 12-K, no walks performance over the Minnesota Twins. Gallardo took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but surrendered a single with one out in the frame. He also aided his own cause with a single and a double in four at-bats, scoring two runs. The 5-0 win capped a three-game sweep of the AL Central front-running Twins and was the 4th straight overall for the home-standing Brewers, who are tied with the Cubs, 8 games back of St. Louis in the NL Central. The victory was Gallardo's 7th against 3 losses, lowering his ERA to a solid 2.36 and the strikeouts giving him the NL lead with 115, two better than San Fran's Tim Lincecum. Streakers: The hottest team in the majors is the Texas Rangers, who won their 11th straight - the longest win streak in MLB this season - with a 6-5 win over the Pirates. The Rangers also have the hottest hitter in either league, Josh Hamilton, who, after taking Wednesday off, returned Thursday with 3 hits, extending his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. Not far behind the Rangers are the Chicgo White Sox, winners of nine in a row, the latest a 2-0 win over NL East leader, Atlanta. Gavin Floyd dueled with the Braves' Derek Lowe for seven innings and did not receive a decision, as Paul Konekero settled matters with a two-run homer in the 8th inning, his 18th of the season.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Young Leads Rangers to 10th Straight; Dickey 6-0 for Mets

Players of the Day for Wednesday, June 23, 2010 American League If the Rangers keep hitting the ball the way they have been, ten-game win streaks - like the one they're currently on - will become commonplace occurrences. Texas pounded a hopelessly-overmatched Pittsburgh team, 13-3, extending the longest winning streak in the majors to 10 games while maintaining a 3 1/2 game bulge over the Angels in the AL West. This game was over early as the Rangers scored all of their runs in the first four innings, led by Michael Young's exceptional 3-for-4 effort. Young, one of baseball's premier hitters, homered in his first-inning at bat, launching his 10th of the season, a two-run shot. He then singled and scored in the 3rd and doubled in a pair and scored again in the 4th inning. After that, he took a seat on the bench, his team comfortably ahead, his .315 batting average intact, along with his 49 RBI. Texas' 10 straight wins have all come against NL squads (Milwaukee, Florida, Houston, Pittsburgh), but they've been solid in both the hitting and pitching departments, outscoring their opponents 64-28 over that span. The Rangers look to extend their streak and complete their third straight series sweep Thursday night in Arlington. National League The Mets keep crowding Atlanta at the top of the NL East standings. Thanks to eight innings of shutout ball by R.A. Dickey, who improved his record to 6-0 in the Mets' 5-0 win over Detroit, Atlanta's lead is down to a scrawny 1/2 game. Dickey, who has only had seven starts this season, has been one of the Mets' most reliable hurlers. After losing his first start - May 19 - at Washington, Dickey has recorded a win in each start after that and is carrying a solid 2.33 ERA. Thursday's 8 innings were the deepest he's gone into a game, and the fur hits allowed the lowest total of his season. Dickey walked two batters and struck out four. He recorded 14 ground outs and retired just 5 batters on flies. The mets can claim first place in the division on Thursday with a win and an Atlanta loss. The Mets are looking for a three-game home sweep of the Tigers while the Braves try to avoid being swept by the White Sox in Chicago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Carlos Quentin Powers Sox to 7th Straight; Angel Pagan Lifts Mets

Players of the Day for Tuesday, June 22, 2010 American League Following a couple of rough months, the June version of the Chicago White Sox is beginning to look more and more like the contender everyone thought the team could be at the start of the season. Winning their 7th in a row with a 9-6 home win over the Braves, the Sox are 13-6 for June and have finally crossed the .500 mark, at 35-34, just 4 1/2 games behind the Central division-leading Twins, with the Tigers sitting in second place, 1 1/2 out. Chicago was 9-14 in April and 13-14 in May. One reason the Chisox have been getting their act together is the re-emergence of Carlos Quentin at the plate. Like the rest of the team, Quentin started out badly, with his batting average falling to a low of .154 nearing the end of April. Manager Ozzie Guillen never lost faith in the slugging outfielder, and his persistence has paid off. During Chicago's win streak, Quentin has hit safely in five of the last six, with 2 hits in four of those games and 7 RBI, including three on Tuesday night as he banged his 9th homer of the season with three aboard in the 4th inning after singling and scoring in the 2nd. Quentin is batting .391 (9-for-23) over his past six games. His homer put the White Sox up 9-3, chasing Atlanta starter, Tommy Hanson, who left after allowing 13 hits and all nine earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings. National League Atlanta stole the limelight in the NL East, emerging in May as the top team in the division, as the Phillies faltered. However, as the season cruises into the summer, the New York Mets are beginning to look like the team to beat, going 14-4 thus far in the month of June. Following a 7-2 road trip, the Mets opened a six-game home stand with a 14-6 rout of the Detroit Tigers and now trail the Braves by just a game and a half. Angel Pagan, who originally was used as a replacement for the oft-injured Carlos Beltran (right knee surgery, out until after the All-Star break) in center field, extended his hitting streak to ten straight, knocking out 4 hits in 6 at-bats, driving in 4 runs and scoring 3 times. Pagan singled twice, doubled and tripled. Pagan's solid defensive play and his plate explosion (.304, 41 runs, 35 RBI, 14 steals) will make Manager Charlie Manuel's decision a tough one when Beltran returns from the DL, though if both players perform well, one could easily end up in right field, with Jeff Francoeur taking a seat on the bench. Whatever the choices, Manuel has options so long as Pagan continues to produce.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Justin Upton, Yankee Killer; Brett Gardner Adds Depth for New York

Players of the Day for Monday, June 21, 2010 National League The first day of summer yielded only three games in the major leagues, all interleague variety, all won by National League teams, with both Players of the Day coming from the same game, Arizona's 10-4 triumph over the NY Yankees. The Diamondbacks jumped all over NY starter, A.J. Burnett, scoring five runs in the first inning and adding single scores in both the 2nd and 4th innings. Doing much of the damage was Justin Upton, who started the 9-hit barrage off Burnett with a 1st-inning solo homer, then singled and scored all the way from first base on Miguel Montero's double in the 2nd. His motor humming, Upton hit full speed in the 4th, when he walked, stole second and scored another D-Backs run. After bieng hit by a pitch and forced out at second in the 6th inning, Upton returned in the 8th, smacking a three-run homer, his 13th of the season. Just for the record, Upton went 3-for-3 with two homers, 4 RBI, 4 runs and a stolen base. American League Also having a perfect night at the plate for the Yankees, but without the same impact as Upton's was for Arizona, Brett Gardner dinged out four singles in his four at-bats, swiped his 23rd base of the season and scored twice in the losing effort. Gardner, who has become a fixture in the Yanks' lineup, playing mostly left field, continues to thrive at the plate, the 4-for-4 effort raising his batting average to .324, second-best among Yankee starters. Quietly piling up some impressive stats, Gardner is 10th in the AL in batting average, 5th in runs, and 4th in steals (Juan Pierre leads with 27 swipes). Recently demoted from second in the batting order to 9th (8th in interleague games), Gardner often finds himself batting with men on base - particularly Robinson Cano, who leads the league with a .365 average - or reaching base in front of the top of the order and Derek Jeter, all among the reasons the Yankees have seized temporary control of first place in the AL East, 1/2 game ahead of Tampa Bay and Boston.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Alex Rios, a Stats Star; Chipper Jones Certain to Reach Cooperstown

Players of the Day for Sunday, June 20, 2010 American League Two teams heading in opposite directions finished up their three-game interleague series on Sunday, as the White Sox invaded the nation's capital and swept the Nationals, finishing them off with a decisive 6-3 victory. Earning his 8th win against three losses was Freddie Garcia, looking every bit the part for comeback player of the year. Garcia went 3-4 in just nine starts for the Sox last season, but has regained much of the form that made him an All-Star in 2001 and 2002. While Garcia allowed three earned over six innings, Alex Rios was doing his best to earn some notice in the MVP conversation. Rios doubled and singled twice in five at-bats, scoring a pair of runs, driving in two and swiping his 20th base of the season. Rios' numbers from an all-around basis are phenomenal. He's batting a crisp .317, with 13 homers, 37 RBI, 42 runs and 20 steals. If he can get the RBI totals up a little, he may reach the rarified air at the .300-30-30-100-100 plateau, with a .300 batting average, 30 homers, 30 steals, 100 runs and 100 RBI. He is just about on pace to accomplish what could be one of the rarest statistical feats in baseball. The win for the Sox was their sixth straight, and it was Washington's sixth consecutive loss. Chicago is 5 1/2 behind Minnesota in the AL Central. The Tigers, who trumped the Nats three times earlier in the week, are just 1 1/2 behind the Twins. National League Rumors swirling around Chipper Jones' retirement won't go away, but the guy is a no-doubt first vote Hall of Famer no matter what he does, especially since he's contributing steadily to the resurgence of the Braves in 2010. On Sunday, the Braves increased their lead in the NL East to 2 1/2 games over the Mets with an 8-5 win at Kansas City, for a series sweep and their fifth consecutive win overall. Jones belted a pair of doubles, walked twice, scored twice, drove in three runs and stole a base. The man can still play, so retirement may or may not be in the cards at the end of this season. Besides, he's only 38, so there may be another year or two left in his body. Jones is close to a milestone, that being 1500 RBI. Jones is currently #53 on the list and has 1474, so he'll likely make that number by August, if not sooner. He would then be #51, and have dead aim at #50, the spot held by another familiar Hall of Famer, Mickey Mantle, who ended his career with 1509.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wainwright, Holliday Lead Cards; AL Pitchers Dominate NL, Colby Lewis Tops

Players of the Day for Saturday, June 19, 2010 American League Saturday was full of exceptional pitching performances by AL hurlers as they dominated their NL foes. In Chicago, Jered Weaver tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits, no walks, while fanning 11 in a 12-0 Angels' rout. Jake Peavy returned to the kind of form that earned him the 2007 NL Cy Young award, going the distance for the first time this season with his first shutout since 2005, a 1-0 nail-biter at Washington. Peavy allowed just three hits and walked two while striking out seven. Jesse Litsch bounced back from a horrid performance in his first start (2 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 7 runs in a 10-3 loss to Colorado), with a solid seven shutout innings in the Blue Jays' 3-0 win over Matt Cain and the Giants. Seattle's Felix Hernandez shut down the Reds, 5-1, allowing five hits and one walk in his complete game win, fanning 9 batters. But the best of the bunch was turned in by the Rangers' Colby Lewis, a journeyman starter who didn't have any major league playing time in all of 2008 or 2009, but has posted a 7-4 record in 14 starts this season. The 31-year-old Lewis pitched what was probably the best game of his career - which dates back to 2002 - with a complete game 5-1 win over the Houston Astros. Lewis didn't allow a walk, yielded only two hits, struck out nine, giving up the only run of the game in the bottom of the 7th, when Michael Bourne doubled, moved to third on a fly out, and scored on a wild pitch. Lewis needed only 102 pitches to go the distance, throwing 72 strikes. He induced 12 batters to ground out as the Rangers won their 7th straight and continue to lead the Angels (winners of 3 straight) by 2 1/2 games in the AL West. National League With all of the AL pitchers throwing peas at National Leaguers, a couple of Cardinals picked up the slack for the senior circuit. Adam Wainwright (left) improved to 10-4 with eight innings of stellar work, yielding just five hits and no earned runs in the Cardinals' 4-3 victory over Oakland. All but one of the St. Louis runs were provided by Matt Holliday (right), who doubled in a run in the 5th inning and smacked a two-run homer - his 8th of the year - in the 7th inning, providing the winning margin. St. Louis expanded their thin NL Central advantage over Cincinnati to 1 1/2 games with the win.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cliff Lee Brilliant for Mariners; Ryan Howard Has 13 Total Bases in Philly Win

Players of the Day for Friday, June 18, 2010 American League When Cliff Lee was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia last season, it was hailed as a solid move by the Phillies, but Lee didn't quite cut the muster against the Yankees in the World Series, so the Phillies went after Roy Halladay and Lee, a free agent, signed on with the Mariners. His first start didn't come until the last day of April, and though he pitched brilliantly (7 innings, 3 hits, 8Ks against the Rangers), he received no decision. Since then, he's been up-and-down, but lately, he's been mostly up. On Friday, he threw the second complete game in his last three outings, a nifty, 6-hit shutout against the visiting Reds, for a nail-biting, 1-0 win. Lee, demonstrating the kind of control which earned him the AL Cy Young award in 2008, didn't walk a batter while striking out seven, throwing 79 of 111 pitches for strikes. Improving his record to 5-3, Lee, an innings-muncher, has gone 7 innings or more in all but one of his starts. National League Most of the Philadelphia Phillies have been struggling at the plate, though one could make the case that Ryan Howard has continued to produce even while the players batting in front or behind him have faltered. The power outage began in on May 22nd, when the Phillies were blanked on one hit by Daisuke Matsuzaka. After that, they were swept by the Mets and the Braves, lost hold of first place and from the 22nd of May through the 15th of June went 6-15. But things may be turning around for the power-laded lineup. The team's won three straight, including Friday's 9-5 win over Minnesota. Chase Utley smacked his 11th home run and drove in four runs, and Howard, who has been going pretty well, doubled, tripled and knocked two balls out of the park in four at-bats, scoring 3 times and driving in an equal number of runs. Even though the Phillies have struggled, Howard's numbers are respectable: .293, 13 homers, 49 RBI. Considering there are only 15 players in the NL batting over .300, the average is solid, his 13 homers are just 4 off the pace set by Milwaukee's Cory Hart and just 2 behind Albert Pujols, and his RBI total is the 4th-best in the league. David Wright and Troy Glaus share the lead with 53, but there's a very good chance that the guys right behind them - Pujols, with 50. and Howard - will be battling for the RBI crown in September. The Phillies are 3 1/2 behind the Braves, with the Mets just 1/2 game behind Atlanta, but the Phillies endured a protracted slump and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, their regular leadoff hitter and shortstop, should be coming off the DL any day and his bat could be just the catalyst Philly needs.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Santiago 4-for-4 as Tigers Sweep Nats; Ubaldo Jimenez Beats Twins, Now 13-1

Players of the Day for Thursday, June 17, 2010 American League With the arrival of Stephen Strasburg in Washington, the Nationals felt like they had a legitimate chance to make some noise in the NL East. Interleague play and a trip to Detroit may have tempered their enthusiasm for a while. The Tigers took the measure of the Nats, winning all three games of their series, with none of the games even close. On Tuesday, they took the win by a 7-4 score, and then beat them Wednesday and Thursday by identical 8-3 tallies. The final game of the series wasn't decided by the Tigers' big bats, but by the guy least expected to inflict pain, shortstop Ramon Santiago, who went 4-for-4, plus a sac bunt, scored 3 times and drove in a run. Santiago was in the middle of most of the Tiger run-scoring innings. After being forced out at second following his 1st inning sac bunt, he singled in the 3rd, singled and scored in the 5th, delivered an RBI single and scored in the 6th, and singled and scored again in the 8th. Detroit produced 19 hits, with every starter except center fielder Don Kelly getting at least two knocks, but Santiago seemed to be on base the entire game. Generally a sub, Santiago has seen extended playing time this season. The 4 hits raised his batting average from .241 to .262. The Nats were not amused. National League Rockies fans would do well to save souvenirs from the 2010 campaign. While some players have fine seasons, what Ubaldo Jimenez is doing this year could turn out to be historic - in fact, it already is, as Jimenez tossed the first no-hitter in Rockies' history back on April 17, when he blanked the Braves, 4-0. Jimenez wasn't exactly unhittable in Colorado's 5-1 win at Minnesota Thursday, giving up 8 hits, but he managed to out-duel Twins' ace, Francisco Liriano, for 8 innings, picking up his 13th win against just one loss. Minnesota's only run came in the 8th, after the Rockies had already done all their offensive damage. Jimenez completed the inning by getting Joe Mauer on a line out double play. Manny Corpas came on to work a perfect 9th. Among major league pitchers, Jimenez stands statistically alone. His 13 wins are four better than any other starter in the NL, and only Tampa's David Price has earned double-digit wins, with 10. Jimenez leads the majors in ERA, at a sparkling 1.15. That goes along with his 1.00 WHIP. He's earned a decision in every start and has worked 101 1/3 innings, second only to the Phillies' Roy Halladay. Additionally, he has three complete games, two of them shutouts, and, of course, the one -no-hitter.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brennan Boesch, Roaring Rookie for Tigers; Huff Helps Giants Stay in NL West Race

Players of the Day for Wednesday, June 16, 2010 American League Minnesota still sits atop the AL Central division, but their lead has been dwindling as the Detroit Tigers have won five straight, including Wednesday's 8-3 win over Washington. Detroit will remain a serious contender in the division if their pitching can remain just better than average (4.12 ERA, 6th in the AL), because they have plenty of big bats in the lineup, especially since rookie Brennan Boesch has already exceeded all expectations and has become a mainstay in right field. Boesch added to his already-impressive resume with his 9th homer of the season, an 8th-inning, three-run moon shot which some people believe landed in Canada. Boesch also singled and scored in the second and drove in a run with a single in the third inning. The Tigers only had seven hits total, but Boesch had three himself. A leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, Boesch is hitting an impressive .343, with 9 homers and 34 RBI in just 160 at-bats. His OPS is a stunning 1.019, fifth among AL players with at least 160 at-bats. Ahead of his are some pretty good hitters: Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis and Robinson Cano. With the win, Detroit remains 2 1/2 behind the Twins, who also won, 2-1, on the strength of Scott Baker's solid 7 innings (2 hits, no earned runs, 12 Ks). The Twins' lead may be even smaller once interleague play ends and the Tigers head to Minnesota for a three-game set the 28th, 29th and 30th of June for a critical showdown. National League The NL West continues to be one of the strongest and most interesting divisions in baseball, with four teams having legitimate chances of winning the title. Currently led by the Dodgers, the Padres are just 1/2 game behind, the Giants, 1 game back and the Rockies, 5 out. San Francisco kept things interesting with a 6-3 win over Baltimore, while the Dodgers took first place by beating the Reds for the second straight game while the Padres were being beaten by Toronto. The Giants continue to stealthily stay in he race with one of the best pitching staffs in the league (3rd in ERA at 3.30, behind San Diego and St. Louis), and timely situational hitting by regulars such as Aubrey Huff. Huff accounted himself well in the win, getting a single, double and his 11th home run of the season, scoring three times and driving in a pair of runs in four at-bats. A veteran with plenty of soil beneath his cleats, Huff played six years with Tampa Bay, then wound his way through Houston, Baltimore and Detroit before ending up with the Giants, where he has proved versatile - playing left or right field and first base - and valuable, hitting .305 with 11 homers and 36 RBI.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aviles Keeps Hope Alive in KC; Manny Breaks Out

Players of the Day for Tuesday, June 15, 2010 American League Long-suffering fans in Kansas City actually have some things about which to cheer this season, as the Royals - serial cellar-dwellers - have managed to stay out of last place most of the season. At 28-37, there are actually three AL teams with worse records: Cleveland, Baltimore and Seattle. Of course, just not being in last place isn't the goal for the Royals. Maybe making it to .500 would be appropriate. They seem to be headed in the right direction, at least offensively, demonstrating their prowess at the plate Tuesday night with a 15-7 romp over Houston in front of a home crowd. The Royals banged out 20 hits, with every starter getting at least one base knock. Going 4-for-5 was second baseman/shortstop Mike Aviles, who's been on something of a tear lately, hitting safely in six of his last seven, raising his batting average to a lofty .321 on the year. Aviles didn't do anything resembling heroic, as all of his hits were singles, but he did get them at the right time, driving in four runs and coming around to score three times. The four ribbies upped his season total to ten, though that's really not the focus for the 5'10" Aviles. So long as he keeps swinging a hot bat, he may move up in the order, maybe even into the two-hole, to help keep hopes alive in Kansas City. National League In the only non-interleague game of the evening, the LA Dodgers - second in the NL West, 1/2 game behind the Padres - treated the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds with an overabundance of disrespect, knocking them off by a lopsided 12-0 score. While Hiroki Kuroda (6-4) and three relievers blanked the Reds, Dodger batters were knocking the ball all around the yard, racking up 19 hits against five different Reds' hurlers. Leadoff man, Rafael Furcal went 5-for-6; James Loney, 4-for-5, but Manny Ramirez singled twice and hit a two-run homer in four at-bats, drove in four runs and scored three times. Manny hasn't been making many headlines this season, as his homer was just his 6th of the year and he's only driven in 32 runs, but the batting average is up to .298, and the win kept the Dodgers 1/2 game back of the Padres, so maybe better things are in store for the second half of the season. The loss put the Reds back into a tie for first in the Central, as St. Louis simply will not go away. The two teams are deadlocked at 36-29, looking down on the rest of the division. The third-place Cubs are 7 1/2 games back.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grand Slam by Ryan Braun Leads Brewers; John Buck Impressive in Blue Jay Win

Players of the Day for June 14, 2010 American League Toronto continues to hang around in the AL East, easily baseball's strongest division. The top four teams - Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays - are all well over the .500 mark, with the Rays and Yanks at 40-23, the Red Sox four games back at 37-28 and the Jays six out at 35-30. Of the four, only the Blue Jays were in action on Monday, a travel day for most major league teams, and they got off to a flying start with a four-run second inning en route to a 6-3 win at San Diego. After catcher John Buck got the Blue Jays on the board with his 9th homer of the season - a two-run blast - Aaron Hill followed up with a double which plated two more. With starter Shaun Marcum keeping the Padres in check, the Blue Jays maintained their lead and added to it. Hill doubled in another run in the sixth and Buck mashed his second homer of the game, a solo shot which gave him 10 for the year. Having labored for six nondescript years in Kansas City, Buck arrived in Toronto for the start of 2010 and has been a welcome surprise, both behind the plate and beside it. His .266 batting average is currently 28 points better than his career mark and he is well on his way to shattering his personal bests in HR and RBI (18 and 50). National League Nine games behind the Reds in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers know they must pick up the pace in order to remain viable through the summer and into the fall. While much of Milwaukee's issues have stemmed from their pitching - notably the failure of future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman - the bats have gone hot and cold without much consistency through the lineup. One Brewer regular who's been a model of consistency, if not outright stardom, is Ryan Braun, who singled and belted a grand slam in four at-bats in Milwaukee's 12-2 road win over the Angels. Braun is batting an even .300 on the season, with 10 homers and 45 RBI, currently tying him for 7th place in the NL RBI standings. The win opened a six-game road trip for Milwaukee, with two more in LA before heading to Colorado for a weekend series.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ted Lilly Takes No-Hitter into 9th; Jorge Posada Slams Second Straight Game

Players of the Day for Sunday, June 13, 2010 American League By now, just about everyone knows not to pitch to Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded, but there are other dangerous batters in the Yankee lineup, like Jorge Posada, who hit his second grand slam in consecutive games on Sunday, helping the Yankees to a sweep of the Astros with a 9-5 win. With A-Rod out of the lineup temporarily due to tendonitis in his right hip, Posada has been filling the void over the past two games. On Saturday, Posada was in the DH role when he lifted his first slam, but on Sunday he was behind the plate, helping Phil Hughes earn his 9th win against just one loss. Most of the time this season, Francisco Cervelli has been the Yankee receiver, with Posada either delegated to DH or the bench. Posada's played in just 37 games, with 125 at-bats, well below his normal playing time. Posada was 1-for-3 in the game, but he walked twice, scoring once in the 4th inning as the Yankees built a 4-1 lead. Posada upped that to 8-1 with his grand slam in the 5th, pretty much ending any chance Houston had of getting a win. It was Posada's 8th homer of the season, and the win, coupled with Tampa's 6-1 loss to Florida, put the Rays and Yankees into a flatfooted tie atop the AL East. At 40-23, the two teams share the best records in the major leagues. National League The Cubs haven't had much to brag about this season; at 28-35, they're still 7 1/2 games behind the Reds in the NL Central, so they need to begin stepping it up in order to stay within striking range of Cincy and St. Louis (1 1/2 back of the Reds). Along the way, they're probably going to need more strong pitching performances like the one Ted Lilly put on Sunday night, blanking the crosstown White Sox by a 1-0 score. Lilly (2-5) took a no-hitter into the 9th inning, but was busted up by pinch-hitter Juan Pierre. Lily was pulled after that, giving way to Carlos Marmol, who barely kept the slim lead safe, issuing a walk to Andruw Jones and then balking the two baserunners over to second and third. After getting Aramis Ramirez on strikes and intentionally walking Alex Rios, Marmol induced a grounder from Paul Konerko for a force on Pierre at the plate and then got Carlos Quentin to fly out to end the game. The assembled fans at Wrigley Field were then allowed to breath again. Lilly issued one walk and struck out three during the proceedings, but also plunked a couple of batters, hitting A.J. Pierzynski in the 2nd inning and Gordon Beckham in the 5th. Lilly's poor record is not at all indicative of how well he's throwing the ball. In 10 starts, he's only allowed more than 3 runs twice, and over his last seven starts has allowed 12 runs in 51 1/3 innings (2.10 ERA), though Sunday's outing was just his first win since April 24. On the season, Lilly is carrying a very respectable 2.90 ERA and a WHIP at an even 1.00. If the Cubs can find a way to score some runs when he's on the mound, more wins will surely come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jeter Belts Two Homers in 9-3 Win; Gomes Leads Reds to Win with 6 RBI

Players of the Day for Saturday, June 12, 2010 American League Unaccustomed to being in second place, the NY Yankees have gone out of their way, attempting to catch the AL East-leading Rays, winning 10 of their last thirteen games, including Saturday's 9-3 win over the Houston Astros. Always expected to give 100% effort, Derek Jeter provided four RBI with a pair of homers, the first a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the 1st inning, than a three-run blast in the sixth, all but sealing the deal for the Bronx Bombers, who took their second straight from Houston. Jeter also walked leading off the 3rd inning, went to second on Nick Swisher's single, stole third base and eventually scored on Jorge Posada's grand slam. Batting .295 with 8 homers, 39 RBI and 42 runs, Jeter is well on his way to his 8th season with 200 hits. He has 79 in 61 games. The Yankees trail the Rays by a single game in the division. National League Jonny Gomes blasted a pair of three run homers as the Cincinnati Reds improved their lead in the NL Central to 1 1/2 games over the Cardinals with an 11-5 smack-down of the Royals. After Brandon Phillips' solo homer gave the Reds a 1-0 lead, Gomes hit the first of his two homers, putting Cincy up 4-0 after one inning, but the Royals responded with a 5-run 2nd and a 5-4 lead. Gomes settled affairs with his second three-run homer - his 8th of the season - in the 3rd inning, putting the Reds ahead for good. His six RBI were a career best. Gomes, a part-time player over most of his six years in the major leagues, is having a phenomenal season, batting .307 with 47 RBI, well on his way to topping his best run-producing year, 2006, when he drove in 59 for Tampa Bay. Gomes joined the Reds at the start of the 2009 season, playing in 98 games. This year, he's taken over left field duties full time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rios, Pierzynski Key White Sox Win; Sanchez Drives in 6 for Marlins

Players of the Day for Friday, June 11, 2010 American League Maybe playing against National Leaguers will wake up the White Sox. In their first of fifteen straight interleague games, the Sox showed some sock, as Alex Rios (left) and A.J. Pierzynski (right) led a 16-hit White Sox attack against their crosstown rivals, the Cubs. The pair accounted for half of all the team's hits. Rios singeld three times, smacked a two-run homer, stole a base and scored three times, going 4-for-4, raising his batting average to .322. Rios is having possibly the best all-around season of any major leaguer with 13 homers, 31 RBI, 42 runs, 19 stolen bases and a .967 OPS. Pierzynski had a pair of singles, a double, a solo home run and three RBI for the White Sox, who beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 10-5, for their third straight win. The Sox trail the Twins by 8 1/2 games in the AL Central, and are four games behind second-place Detroit. National League The Florida Marlins may be just 1/2 game out of last place in the NL East, but they're also only 4 1/2 games out of first. With the Phillies suffering from a severe power shortage over the past three weeks, the door to the post-season has been left wide open in the division. Currently led by the Braves, all five teams in the division have aims on the top slot. The last-place Nationals and Marlins are the only teams in the division sub-.500, though just barely. At 30-31, Florida won their second straight, putting on a power display against their in-state foes at Tampa Bay, pounding out a season-high 14 runs in their first of three at Tampa, 14-9. Driving in six of those 14 runs was rookie first baseman Gaby Sanchez, with two singles, two homers and a sac fly in five at-bats. Sanchez accounted for his 6th and 7th long balls of the season, a three-run poke in the 4th inning and a two-run bomb in the 7th. Sanchez is batting .282, with 7 homers and 28 RBI. Teammate Chris Coghlan, who batted in the leadoff spot, just ahead of Sanchez, went 4-for-4, with two singles and two doubles. He crossed the plate 4 times on the day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jon Niese Tosses 1-Hitter at Padres; Josh Hamilton Heating Up

Players of the Day for Thursday, June 10, 2010 American League With the Angels and A's breathing down their backs, the Texas Rangers can't afford any rest as the leaders in the AL West, so it's probably as good a time as ever for Josh Hamilton to heat up at the plate. Hamilton has hit safely in 19 of his last 21 games, raising his batting average from .268 to .307. He's currently on a 7-game hitting streak, in which he's hammered four homers and driven in 13 runs. In Thursday's 12-3 win over Seattle, the Rangers' outfielder got going early with his 13th home run of the year, a 2-run blast, in the opening inning. Hamilton singled and scored in the 6th as the Rangers put the finishing touches on their third straight rout of the Mariners (they beat them 12-2 on Wednesday and 7-1 on Tuesday). The Rangers hold a 1 1/2 game lead in the division over the Angels, with the A's lurking just another 1/2 game back. Texas embarks upon a 9-game road trip against NL teams on Friday, with three games each at Milwaukee, Florida and Houston. National League A leadoff double in the 3rd inning by Chris Denofria was the only hit the Padres could produce against Mets' starter Jon Niese, who picked up his third win of the season against two losses with an outstanding 1-hitter which moved the Mets into a tie for second place in the NL East with the Phillies, 2 1/2 games behind the Braves. It was the 10th start of the season for the rookie Niese, who had been scuffling along until Thursday's thriller. Even with that win under his belt, Niese is still carrying a 3.61 ERA and a WHIP of 1.43. Without surrendering a walk, Niese came close to pitching another perfect game, which seems to be all the rage in what many baseball analysts are calling the "year of the pitcher." The Mets got on the board early, with a run in the second and two more in the third off San Diego's Jon Garland, and that was all Niese needed, going the distance for his first career complete game and shutout for the 3-0 win. Tossing 76 of 108 pitches for strikes, Niese was in command throughout, retiring the first six batters he faced and the last 21 in order, fanning 6 in the process.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Masterson 2-Hits Red Sox; Cincy Takes Back First; Houston Out of NL Central Cellar

Players of the Day for Wednesday, June 9, 2010 American League On a day in which the Indians scored 11 runs, Tampa Bay, 10; Texas, 12; and the White Sox, 15, the best performance in the American League didn't go to anyone belting from the left or right side of the plate, but to 25-year-old Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, who tossed the first complete game shutout of his brief (3 seasons) career, knocking down the Boston batting order on two hits, walking two and striking out six in Cleveland's 11-0 victory. Masterson didn't allow a hit after J.D. Drew's one-out single in the 5th inning, giving up just the two walks after that and aided by a couple of Indian double plays. Hitting his spots consistently, Masterson threw 75 of 110 pitches for strikes, earning just his second win of the season, against five losses. Cleveland offered plenty of support, including Travis Hafner's grand slam in an 8-run 8th inning. It was the most the Indians have scored since outslugging the Yankees, 13-11 on May 29. The win snapped a three-game losing streak, though the Indians remain in last place, 12 1/2 off the pace in the AL Central. National League The Reds beat the Giants, 6-3, and took back first place in the NL Central when the Dodgers topped St. Louis, 4-3, later in the evening. Cincinnati got a big game out of leadoff hitter Orlando Cabrera (left), who had a single and doubled 3 times in 5 at-bats, scoring runs in the 1st, 3rd and 5th innings, the last of which gave the Reds the lead for good. Prior to Wednesday's win, Cabrera and the Reds had lost two straight to the Giants, and look to even the series in the finale Thursday afternoon. They lead St. Louis by one game in the division. Elsewhere in the division, the Houston Astros emerged from last place when Carlos Lee (right) whacked a 10th-inning grand slam to top the Rockies, 6-2. The blast was Lee's 9th homer of the season, and his 4th in his last 8 games, a span in which he has driven in 12 runs. The homer was his only hit of the game, extending his hitting streak to ten games. Lee's power surge is one of the reasons the Astros have won seven of their last nine and are now a 1/2 game better than the Pirates, who fell to Washington, 7-5, and into last place.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stephen Strasburg Magnificent in Majors Debut; Pena, Neimann Lead 1st-Place Rays

Players of the Day for Tuesday, June 8, 2010 American League With the Yankees and Red Sox right behind them, there will be no rest maintaining a lead in the AL East for the Tampa Bay Rays, so they have to get their best from both the pitching staff and their regular players. That's exactly what they got in Tuesday's 9-0 win over Toronto - also in the AL East mix - as starter Jeff Niemann (left) went the distance with a 2-hit shutout and Carlos Pena (right) broke out of his season-long slump just long enough to blast two homers - one a grand slam - and drive in five of the Rays' ten runs. Facing a Toronto team that leads the majors in home runs, Niemann was undaunted, tossing a no-hitter until Mike McCoy singled with one out in the 6th inning. Niemann gave up another single to Adam Lind, leading off the 7th, but finished strong, retiring the last nine batters in order. The win was his first complete game shutout of the season, a trick he turned twice in 2009. Neimann is 6-0, with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. At the plate, Carlos Pena did his damage with two swings of the bat. After belting a solo homer in the 4th inning, he finished off a 7-run Rays' 5th with a towering grand slam to right field. The homers were his 10th and 11th of the season, and, despite batting just .187, Pena's five RBI gave him 39 on the year. Tampa Bay's win kept them 2 games ahead of the Yankees and 4 up on Boston. Toronto dropped 5 1/2 off the pace, but will look to draw closer in the final two games of the series in Tampa. National League Having spent the first two months of the season laboring in the minor leagues, Stephen Strasburg has been the recipient of more press and hype than any rookie of recent vintage. In his first major league start, he lived up to all of it, turning in a stunning, dominating performance as the Washington Nationals downed the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2. The 6'4" righty from San Diego overmatched the Pirate batters with 100 MPH fastballs and wicked, unhittable curves. Strasburg gave up four hits and two earned runs over 7 complete innings, but he struck out 14 - including the last 7 he faced - without issuing a single walk. Lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 7th with the Nats holding a 4-2 lead, Strasburg wowed the sellout crowd in the nation's capitol. The Nats' bullpen, which has been among the best in the majors at closing out opponents, kept the lead safe as Ty Clippard gave up a lonely single in the 8th for his 13th hold and Matt Capps worked a perfect 9th for his major league-leading 19th save. Both runs came on Delwyn Young's 4th inning homer, giving Pittsburgh a temporary 2-1 lead. With Strasburg solidifying the rotation and Clippard and Capps providing stellar back-end relief, the Nationals may be a force with which to reckon as the season progresses. Still under .500 (28-31), the Nats trail NL East leader Atlanta by six games, but there's still plenty of baseball to be played. In the currently wide-open division, any team that can string together wins has a chance to stay close or establish a lead into September.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dodgers Blast Cards on DeWitt 5-RBI; Dice-K Not Nice to Indians

Players of the Day for Monday, June 7, 2010 American League With the Rays, Blue Jays and Yankees taking a day off, the Boston Red sox took advantage of the opportunity to tighen up the race in the AL East by topping the Cleveland Indians, 4-1, pulling into sole possession of third place, 4 games behind the Rays, but just 1/2 game ahead of Toronto. The Sox amassed only eight hits and four runs off a quartet of Cleveland hurlers, but it was more than enough, as Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in a solid performance, tossing eight scoreless innings at the Indians, allowing just 4 hits and a pair of harmless walks while fanning five. By the time Dice-K was done, all there was left to do was hand the ball over to Daniel Bard, who mopped up what remained of the Indians, but not before Austin Kearns spanked a solo homer in the 9th for the sole Cleveland run. Matsuzaka, who spent all of April on the disabled list, improved to 5-2, lowering his ERA to 4.59, though he's given up just six earned runs over his last four starts (3 wins, 1 loss), a span of 29 1/3 innings. National League While the San Diego Padres were taking care of Philly, 3-1, they may have been looking over their shoulders at the fast-charging Dodgers, winners of 7 of their last 9, who welcomed the St. Louis Cardinals to the West coast with a 12-4 demonstration of the art of hitting. Every position player in the lineup had at least one hit, as LA wrecked a pair of Cardinal hurlers for 14 hits, getting exactly 7 hits, 3 walks and 6 runs off both starter Blake Hawksworth and long reliever P.J. Walters, both of whom worked four innings. Going 2-for-5 with a three-run homer and five RBI was second baseman Blake DeWitt, who also drove in runs with a single and a sac fly. The home run was the first of the season for DeWitt, and the five RBI a career high. DeWitt has had two hits in each of his last three games. The win kept Los Angeles just 1/2 game behind the Padres, who have held first place in the NL West longer than anyone could have imagined at the start of the season.