With depression already setting in thanks to the thought of three days without a meaningful game, let's skip the usual pleasantries and get right to the notes from around baseball …
* An MRI exam on Aaron Harang
's sore forearm revealed some good news over the weekend, as he's been diagnosed with merely a strain. Harang was placed on the disabled list Sunday, but the move was backdated to July 9 and the Reds are reportedly hopeful that he can return when eligible on July 24, in which case he'll have missed just two starts. Homer Bailey
took Harang's spot in the rotation Sunday and turned in his first good start in four tries this season.
Bailey was recalled from Triple-A to fill in for Harang despite a 4.97 ERA in four starts there since his demotion in mid-June, but held the Brewers to two runs over 5.2 innings. More importantly, he totaled four strikeouts without issuing a walk, which a big change given that he'd handed out 48 free passes in 106 innings between Triple-A and the majors coming into the game. Bailey will struggle until his control improves, but it was a nice step in the right direction for the 22-year-old.
* Matt Kemp
has taken a lot of criticism from Dodgers fans and local media members this season, who seemingly blame him for the Dodgers' poor record despite the fact that he's pretty low on any list of the team's problems. Kemp went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, two runs, and two steals Sunday, giving him a .284/.337/.444 line with nine homers, 51 RBIs, 47 runs, and 22 steals in 89 first-half games. While certainly not spectacularly, that's damn good from a 23-year-old.
Kemp is a career .300/.341/.473 hitter with 26 homers, 75 total extra-base hits, and 38 steals in 846 plate appearances, can capably play center field defensively, and doesn't turn 24 years old until September, yet much of the focus on his performance seems to revolve around mediocre plate discipline and a high strikeout rate. While valid concerns, those flaws haven't kept Kemp from being an outstanding player so far and may make him undervalued depending on the owner.
* Justin Verlander
continued his dramatic turnaround Sunday, tossing seven innings of two-run ball against the Twins for his fifth straight win. Verlander struggled with decreased velocity while going 1-6 with a 6.05 ERA to begin the season, but with his fastball back in the mid-90s he's gone 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA and 63-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 innings since then. He's allowed more than three runs just once in his last dozen outings and looks ready for a huge second half.
* Much like Verlander, Mike Pelfrey
has completely turned his season around after a six-game losing streak left him 2-6 with a 5.33 ERA in late May. He has a 2.26 ERA in 59.2 innings since then and rides a six-game winning streak into the All-Star break after shutting out the Rockies for eight innings Sunday. Pelfrey's low strikeout rate figures to keep him from becoming a fantasy stud, but he's secured a long-term spot in the rotation and looks like a good second-half bet.
* Brandon Webb
went through a rough four-start stretch that saw him post a 7.25 ERA from mid-June through early July while complaining of a "dead arm," but he's managed to get back on track heading into the All-Star break. Webb tossed six shutout innings Tuesday against the Nationals and followed that up with seven innings of two-run ball Sunday versus the Phillies, finishing the first half at 13-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 112-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 innings.
* Chad Billingsley
was 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA in late April, but 32 strikeouts in 20.2 innings had me suggesting him as an ideal buy-low candidate in this space. Sure enough, his ERA now matches his outstanding strikeout rate. After fanning a career-high 13 batters while holding the Marlins to one run in seven innings Sunday, Billingsley is 9-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 96-to-37 strikeout-to-walk in 95.2 innings spread over his last 15 starts. At just 23 years old he's closing in on ace status.
* A.J. Burnett
allowed 15 runs in his previous two outings and came into Sunday with a 5.23 ERA overall, but took a shutout into the ninth inning against the Yankees before a Jason Giambi
solo homer ended his bid. Even with impressive performance Burnett ends the first half with a highly disappointing 4.96 ERA, but his 126-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 innings suggests that his numbers should improve in the second half. In the meantime, his trade stock got a nice boost.AL Quick Hits: Francisco Rodriguez
nailed down his 38th save Sunday, establishing a new MLB record for the first half and putting him on pace to shatter Bobby Thigpen's single-season record of 57 set in 1990 … Justin Duchscherer
turned in another strong outing in a no-decision Sunday, holding the Angels to two runs over 7.2 innings to end the first half with a 1.82 ERA … Magglio Ordonez
(oblique) is slated to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Monday at Single-A … Ian Kinsler
extended his hitting streak to 25 games Sunday, driving in three of the Rangers' dozen runs … Daisuke Matsuzaka
tossed six scoreless innings Sunday, improving to 10-1 as Jonathan Papelbon
picked up his 100th career save … Jeff Clement
is still hitting just .165, but after going deep Sunday he now has five homers in 19 games since being recalled from Triple-A … Kevin Slowey
's next scheduled start has been pushed back to the fifth game of the second half because of an infected nail on the middle finger of his right hand … Dontrelle Willis
(knee) said Saturday that he's working on a new delivery without his trademark high leg kick.NL Quick Hits: Aaron Miles
came into Sunday's game with just 13 RBIs in 238 trips to the plate, but drove in five runs against the Pirates while coming a double short of the cycle … Andrew Miller
was rocked by the Dodgers for seven runs Thursday and has now allowed 21 runs over his last 23 innings … C.C. Sabathia smacked his third career homer Sunday, helping himself in a complete-game win over the Reds … Brian McCann
went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs Sunday, giving him an MVP-caliber .302/.377/.563 line with 18 homers and 53 RBIs … Carlos Beltran
homered just four times through his first 53 games, but after going deep Sunday he now has 11 homers over his last 41 games … Brian Wilson
wriggled out of a shaky ninth inning Sunday, picking up his NL-leading 25th save … Juan Pierre
(knee) is ahead of schedule and said Saturday that he hopes to come off the shelf on July 25 … Chad Tracy
went 2-for-4 with a homer Sunday and has hit .309 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 37 games since returning from the disabled list … Ray Durham
collected two hits Sunday, finishing the first half with a .293 batting average after hitting just .218 last season.