[Happy Independence Day! Be careful when you light those bottle rockets, and remember that even sparklers get hotter than Ty Cobb with a burr in his britches.]
-- On a tip from loyal reader Spartan Bill, I checked out the batting exploits of the Baltimore moundsmen this year. Sunday, Zach Britton hit the first HR in 5 years by an Orioles pitcher, and just the 2nd since the inauguration of the DH in 1973. It was the cap to an outstanding performance by a cadre from whom the fans expected nothing, hoping only that they wouldn't hurt themselves.
In 9 games in AL parks this year, Baltimore's pitchers went 9 for 22 (.409) with 2 doubles, a HR, just 4 strikeouts, and no GIDP. All other AL pitchers combined for a .095 BA (24 for 253) with no homers. Four of their five starters got at least 1 hit, led by Britton's 5 for 8 with a HR and a double; he's just the 4th AL pitcher since 1973 with 2 extra-base hits in a season, and his 9 total bases set a season record for an AL pitcher in the DH era (the prior record was 6). Britton never batted in 5 seasons in the minors, but maybe nobody ever told him he was supposed to be an automatic out.
- Nick Markakis went 5 for 5 with a double, a steal, and a "baserunner kill."
- And guess which strikeout-prone 3B, written off as a sunk cost a month ago, suddenly has 18 HRs, 46 RBI and an .847 OPS? In his last 26 games, Mark Reynolds has 11 HRs, 22 RBI, 20 walks and 19 runs.
-- Johnny Damon had his first 4-RBI game in over 2 years, leading Tampa to an 8-3 win over the Cards. The Rays got back to 10 games over .500, and completed their interleague play with a 12-6 record.
- Kyle Farnsworth walked 2, doubling his season total for 34.2 IP, but still nailed down his 17th save in 19 chances this year.
-- Will this bases-loading-IBB madness never end? The Astros were the latest team to shoot themselves in the foot with 50-MPH bullets. They told Mark Melancon to throw 4 wide ones to Adrian Gonzalez in the top of the 9th in a tie game, with 2 out and runners on the corners, preferring to face -- honest! -- Kevin Youkilis with the bases loaded. Melancon walked him on 5 pitches, and the Astros lost, 2-1. Yeah, I know -- it's Adrian Gonzalez, this year's cross between the Abominable Snowman and Keyser Söze. And sure, I'm hip to righty-righty. Two problems, though: (1) Melancon has yielded a higher BA to righty batters, both this year and for his career, while Youkilis does not have a significant platoon split for his career; and (2) loading the bases shifts the crucial measure from A-Gon's batting average (.353 this year, .291 career) to Youk's on-base average (.392, .394). For a bonus, the IBB moved an insurance runner into scoring position. I just don't get it.
- The run gave Josh Beckett a well-earned win. Beckett bounced back from a Philly beating with 11 Ks and no walks in 8 dominant innings, trimming his ERA to 2.12.
-- Jim Leyland did something I like with Sunday's lineup, batting Brennan Boesch 2nd. Despite having 5 strong hitters in the lineup most days, the Tigers have gotten little from their top 2 spots, with a combined .318 OBP and .674 OPS. Detroit is 4th in the league in R/G, but 8th in runs from the leadoff spot and 10th from the #2 hole. Leyland gave Austin Jackson, the regular leadoff man, a day off, and put Andy Dirks (6 HRs in 94 AB, .479 SLG) in the top spot, followed by Boesch (11 HRs, .493 SLG). Dirks went 0 for 3, but Boesch had a HR and a double for the 2nd straight day, raising his numbers to .310 BA, .507 SLG. Now, if Jimmy would just drop Magglio (.212) Ordonez out of the middle of the order....
-- Wily Mo Pena probably won't be around much longer now that interleague play is through, but the purity of his game will linger in his wake: He only knows the one way. In 38 trips to the plate, Wily Mo has hit 4 home runs, the best HR rate of any player with more than 2 HRs this year. On the other hand, he has just 3 other hits, and zero walks, so his .184 BA doubles as his OBP. He's struck out at least once in each of his 9 starts, and 17 times overall, or 45% of his times up. He got to 2 strikes 21 times and had 2 hits, both HRs. And he has yet to play in the field. Wily Mo Pena, everyone!
-- Speaking of purists ... 20 games into his Angels career, Russell Branyan finally did the thing he does best. His full-count, 2-run HR in the 7th off Chad Billingsley was the difference in a 3-1 win that secured the Freeway Series for the Angels. It was the 10th win this year by a team with 3 hits or less; Billingsley was the losing pitcher in 2 of those games, including this one.
-- Randy Choate, Florida's lefty specialist, was summoned to face Josh Hamilton representing the tying run in the 8th inning. Choate retired Hamilton on a fly to LF, and was sent on his way to a chorus of huzzahs and "well done, laddie!" Facing one batter has become a way of life for Choate, more than for any pitcher in the history of the major leagues. An astounding 25 of his 37 appearances this year have lasted just one batter; only once has he faced more than 4 (that being his first game of the year, in a blowout loss). He's been very effective in this in'n'out role, getting "his man" 19 of 25 times, surrendering only 3 hits, no HRs. But my goodness ... he's pitched a grand total of 15 innings. The LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) has been with us for some time, but his role has been getting more and more specialized, as I hope to show in an upcoming piece.
-- Will Venable snapped SD's latest extra-base-hit drought at 2 games with an RBI double off Seattle's Blake Beavan, but it was the only run Beavan allowed in a crisp 7-inning debut. He threw a first-pitch strike to 21 of 27 batters, and had just 26 balls among his 90 pitches.
- There have been 20 two-game team "streaks" of no XBH this year; 4 of them belong to the Padres, who are last in the majors in XBH and slugging.
- The M's, not to be out-undone, are last in BA (.226 before Sunday's 6-hit outburst), OBP (.294) and OPS (.632). So if you thought Seattle was bound to improve on last year's marks of .236/.298/ .637 -- epic fail, you!
- The 3-game set just wrapped between the Pads and M's had all the offensive fireworks we expected, which is to say, none: they combined for 33 hits (17-16 for Seattle), 11 runs, no HRs, and just 6 extra-base hits, all doubles, 5 by the Mariners.
- They say that good pitching will stop good hitting; what will it take to stop the awful hitting these teams have subjected their fans to this year?
- If this rookie pitcher gets on a roll, I'd love to have the franchise on "Gee whiz, Beav!" T-shirts.
-- Speaking of batting that's sure to give offense ... Oakland has no hitters with at least 100 PAs and an OPS+ of 100 or higher; every other team has at least 3. If the A's repeat their performance in the 2nd half, they'd be the first team without a 200-PA, 100-OPS+ hitter since the 1929 Red Sox, and just the 3rd in modern MLB history. Here are the previous 23 teams with no more than 1 such hitter.
-- Edgar Renteria hit his first HR since the last game of the 2010 World Series, Chris Heisey connected for the first time since his 3-HR game on June 22, and the Reds finally won a game from Cleveland this year after 5 losses.
-- Toronto came back from a 4-0 deficit to win 7-4, ripping 3 HRs off Cliff Lee, all in the 8th inning. Jose "Is He Getting Hot Again?" Bautista homered for the 3rd straight game, and has 61 HRs in his last 158 games played. It was last July 3 that Bautista snapped a 10-game HR drought and kicked off a 2nd-half surge that ended with 34 HRs in his last 81 games.
- It was the first time in his last 29 starts (counting postseason) that Lee allowed at least 3 HRs in a game.
That's all I've got. Who wants to close it out for me? Which team scored a winning run because everyone in the stadium forgot how many outs there were? Who had the best hustle play? Whose mental blunder cost his team a ballgame? Which manager used the sharpest strategy? Let's hear some chatter out there!
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