1. Dan Haren might not be getting much attention because the Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the rare National League teams that have already played themselves out of the pennant race in a mediocre league, but he's become the stealth Cy Young Award candidate. Haren led all pitchers heading into the All-Star break in ERA, strikeout-to-walk rate, WHIP and opponents' on-base percentage -- becoming the first pitcher ever to do so. Haren (9-5) has been so good he has a 2.45 ERA in his losses.
So how did he go from being a very good pitcher to as close to unhittable as there is in the game? One pitch: the cutter. Haren toyed with the pitch briefly in Oakland, dabbled with it last year after his trade to Arizona and became a full-blown cut-fastball machine this year.
"It's become a great pitch for me," Haren said. "I wanted something so that when I had to come into the zone, say 2-0, 1-0, I could throw something I can command but at the same time had more movement than a fastball. And that's exactly what the cutter does: It has enough movement to start out in the zone and move off the barrel of the bat."
Before the All-Star Game, Haren chatted briefly with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, his batterymate, about what he was going to throw. "Cutters," Haren told him. "Lots of cutters."
2. The Dodgers may be considered a longshot to get Roy Halladay from Toronto because they have made left-hander Clayton Kershaw untouchable. Smart. But Los Angeles still thinks it has a decent fit with Toronto even if the prospects the Blue Jays like, including third baseman Josh Bell, aren't exactly going to be big leaguers immediately. The Dodgers want a starting pitcher who would be certain to start one of the first three games of a playoff series. So, no, that does not mean Jarrod Washburn. It's either Halladay, Cliff Lee or nothing. The Dodgers would still like another arm for their bullpen, such as Arizona's Chad Qualls or Baltimore's George Sherrill.
3. I totally get the Phillies taking a $1 million flier on Pedro Martinez, even if he's likely to give them only about a dozen starts if gets his arm back in major-league shape. It's worth the chance for a team already spending about $113 million to defend its World Series title. Just don't expect Martinez to be anything other than a five- or six-inning guy whose need for extra rest, lack of durability and uncertainty can be draining on a staff.
In four years with the Mets, Martinez made only 33 starts on normal rest, and 46 starts with extra rest. He pitched better on the fifth day (15-6, 3.25) than he did with extra days between starts (17-17, 4.54), but what's important is that the Mets didn't believe he could maintain such a level if they kept throwing him on the fifth day. Now he turns 38 in November and hasn't pitched in a big-league game in 10 months. He is a fifth starter with a high profile. Not bad, and worth a shot because of his pedigree, but in other words, when it comes to pulling the Phils into the postseason, he's no Joe Blanton. Blanton made 13 starts for the Phillies after his trade from Oakland last year. Philadelphia went 9-4 in those games and won the division by three games.
And oh by the way, there have been 44 wins by starting pitchers in postseason games the past two years. Only one pitcher at least as old as Martinez has notched even one of those victories: Curt Schilling, who at age 40, won three times for Boston in the 2007 postseason.