David Sabino
Wednesday July 30th, 2008

In this week's edition of Diamond Digits we look at the Windy City's "other" winning team, the worst of the bests, a Nationals disaster and a pitcher who really used his head to get to the top. (NOTE: All stats through Monday night.)

Number of consecutive games this season the AL Central-leading White Sox lost while trailing after eight innings prior to Jermaine Dye's two-run, ninth inning home run off of Detroit's Todd Jones at Comerica Park, finally broke the streak. That blast began a three-game home run streak for the veteran right fielder who's part of the major league's most powerful outfield this season. Through Monday's games White Sox outfielders had combined for 68 home runs, five more than the second place Brewers and 10 more than they hit in the 162 games from lastJuly 20th through their 98th game this season. Much of the success can be attributed to a big years from Dye, who has 24 home runs, and offseason acquisition Carlos Quentin (an AL-best 27 HR).

Number of professional career saves for fireballing righthander Joel Hanrahan who was promoted to the Nationals ninth inning job following the trade of de facto closer Jon Rauch to the Diamondbacks last week for top infield prospect Emilio Bonafacio. In eight seasons in the minors, Hanrahan had made just seven relief appearances in 189 total games pitched, amassing 856 strikeouts in 979 1/3 innings. In the big leagues he's been used primarily as a reliever, striking out 110 in 111 1/3 frames of work, albeit while walking 70. The Nats have won just 38 games this year and ranked last in save percentage and despite being in the middle of the pack with 38 save opportunities, Washington ranks third from the bottom in total saves with 18. Incredibly, eight of the Nat's 38 victories (21%) have come as a result of a walk off hit, by far the highest percentage in the majors this year.

Victory total of the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays following their defeat of the Royals on Saturday night in Kansas City. That was the Rays 103rd game of the season, by far the quickest the franchise has ever reached the 61-win mark, breaking the previous mark of 141 games set in 2004, when the Rays set a franchise record with 70 wins. No other team has failed to post at least one 90-win season, and the Rays are one of four teams that have a chance to eclipse the team record for wins this season. The Angels are currently the only team on pace for 100 wins this year. That would be the first triple-digit win campaign in franchise history, topping the 99 wins in their world championship season of 2002. The Brewers, currently second in the NL Central, could pass the 1982 team's mark of 95 wins en route to the franchsie's only World Series appearance. Most surprising of all are the Florida Marlins, who are one modest hot streak away from finishing with a better record than either of the franchise's World Series Champions (the 1997 team won 92 games and the 2003 club notched 91 victories).

Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks

The first baseman had a big league high 1.083 slugging percentage for the week, and bated an NL leading .542, raising his average more than 20 points, and placing him sixth in the NL. His .404 on-base percentage ranks fifth in the league and his .510 slugging percentage is just .002 behind Mark Teixeira, for whom Jackson was rumored to be in a possible trade package before Teixeira went to the Angels on Tusday.

R.A. Dickey, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners struggles continue, and nobody struggled worse last week than knuckleballer Dickey. In starts against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, Dickey pitched 11 1/3 innings, surrendering 12 runs, all earned, for a 9.53 ERA while yielding 19 hits and seven walks, losing both in the process. Only one pitcher, Pittsburgh's John Van Benschoten, made multiple starts and had a worse ERA last week than Dickey's. For his efforts, Van Benschoten was sent to the minors.

Is there a better comeback story in sports than Brad Ziegler's? On Sunday the 28-year old side-arming A's reliever broke the major league record for most consecutive scoreless innings from the start of a career when he pitched two scoreless frames against the Rangers. He had been tied with Phillies righty George McQuillan who began his big league career by pitching 25 scoreless innings, a record that stood for 101 years. What makes the record all the more special is the fact that Ziegler has had this success after coming back from two skull fractures. The first occurred in 2004 when he was hit with a line drive while pitching a Class A playoff game for Modesto, sending him to intensive care for a week. The second fracture occurred this past January while he was playing catch at a youth clinic. He caught a deflected ball square off his forehead, causing a small fracture and a permanent indentation in his forehead.

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