This might be the most exciting week of the sports year for me. I love baseball’s opening day, the pageantry of Super Bowl week and the first week of the college and pro football seasons. Those are all up on the short list of great stretches on the calendar.
I love the first days of NFL training camps, the cracking of the pads and blaring of the whistles. The start of a new NFL campaign aligns with the mindless trade talk that overwhelms the baseball world, including hundreds of rumored deals overtaking the Twitter-verse.
As we approach Tuesday’s trade deadline, pitchers and hitters are performing their final auditions for would-be suitors. Some have come through admirably for fantasy owners. Others flopped on the big stage in front of scouts.
Let’s review the good, bad and ugly of the past week between the white lines.
Amidst myriad trade rumors involving his Arizona teammates, Diamondbacks outfielder Jason Kubel amped his power game against the Astros. Kubel homered in his first three at-bats and finished the game with six RBI in the Diamondbacks’ 12-3 victory. He went 3-for-4 the next night with another home run and added a solo shot, his 22nd of the season against the Rockies on Wednesday.
Kubel’s power surge came in support of Wade Miley, who earned his 11th win of the season with seven strong innings pitched. Miley allowed one earned run on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts, his fifth start in eight turns in which he allowed a single earned run. Miley allowed three runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Mets in a 3-1 loss on Thursday.
Yovani Gallardo’s recent run of dominance was halted in an abbreviated outing against the Reds. Gallardo surrendered four earned runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings pitched with a single strikeout. He did finish his second consecutive start (12 2/3 innings) without issuing a walk.
Baltimore DH Jim Thome homered for the second straight game and drove in two runs in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over Cleveland. The home run was his second as a member of the Orioles and 611th of his career (he sits alone in seventh place all-time). Thome has hit safely in eight of his past 10 games with three doubles, two home runs and four RBI.
Following a rare strong start against the Tigers, Ervin Santana failed to escape the second inning in a 9-2 loss to the Rangers. Santana allowed six earned runs on eight hits, including three home runs. The loss dropped Santana’s season record to 4-10 and raised his ERA to a nice, even 6.00. His next start was skipped, and his slot in the rotation is in jeopardy with the trade deadline looming.
Texas starter Yu Darvish was the beneficiary of great run support and made it hold up. Darvish limited the Angels to two earned runs on three hits and four walks in seven innings pitched. He struck out 11 batters, his fourth double-digit strikeout total in his past six starts. Darvish’s ERA (3.88) and WHIP (1.37) leave something to be desired, but fantasy owners will take the wins (11) and his high strikeout rate (10.24 per nine IP).
Comeback kid Ben Sheets stifled the Nationals, tossing six shutout innings while allowing five hits and three walks. Sheets struck out six batters to earn his second victory. He’s struck out 11 batters in 12 shutout innings pitched against seven hits and four walks.
Fans came to the ballpark anticipating a fantastic duel between Matt Cain and Cole Hamels. Alas, both pitchers offered sub-par performances, and each allowed five earned runs.
Some time ago, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman took a shot of cortisone to aid his ailing shoulder. Zimmerman’s bat has come alive since that moment, much to the delight of fantasy owners. The former first-round selection went 3-for-5 against the Braves with two home runs and three RBI. He’s hit safely in nine of his past 10 games (five multi-hit games) with four home runs and 11 RBI while raising his batting average 19 points.
St. Louis starter Lance Lynn pitched six shutout innings against the Cubs to earn his 12th win. Lynn allowed four hits and three walks with five strikeouts to produce his third consecutive quality start. During this three-game period, Lynn has allowed a single earned run in 19 innings pitched.
Former hot prospect Zach Britton defeated the Indians in his second start for the Orioles after toiling in the minor leagues for the early part of the season. Britton pitched six shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
The Twins have been a grand disappointment in 2012, but there have been a few fantasy gems mixed in along the way. Catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit went 3-for-4 against the Royals, including two home runs and four RBI as part of a 7-5 victory. He also homered in the Twins’ subsequent game against the White Sox. Doumit carries a .319 (22-for-69) July batting average into weekend play.
Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury hit his first home run of the season in his 16th game played. Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a solo home run in a 15-7 loss to Toronto. He’s contributed five multi-hit games in his past 10 starts with two doubles, the solo home run and a stolen base.
Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates produces a Dunn-sian batting average, and he also launches home runs like the White Sox slugger. Alvarez went 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI to fuel the 3-0 shutout of the Marlins. It was his fourth home run in six games and 21st of the season (58 RBI).
Johnny Cueto won his third straight start by pitching seven strong innings against the Brewers. Cueto allowed a single earned run on eight hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. He lowered his ERA to 2.23 with this effort, fueled by his huge strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.2 strikeouts per walk).
Dan Haren finally stopped a terrible run with a quality start against the Rangers. Haren allowed two earned runs on three hits and three walks over six innings pitched to earn his seventh victory of the season for the Angels. He had allowed four or more earned runs in each of his previous five starts. Haren starts Friday against the Rays.
Haren was supported by Albert Pujols, who launched his 18th home run of the season. He went 2-for-5 in this contest with a double and three RBI while raising his batting average to .280 (it dipped to .277 with a 0-for-3 effort on Tuesday). Pujols has batted .320 since June 1 with 15 doubles, 10 home runs and 33 RBI.
Newly-installed Milwaukee closer Francisco Rodriguez imploded against the Phillies. Rodriguez allowed four earned runs on three hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning pitched. He also failed in his next outing against the Phillies, allowing two earned runs on two hits and a walk.
Francisco Liriano’s charmed run ended with a terrible start against the White Sox. The Minnesota starter failed to complete the third inning against Chicago, surrendering seven earned runs on seven hits, including three home runs, and a walk. It was hardly the audition that the Twins had hoped for ahead of the trade deadline. Liriano next takes the hill Sunday against the Indians.
Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-4 in a 4-1 win over the Mariners, including a solo home run. It was Rodriguez’s 15th home run of the season (44 RBI), and a recent surge raised his season batting average to .274 (.276 following a 1-for-2 performance on Tuesday). Alas, Rodriguez left Tuesday’s game with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand, an injury that is expected to sideline the slugger 4-6 weeks.
Washington star Bryce Harper went 2-for-4, including his ninth home run of the season, with three RBI in the Nationals’ 8-2 win over the Mets. Harper’s home run was his first since June 28.
Florida starter Josh Johnson won for the first time in nearly one month. Johnson pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts. He’d been roughed up in his previous three starts, pitching to a 7.56 ERA with a bloated 2.10 WHIP. This audition was just what Johnson needed if the Marlins choose to continue their purge.
Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians hit his second home run in three games, contributing a 2-for-4 performance with two RBI in a 3-1 win against the Orioles. Following a slow start, Choo has raised his batting average to .297 with 32 doubles, 12 home runs, 39 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
Rafael Soriano of the Yankees has been one of the best waiver pickups of the 2012 season. Thrust into the closer role following Mariano Rivera’s season-ending injury, he’s been positively fantastic. Soriano pitched a perfect inning against the Mariners with one strikeout to earn his 25th save of the season. He returned to the hill on Wednesday and notched his 26th save.
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBI in Philadelphia’s 7-6 win over the Brewers. Howard’s home run was his fourth since returning to the lineup with nine RBI. He’s struck out in one-third of his at-bats.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Red Sox homered for the second time in three games, accounting for Boston’s only run in a 9-1 loss to Texas. Saltalamacchia has produced 14 doubles, 19 home runs and 45 RBI this season.
Doug Fister produced his third straight quality start in a losing effort against the Indians. Fister allowed three earned runs on nine hits with a walk and four strikeouts. In his past three starts, Fister has pitched to a 2.05 ERA with 22 strikeouts against three walks.
J.P. Arencibia homered for the third consecutive game, a solo blast, in a 7-2 loss to the A’s. Arencibia went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to five games. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old catcher sustained a broken right hand during Wednesday’s game against the A’s and will be sidelined indefinitely.
Alfonso Soriano doesn’t enthrall you in fantasyland like he did so long ago, but he still posts strong power numbers. Soriano went 2-for-4, including a home run and two RBI, as part of a 5-1 win over the Pirates. He’s batting .274, the equivalent of his career batting average, with 58 RBI.
R. A. Dickey lost for the first time since April 18 as the Mets fell to the Nationals by a score of 5-2. Dickey allowed five runs, four earned, on eight hits and a walk in six innings. He did strike out seven batters, his 12th start with at least seven strikeouts this season. After setting the baseball world on fire in the first half, Dickey has pitched to a bloated 6.49 July ERA.
One of the big trade chips on the market, Zack Greinke, was impressive in his last turn against the Phillies. Greinke allowed one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts. He even homered. If he’s not dealt prior to the start, Greinke next takes the mound against the Nationals on Sunday.
Minnesota slugger Josh Willingham went 2-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI in the Twins’ 11-4 loss to the White Sox. Willingham has already hit 25 home runs with 22 doubles and 72 RBI in 94 games. It’s a fantastic follow up to his monster 2011 season in Oakland (29 home runs and 98 RBI).
Clay Buchholz produced his second straight quality start for the Red Sox against the Rangers. Buchholz allowed one earned run on four hits and three walks in seven innings. He completed this fantastic start with just one strikeout. Buchholz has allowed two earned runs in 15 innings during his past two starts. He’s pitched to a 2.47 ERA in his past eight starts.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was hammered by the Cardinals for eight earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. Kershaw struck out four batters in the 8-2 defeat. It was his second straight rough road start.
It’s time for my requisite nod to White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. Dunn went 3-for-5, including his 30th home run of the season, in Chicago’s 11-4 win over the Twins. I’d written before the season that the White Sox and fantasy owners would be happy with Dunn if he finished the season with a 5.5-to-1 strikeout-to-home run ratio. He’s currently ahead of that pace, hitting one home run per 4.9 strikeouts (147).
Ryan Dempster lost his second straight start amid frequent discussions about a possible trade. Dempster allowed three earned runs on five hits (two home runs) with six strikeouts in six innings. He’s allowed seven earned runs on 12 hits and two walks in 12 innings during these defeats, both on the road.
A.J. Griffin tamed the potent Blue Jays offense to earn his third consecutive win. Griffin pitched six scoreless innings to earn the win, limiting Toronto to three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. The 24-year-old righty owns a 2.25 ERA following his first six starts, a string of games that included starts against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers.
Across the Bay, Tim Lincecum’s horrid 2012 season continued with a rough start against the Padres. Lincecum failed to complete the fifth inning, allowing five earned runs on seven hits, including two home runs, and three walks. He did strike out eight batters, but that’s little consolation to frustrated fantasy owners and Giants fans.
Coco Crisp homered twice in support of Griffin during a 3-for-6 performance. He extended his hitting streak to seven games with this effort.
* Crisp brings an eight-game streak into the weekend following his 1-for-3 performance against the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Ned Colletti addressed his struggling batting order by acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins. Ramirez went 2-for-4 with a triple and one RBI in his Los Angeles debut. Will Colletti be able to add another bat or a big arm ahead of the deadline?
Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks finally raised his batting average over .200 with a 4-for-4 performance against the Phillies. Weeks hit his tenth home run of the season and stole his seventh base.
Wilin Rosario went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, his 16th of the season, in a rare Colorado win. Rosario owns a .250 batting average with 27 extra-base hits and 40 RBI.
Miami shortstop Jose Reyes went 1-for-3 with a double to extend his hitting streak to 13 games in a 7-1 loss to the Braves. Reyes has homered three times during the hitting streak with four RBI, three stolen bases and seven runs scored.
Billy Butler went 2-for-4, including a home run and three RBI, in the Royals’ 11-6 loss to the Angels in the series finale. Butler has recorded four multi-hit games in his past six starts to raise his batting average to .299. He’s hit 20 home runs with 16 doubles and 62 RBI this season. Start lobbying for his inclusion in the home run contest next year.
Jose Altuve produced his fourth multi-hit game in five starts with a 3-for-4 performance and a stolen base in the 5-3 loss to the Reds. Altuve owns a fantastic .296 batting average with 17 stolen bases this season.
James Shields’ name can be heard in the trade whispers as the deadline approaches. Shields posted a disappointing outing against the Orioles, allowing five earned runs on six hits and five walks over six innings. On a positive note, Shields did strike out 10 batters.
Chris Davis went 2-for-4, including a home run and four RBI, in the Orioles’ 6-2 win over the Rays. Davis’ home run was his 16th of the season. He’s struck out 97 times in 310 at-bats (one per 3.2 at-bats), but he’s produced 30 extra-base hits and 47 RBI.
St. Louis pounded out 18 hits in the series finale against Chris Capuano and the Dodgers. Matt Holliday hit his 17th home run of the season.
We all wondered aloud in spring training whether Cleveland closer Chris Perez would be able to hold down the job. On Thursday, Perez notched his 29th save with a scoreless inning against the Tigers. He’s blown just two save opportunities this season and has dramatically improved his strikeout rate.
Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett won his second straight start and 12th of the season against the Astros. Burnett allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts. The 35-year-old righty has won eight of his past 10 starts.
Rookie Starling Marte homered on the first pitch he saw in his major league debut. He finished with two hits in four at-bats and was caught stealing.
I wrote about Matt Harvey several weeks ago and advised of making a preemptive acquisition in preparation of his debut. Harvey didn’t disappoint in his debut against the Diamondbacks, tossing 5 1/3 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts against three hits and three walks. Check your waiver wire.