You got slapped out of your post-Olympics hangover in a hurry this week.
It’s only appropriate that I write of a dominant effort by “The King,” Felix Hernandez, on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Hernandez’s perfect game against the Rays served as a reminder of the beauty of the game. The mid-week gem stood in stark contrast to the news that Melky Cabrera’s regular season had come to an end because of a positive test for a banned substance.
This pivotal week in the pennant push brought its share of good, bad and downright ugly moments for fans and fantasy owners. Let’s put a spotlight on some of the highlights (lowlights if you wish to dwell on the negative).
Matt Cain won for the first time in nearly a month in a 9-3 victory over the Rockies. Cain allowed two earned runs on seven hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings pitched with six strikeouts. Following a dominant first half of the season (9-3 with a 2.62 ERA), Cain has pitched to a pedestrian 4.12 ERA in six second-half starts.
Billy Butler homered for the fourth time in six games as part of the Royals’ 7-3 win over the Orioles. Butler has established a new career mark with 24 home runs this season with 75 RBI and a .302 batting average.
Freddie Freeman went 2-for-4 with a double, home run and five RBI against the Mets. He hit his 15th home run of the season the following night. Freeman has quietly amassed 43 extra-base hits and 76 RBI this season.
Jason Marquis pitched a two-hit shutout against the Pirates. Marquis allowed two hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He’s pitched to a 3.66 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings for the Padres this season.
Vernon Wells made a start for the Angels and produced a big night in support of Dan Haren. Wells went 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBI. He would produce three more RBI in his next two starts, which have been a rare commodity for the high-priced outfielder.
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook earned his fifth straight win by pitching 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Eagles. Westbrook has pitched to a 2.94 ERA during this period with 20 strikeouts against nine walks.
Yovani Gallardo won his third straight start in a 5-3 victory over the Astros. He allowed three earned runs on nine hits and two walks in 7 2/3 innings pitched with eight strikeouts. Gallardo has pitched to a 2.07 ERA in this three-game stretch, a period that included two starts against Houston. That’ll get your ERA back in order.
Carl Crawford went 3-for-4 with three doubles and three RBI in Boston’s 14-1 drubbing of the Indians. Crawford has produced three multi-hit games in his past four starts to raise his batting average to .288 and stole his fourth base.
Johnny Cueto shut down the Cubs over eight innings, allowing just three hits and two walks in the Reds’ 3-0 victory. Cueto struck out three batters en route to his 15th win of the season. He lowered his ERA to 2.45 in the season with a fantastic 3.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The White Sox handled Chris Sale carefully, affording him additional off days following two rough outings coming out of the All-Star break. On Sunday, Sale earned his 14th win of the year against the A’s. The 23-year-old lefty allowed two earned runs, both solo home runs, on six hits in 6 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts. Sale has allowed four earned runs in 14 2/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and zero walks after getting the extra rest.
Twenty-year-old infielder Manny Machado homered for the third time since his call-up as part of the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Royals. Machado entered Friday’s play with a .308 batting average (8-for-26) with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and seven RBI.
Ryan Dempster suffered through his second dismal start since joining the Rangers. The Yankees formed a veritable conga line around the bases. Dempster allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and two walks in six innings pitched. It was his second eight-run effort in three starts, thus elevating his Texas ERA to 8.31. His total of 16 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings pitched offers little solace.
Rickie Weeks is finally healthy and hitting for the Brewers. Weeks went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in the Brewers’ 9-6 loss to Colorado. Since August 1, Weeks has batted .327 with six doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. Take a look-see on the wire. His .199 first-half batting average tested owners’ patience.
Stephen Strasburg is receiving all of the headlines as the countdown to “Operation Shutdown” clicks toward zero. Fellow Washington starter Gio Gonzalez quietly earned his 15th victory in a 14-2 blowout win over the Giants. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings pitched. He’s pitched to a mediocre 4.11 ERA in seven second-half starts.
The Phillies are floundering miserably, but mega-millionaire Cole Hamels continues to pitch brilliantly. Hamels pitched his second consecutive shutout, scattering seven hits and a walk against five strikeouts. He’s lowered his season ERA to 2.91 with 3.85 strikeouts per walk issued.
Curtis Granderson of the Yankees went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts to extend his recent funk. Granderson has produced a single hit in his past 21 at-bats with nine strikeouts. He may be batting .235, but Granderson has already his 30 home runs with 68 RBI. Alas, he’s stolen only eight bases this year.
I mentioned Ryan Dempster’s struggles in Texas earlier. Anibal Sanchez hasn’t fared much better in Detroit. Sanchez allowed five earned runs on 12 hits and a walk in 5 1/3 innings pitched against the Twins. He’s allowed five or more earned runs in three of his four starts for the Tigers, producing a dismal 7.97 ERA with an equally grim 2.11 WHIP.
Albert Pujols homered for the second straight game, his 26th of the season, in the Angels’ 9-6 win over the Indians. Since May 1, Pujols has hit 26 home runs with 78 RBI. Remember, he failed to hit a single home run in the month of April after joining the Angels.
Pujols’ home run came in support of Zack Greinke, who earned a victory in his fourth start with the Angels. Greinke allowed four earned runs on eight hits in seven innings against the Indians. He’s pitched to a terrible 5.54 ERA with an awful 1.54 WHIP since joining the Angels.
The Astros scored 10 runs against the Cubs. That’s newsworthy in itself. Former fantasy prospect Brett Wallace went 1-for-5 with a three-run home run, his fifth of the season.
Jeremy Guthrie won his second straight start for the Royals. He pitched seven shutout innings against the A’s, scattering three hits and two walks with eight strikeouts. It was a fantastic follow-up to his eight shutout innings pitched against the White Sox in his previous outing.
Minnesota slugger Josh Willingham went 1-for-4 with a three-run home run, his 30th of the season, in an 8-4 loss to the Tigers. Willingham’s home run established a new career mark, besting his previous career mark set last year. He’s already driven in 88 runs as well.
Tim Hudson pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against the weak San Diego offense to earn his 12th win of the season. He allowed two hits and a walk with four strikeouts before departing. Hudson needs seven wins to reach 200 for his career. He’s one win behind Roy Halladay, David Cone and Dwight Gooden on the all-time list.
Chad Billingley earned his fifth consecutive win by tossing eight shutout innings against the Pirates. Billingsley allowed five hits and a walk with five strikeouts. He’s lowered his season ERA by over one-half of a run during this winning streak.
What else needs to be said? Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game with 12 strikeouts. He earned his 11th win of the season in this 1-0 decision and lowered his season ERA to 2.60 with 3.95 strikeouts per walk issued. Can I make the case for another Cy Young Award?
Forget the straight innings count. I renew my objection to the lazy count of Stephen Strasburg’s innings. How many pitches is he making and how many jams does he battle through in his six innings pitched? Strasburg needed 100 pitches to get through six innings to record his 14th win of the season against the Giants. He allowed two earned runs on four hits and four walks with seven strikeouts.
It’s now time to take pause and offer my weekly tribute to White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. Dunn hit his major league-leading 34th home run as part of Chicago’s 9-5 win over the Blue Jays. He’s driven in 81 runs this season with one home run per five strikeouts.
Dan Uggla homered for the second straight game and third time in six games. He’s batting just .198 in the second half, though Uggla’s hit 15 home runs with 62 RBI overall.
In the middle of last week, fans and pundits were pondering Josh Hamilton’s second-half swoon. Hamilton turned things around quickly, including his two-home run performance against the Yankees. He homered five times with two doubles in a nine-game period with 11 RBI. Hamilton batted .438 (14-for-32) during this period.
Clayton Kershaw earned his fourth consecutive win and 11th of the season against the Pirates. He allowed three earned runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in his eight innings pitched. Kershaw has pitched to a 1.78 ERA during this winning streak with 29 strikeouts against four walks.
I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge Melky Cabrera’s positive test for testosterone. Cabrera was a leading NFL MVP contender with his .346 batting average, 11 home runs, 60 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
Chipper Jones’ fans celebrated Thursday’s home date against the Padres by collecting a bobblehead of the future Hall of Famer. Jones gave them a bonus with two home runs and three RBI to back Kris Medlen, who pitched a five-hit shutout. He’s hit safely in eight of his past 10 games with eight RBI.
Reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun homered twice off of Cliff Lee to lead the Brewers to a 7-4 victory in Milwaukee. Braun had homered only once in his previous 17 games. He finally surpassed the 30-home run mark and helped to extend Lee’s rough 2012 season. Braun will factor into the MVP race this season with his .302 batting average, 31 home runs, 79 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
Lee allowed four earned runs, three earned, in 7 2/3 innings with 12 strikeouts. The 33-year-old lefty has pitched to a 3.55 ERA in seven second half starts, but the Phillies have offered zero run support.
Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit his 18th home run of the season, a solo shot, in support of Trevor Cahill. Goldschmidt has quietly posted a fantastic season in the desert, posting 63 RBI, 11 stolen bases and a .298 batting average. The Diamondbacks have quietly moved within five games of the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West.
Dan Haren failed to escape the fourth inning in his home outing against the Rays. The Tampa Bay bats rebounded nicely from the Felix Hernandez shutdown, launching seven hits, including two home runs, off of Haren. Haren allowed five earned runs, his second straight disaster following a nice three-start run in which he’d appeared to turn the corner. Haren’s ERA sits at a lofty 4.90 after this game.
Following a disastrous first half, Baltimore slugger Mark Reynolds has started to find his stroke. Reynolds hit his 12th home run of the season, though the Orioles fell to Clay Buccholz (11-3) and the Red Sox by a 6-3 score. Reynolds has hit safely in seven of his past eight games with four doubles, four home runs and 10 RBI.
Pedro Alvarez committed his 20th error of the season and A.J. Burnett survived six earned runs to log his 15th win. The true story in Thursday’s win over the Dodgers was Garrett Jones, who launched two home runs and drove in six runs to vanquish Joe Blanton. Jones owns a .283 batting average with 64 RBI.
Finally, I would like to extend my condolences to the family of the man who suffered a fatal heart attack while watching the White Sox and Blue Jays in Toronto on Thursday. The man received medical support at the stadium, but later died at the hospital.