Sunday June 19th, 2011

The Marlins' sudden opening, the American League dominance, divisional parity, a troubling injury and more starting pitching accolades from another interleague weekend ...

The presence of job security (or lack thereof) can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez not only had a one-year contract for low pay, but he also worked for owner Jeffrey Loria, who has employed five managers in less than a decade of owning the club and has been known to desire a big-name skipper, particularly with the opening of a brand-new ballpark next season. So when Florida began June with a 1-17 mark and nine-game losing streak, Rodriguez resigned before Sunday's game.

Florida lost later Sunday afternoon, falling to 1-18 in the month and 32-40 this season. Rodriguez was 78-85 as manager since taking over for Fredi Gonzalez in late June 2010. One has to imagine that, if Rodriguez had a longer-term contract or if worked in a more stable environment, he might have stuck around longer before turning in his resignation.

SI.com's Jon Heyman is reporting that Jack McKeon has accepted the Marlins' offer to take over the club on an interim basis. McKeon, 80, previously guided the Marlins to the 2003 World Series title, also taking over during the season.

Don't expect the Marlins to rebound into another miracle title. The '03 club was nine games out of first place in the NL East and seven games out of the wild card on May 10; this '11 club is 12 1/2 games out of first and 7 1/2 games out of the wild card on June 19, which are similar hurdles but with much less time to overcome them.

Previously, Florida has reportedly considered trying to lure White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to Miami, but such a move was not practical in-season. Perhaps Florida also considers hiring a big name such as Bobby Valentine, but it looks like the Marlins will be waiting until after the season to revisit their options.

When the two leagues met for the first time last month, the NL battled the AL to a 21-21 draw, but the AL dominated the second weekend 28-13 (entering Sunday night's Yankees-Cubs finale), a .683 winning percentage on the weekend and now .590 mark overall. As noted during the first interleague weekend, the AL entered 2011 with a .561 winning percentage in interleague games since 2005, which translates to a 91-71 record over 162 games. The AL swiftly moved ahead of its normal pace.

Of the more natural cross-league rivalry matchups that were in action, the standings narrowed. Washington beat Baltimore in two of three games to tie the Beltway Series at 3-3; Oakland took all three from San Francisco to tie the Bay Bridge Series at 3-3; St. Louis won two of three games from Kansas City to win the I-70 Series 4-2; and Tampa Bay swept Florida to win their intrastate series 4-2.

"Parity" has been the oft-used descriptor around the majors this season, and the recent play of the A's, Nationals and Twins only furthered that notion. All three clubs were in the cellar of their divisions earlier in the week before rattling off extended winning streaks: eight for Washington, seven for Minnesota and five for Oakland. (The streaks for Minnesota and Oakland streak are still active, though the Nationals lost Sunday.) Washington is now tied for third, though 9 1/2 games behind Philadelphia.

Only Oakland actually remains in last (the others merely started there), though its margin is the least of the three, as it trails Texas by five games in the four-team AL West, no doubt adding a little fuel to realignment talk about evening all the divisions to five teams apiece.

The common denominator has been outstanding pitching. In the 20 games collectively won on their various winning streaks, opponents averaged 2.0 runs and scored more than four only twice. The three teams' starters combined for 17 quality starts. Two of three clubs benefited from the return of their franchise player. Washington welcomed back third baseman Ryan Zimmerman after missing 57 games, and Minnesota returned catcher Joe Mauer to its lineup after an absence of 58 games.

With its 9-2 win on June 9, the Cardinals owned the majors' best record at 38-26, only to lose their next seven games before ending the skid with a 5-4 win over Kansas City on Saturday. Their biggest loss came in Sunday's series finale, a second straight 5-4 victory, in which Albert Pujols left the game in the sixth inning after colliding with Wilson Betemit on a play at first base. The preliminary report was that he sprained his left wrist; he'll likely miss time but, if it's only a sprain, he'll miss far fewer games than if he had broken a bone. Further tests will occur Monday.

The most remarkable part of the Cardinals' rise in the first two months is that they did so with Pujols uncharacteristically hitting like an average first baseman instead of the game's best player. But Pujols remembered who he was and how to swing like it this month: before the injury on Sunday he was 3-for-3 with his 17th home run. Since June 2 he is 20-for-59 (.339) with eight home runs and a .420 OBP.

If Pujols misses an appreciable amount of time, manager Tony La Russa will undoubtedly move Lance Berkman from right field to first base. Berkman is not the Gold Glove-caliber first baseman that Pujols is, but he's far worse in the outfield, where Jon Jay will likely see most of the at-bats. Jay, of course, is not Pujols with the bat, leading to a net loss offensively. St. Louis -- which hosts NL leader Philadelphia for three games starting Monday -- was already shut out twice in their seven-game losing streak and averaged 2.9 runs per game. The Cardinals have already used the DL 13 times this season, with seven players currently on it, but few moves could be as damaging as this one.

In what's evolving into a second straight Year of the Pitcher, Sunday was a particularly outstanding day. Fully half of all starting pitchers threw at least seven innings, and of those 15, six went at least eight innings and two, the Rays' James Shields and the Mariners' Jason Vargas, threw complete games. All 15 recorded a quality start by allowing three or fewer runs. This was only the sixth date of the 2011 season in which at least 15 pitchers threw seven innings or more. (The most this season is 17, done twice.)

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