Bullpen powering D-backs' surge, Uggla's streak ends; more Cuts
New general manager Kevin Towers made a bullpen reinvention an offseason priority after the club ranked last in the league with a 5.74 ERA in 2010, nearly a run and a quarter worse than the Cubs, who were second-worst at 4.55. Towers signed J.J. Putz to be his closer and traded power-hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for a pair of relievers, David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Though Mickolio has spent most of the years in the minors, Hernandez has been a revelation as the club's top set-up man.
During the Diamondbacks' 20-game hot streak, Putz has appeared in nine of their 14 victories and earned eight saves and a win. He's allowed two runs and struck out six over 8 2/3 innings. Hernandez, meanwhile, also appeared in nine of those wins and notched six holds and two saves. Opponents batted just .100 against him, as he had 10 strikeouts and yielded only two runs in 8 2/3 innings.
At the trade deadline Towers also added A's reliever Brad Ziegler, who has given up one earned run in his first six innings in Arizona. Collectively, Arizona's bullpen may have only improved from 16th to 12th in the league, but the ERA is nearly two runs lower at 3.80. Its save-conversion rate ranks fourth at 77.8 percent, and the Diamondbacks are 62-0 when leading after eight innings.
Arizona suffered two potentially season-ending injuries over the weekend, however, but neither should significant hinder the club's postseason chances. Starting pitcher Jason Marquis fractured his right fibula and first baseman Xavier Nady fractured his left hand. The D-backs signed veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay to help replace Nady, who was batting .248 with only four homers, but will likely seek pitching help from the farm system to replace Marquis, who had allowed 16 runs (12 earned) in 11 1/3 innings since being traded from the Nationals.
Uggla went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly Sunday and was robbed by Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, who made a diving catch in right field to snare what could have been a bloop single.
But still the streak was as improbable as it was memorable. It was improbable because Uggla was batting .173 before stringing together roughly five weeks' worth of hits, and it was memorable because he slugged 15 home runs during the streak; because he extended the streak to 13 games with only one at bat that day, a pinch-hit homer; and because he advanced his hitting streak to 15 games a day after the fact, thanks to the official scorer changing an error to a hit. He gained 49 points of average during the 33-game streak.
Uggla's streak was the majors' longest since Phillies second baseman Chase Utley had a 35-game streak in 2006 and is the longest in Atlanta Braves history, though the franchise record remains 37, set by Tommy Holmes of the 1945 Boston Braves.
More pressing for the Braves: After losing two straight to the Cubs while the Giants won two straight over the Marlins, Atlanta's wild-card lead over San Francisco shrank to four with the two clubs set to start a four-game series at Turner Field starting Monday night.
Worst of all for the Angels, the two games they lost to the Blue Jays were games started by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren; entering the series L.A. had won nearly two of every three games (.663) started by Weaver and Haren and were a sub-.500 team (.478) in games started by everyone else. Not only did they miss an opportunity to win behind their best starters, but also Haren won't get a chance to pitch against Texas. After pitching Sunday he won't take the mound again until Friday against Baltimore.
Yet Florida sent him to the minors after Saturday's game, as the left-handed hitter was just 9-for-42 (.214) with 15 strikeouts in his last 12 games. Morrison's prolific tweeting has cultivated a significant fan following -- and surely the attendance-starved Marlins can use the help in developing more marketable stars, especially as they moves to their new ballpark next year -- so such a move was predictably received poorly by many of the team's fans.
Morrison told reporters in Florida that he didn't think the demotion was because of his outspokenness on Twitter -- "I think it was something else," he said after Saturday's game, "but I don't even know if I want to say it right now" -- but the Marlins need to be careful in how they treat one of the game's more personable and engaging players, someone Major League Baseball has tapped for much of its social media campaign including a pair of videos this summer promoting its MLB Fan Cave
Surely there must be more to this situation -- and the
With Morrison's agent recently saying that they will contact the players' union and explore a possible grievance against the team, undoubtedly more will emerge in the coming days or weeks.
In on-field news, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg dazzled in his second minor-league rehab start. Pitching again for the Class A Potomac Nationals, Strasburg hit as high as 99 mph on his fastball and pitched three shutout innings. He threw 33 pitches and struck out five, walked none and allowed only two infield hits. Slated to throw up to 50 pitches, Strasburg finished his day by throwing 17 more pitches in the bullpen and will start in the minors again in five days. He's all but assured a major-league start in September.