New Toy:Cliff Lee throws nine innings in back-to-back games in his first two starts as a Ranger, but gets just three runs of support as the team loses both games; the first of those losses comes amid a four-game pre-break sweep by the Orioles. Lee finally gets a win in his third start, but like a girlyman needs his bullpen to get a couple of outs. More importantly, the Rangers snap out of their pre-break funk by winning six of eight since. Claiming two of those wins is Tommy Hunter, who’s 7-0 with a 2.09 ERA despite whiffing 5.0 per nine thanks to an unsustainably low .246 BABIP. Enjoy it while it lasts…
Rotation Capitulation: Losers of 10 out of 14 games and three out of four series, the Sox fall further from first place than any time since late May. Their rotation puts up a 5.49 ERA (and a 6.29 RA) in that span with four disasterpieces, two by Tim Wakefield, who’s been rocked for a 9.88 ERA over his three starts within that span, one by John Lackey, and one by Clay Buchholz in his return from the disabled list. The latter allows two homers in four innings after yielding just one in his previous 56 2/3, but despite the pounding, his 2.81 ERA is still tied with Jon Lester as the rotation’s best; that duo are the only Sox starters with Support-Neutral Winning Percentages above .500.
Heating Up the Hot Corner: Despite cooling off after a 21-4 run leading up to the All-Star break, the Sox widen their AL Central lead. Amazingly enough, one key catalyst for the team’s strong play appears to be Omar Vizquel. Since taking over third base when Mark Teahen went to the disabled list on June 1, Vizquel’s hit .301/.367/.381, and the team is 24-10. He’s made some highlight-reel plays at the hot corner, though his -5 FRAA (and negative UZR and Plus/Minus) all suggest he’s got a ways to go before supplanting Brooks Robinson in the annals. While the Sox are getting by at third, as the deadline approaches, they certainly need upgrades for Replacement-Level KillerJuan Pierre (.240 TAv) and his accomplice, DH Mark Kotsay (.237).
Twin Stoppers:Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano stop the streaking White Sox in their tracks to climb back into second in the AL Central race; both remain among the league’s top 15 in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage, and the latter follows up with a shutout of the Orioles in his next turn. Alas, not all is well in the Twins’ rotation, as Nick Blackburn is sent to the bullpen after being tagged for a 9.88 ERA, 2.4 HR/9, and five disaster starts in his last nine outings; somebody must have broken the mold from which his 2008 and 2009 campaigns were cast. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau remains sidelined due to a concussion, triggering a lineup shuffle that results in waaaay too muchNick Punto, who’s 7-for-38 this month and so bad in general that you’d expect the Twins to petition the league to allow him to hit off a tee.
The Two Escobars? Amid an 8-4 stretch-their best since early May-the Jays add a clear win in the trade department. They swapAlex Gonzalez to the Braves for Yunel Escobar, whose clashes with Bobby Cox and slow start this year (.238/.334/.284) apparently trump the .301/.375/.426 he hit from 2007-2009. The deal pays near-immediate dividends, as Escobar hits a grand slam in his third game as a Jay to cap a sweep of the Orioles, then follows up with a homer the next day-his first two blasts of the year.
He’s Kouzman-onKevin Kouzmanoff‘s 10th-inning walkoff single caps a comeback from a 4-0 deficit to help the A’s take a series from the Red Sox. It’s the second of three straight series wins for the A’s, who climb back over .500 for the first time since June 11. It’s also a big week for Kouzmanoff, who racks up four straight multi-RBI games, driving in seven runs in a three-game sweep of the Royals plus a pair against Boston. Even so, he’s hitting just .270/.304/.398 and has just one walk in his past 13 games-the type of performance it’s difficult to imagine Billy Beane stomaching, if he were paying attention.
Nap Time:Mike Napoli homers in three straight games (and four out of five for the week) to help the Angels escape their 2-8 slide into the All-Star break. The first two shots come against the Mariners, the third amid a three-hit, four-RBI effort in a rout of the Yankees. Napoli’s hitting .284/.346/.568 since June 16, the point at which he assumed the bulk of the team’s first base duties. His 18 homers are just two off his career high, but his walk rate (6.9 percent) and K/UBB ratio (4.1) are by far career worsts.
Zack Is Back: A 2-8 bellyflop knocks the Royals under .500 during the Ned Yost Era, not that many expected them to avoid that fate for this long. Even so, Zack Greinke‘s fortunes appear to be improving. He notches his fifth win and sixth quality start (assuming you ignore unearned runs) in a seven-start span, putting up a 2.89 ERA and 47/8 K/BB ratio in 53 innings along the way. Better still, he’s gone 40 innings without a homer. Meanwhile, the team swaps Alberto Callaspo to the Royals, presumably because Dayton Moore is really, really sure that Wilson Betemit can sustain his .377/.449/.672 showing.
Jhonny and… Jean-ny? The Tribe wreak havoc in the AL Central race, reeling off a six-game winning streak against the Tigers and Twins. The highlight of the streak may be Jhony Peralta’s unique inside-the-park home run which backs seven strong innings by Jeanmar Gomez against Detroit in his major league debut. Though the 22-year-old Venezuelan was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, Gomez certainly doesn’t look like much more than the destitute man’s Fausto Carmona on paper; he’s got a 5.70 ERA and just 3.7 K/9 at Triple-A this year. As for the real Carmona, he’s been reasonably effective this year, with a .517 SNWP and a 3.65 ERA despite mediocre peripherals; his 4.55 SIERA suggests the precariousness of his highwire act.
Where there’s Smoak, There’s… Not So Much: The Justin Smoak Era begins in Seattle, as the new Mariners first baseman-the main bounty in the Cliff Lee deal-homers in back-to-back games during his first week. Alas, they’re both losses, and the Mariner offense continues to occupy a Vortex of Suck: they’re averaging 2.7 runs per game this month on .214/.283/.303 flailing, good for a 4-15 record. The team can lay claim to no less than seven of the 34 most festering sores lowest True Averages in the league among hitters with at least 150 PA-plus Smoak, based upon his combined work in Texas and Seattle.