AP Photo/Jim Mone
So tell me, don't you hate the 1-0 loss too?
Scott Baker sure must. His team came out on the losing side of a 1-0 score for the second time in his past three turns; he also started the team's 1-0 loss to the Indians on June 10. In fact, his three starts in 1-0 team losses represent the most of any pitcher this season, according to ESPN Research's Mark Simon. (The Blue Jays' Roy Halladay and Braves' Jo-Jo Reyes were unfortunate victims themselves twice apiece.)
Such poor luck can prove frustrating, but it also tends to mask a pitcher's otherwise strong performance. Like, let's say, Baker's on Sunday: Eight innings, eight strikeouts and one run on two hits and one walk. That gave him a game score of 81, his season high and a number he reached or surpassed only twice before, both in the second half of 2007.
All that adds up to a remarkable hot streak since his return from the DL on June 5. In nine starts during that span, Baker has a 2.79 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 47 strikeouts in 58 innings but a mere 4-3 record to show for his efforts.
Let's assume for a second that Baker manages to stay healthy the rest of the season, which isn't unreasonable. He missed 30 games due to a groin strain, not an arm problem, making a recurrence less likely. Scale his year-to-date numbers assuming he won't miss another rotation turn and he'd finish with 29 starts for 176 2/3 innings pitched, a 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .241 batting-average allowed, 148 strikeouts and 29 walks allowed.
There was only one -- one -- pitcher in baseball who started at least 29 games in 2007 and managed better than a 3.26 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. His name? Jake Peavy.
Not that anyone would put Baker in Peavy's class of fantasy pitcher, but it speaks well of his performance to date, and his potential looking forward. The Twins' remaining opponents combine for a .494 winning percentage and average 4.44 runs per game; the American League average is 4.64 runs per game, in case you're wondering. In other words, Baker's remaining schedule is hardly treacherous, and he's as hot as anyone in the game.
Ah, if only we could count on him for the wins, too. Can't have it all!
American League ERA leader Justin Duchscherer tossed his 11th consecutive quality start, and amazingly, in his past five, he has only two wins and two losses to show for them, as the A's have totaled nine runs in those turns. With the A's effectively throwing in the towel as a playoff contender with the Rich Harden and Joe Blanton trades, we're talking a definite trend, and another reason to tab Duchscherer as a sell-high candidate. The primary reason, of course: He has logged 115 2/3 innings, 96 2/3 more than he had in the majors and minors in 2007, more than he has in any season since 2003 (171 1/3) and 67 short of his career high set in 2001. Jeremy Hermida homered for the second consecutive game, and even more encouraging, three of his past four home runs have been hit against left-handers (Sunday's came against Phillies ace Cole Hamels). Don't make me remind you about that extraordinary second half he had last season! That's back-to-back solid outings for Josh Johnson fresh off Tommy John surgery, and this one was a 6 2/3-inning, two-run, seven-hit quality start against the Phillies, an offense that's not too shabby. There could yet be a surprisingly good second half in his arm, though his workload might be closely monitored. Justin Verlander won his fourth consecutive start, on the road against an underrated Orioles offense at that; he has a 2.20 ERA and 0.91 WHIP during that span. In his past 12 starts, in fact, the right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Joe Crede belted his 17th home run of the season, and his splits never cease to amaze me. All 17 homers have come against right-handers, and he's a .303 hitter with a .949 OPS against them. Against left-handers, he has come to the plate 83 times, gotten eight hits, eight walks and was hit for .110/.342 rates. Keep that in mind, you matchups exploiters. Ryan Dempster tossed eight shutout innings for his first road win all season. It's pretty amazing that a guy with 11 wins, a 3.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and .211 BAA hadn't won a single time on the road before Sunday, but then it's not like he was a bad road bet, either. He has a 3.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in nine road starts, which suggests he has been as unlucky on the road as lucky at home. In only his ninth start in 15 Padres games in the month of July, Scott Hairston belted his 15th home run of the season. He's hitting .447 (17-for-38) with six homers in July, but more importantly, he seems to have found his groove as a leadoff hitter, where he's batting .342 (39-for-114) with 10 homers in 27 games this season. Ride that hot streak! Jason Isringhausen received his first ninth-inning save chance since May 9, and promptly blew it, allowing two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning to the light-hitting Padres. That's not going to help his chances of unseating Ryan Franklin as the Cardinals' closer. I can't help but wonder whether Ian Stewart's promotion is a sign the Rockies realize Todd Helton's back injury is more severe than they're letting on. He has back-to-back starts at third base -- with Garrett Atkins playing first base -- and is 3-for-8 with two doubles and four RBIs, albeit with three strikeouts. In his first start since missing the All-Star Game with the flu, Tim Lincecum allowed five runs in six-plus innings for his third loss of the season. Give him the benefit of the doubt, though. Through six completed frames Lincecum had tossed 107 pitches and allowed two runs on four hits while striking out eight. The Giants really should've known better than to push a guy coming off an illness. Brandon Lyon's fifth blown save of the season was his ugliest; he allowed five runs on five hits while recording but two outs. He should consider himself fortunate that neither Tony Pena nor Chad Qualls has pitched any better in July, because his job security might begin to be questioned otherwise. Francisco Rodriguez's amazing season continued on Sunday, as he notched his 40th save in the Angels' 98th game. That's 16 games faster than the previous quickest to 40, John Smoltz (114 in 2002), and he got there 20 games quicker than single-season record holder Bobby Thigpen did in 1990. If he's going to cool down, he hasn't shown a single sign of it yet.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
It wasn't the prettiest save, but Broxton closed out his second consecutive save opportunity as he fills in for injured closer Takashi Saito, whose return this year isn't certain, and who is a free agent at the end of the season.
Jo-Jo Reyes, Braves
Although he gave up six earned runs on seven hits and four walks in just 2 1/3 innings, Reyes did not allow any extra-base hits to the Nationals. He has not allowed a home run in four consecutive starts.
• J.J. Putz was activated from the DL by the Mariners, and tossed a perfect seventh inning on Sunday, including one strikeout. He's expected to serve as Brandon Morrow's set-up man initially, but with a strong performance could easily overtake the youngster to reclaim his former closer's role. With Putz back, Ryan Rowland-Smith was sent to Triple-A Tacoma, where he'll be converted into a full-time starting pitcher.
• The Diamondbacks activated Chris Snyder and slotted him seventh in their Sunday lineup; he went 0-for-2 with a walk and an RBI. Robby Hammock was returned to Triple-A Tucson. Snyder is safe to activate in fantasy leagues, and remember that he did finish 2007 with a strong second half, meaning another decent finish could be coming.
• The White Sox placed Jose Contreras on the DL with elbow tendonitis, and announced they will replace him in the rotation with spot-start specialist Nick Masset.
• Troy Percival was activated from the DL and tossed a shutout inning in his first game back with the Rays. He'll reclaim the closer duties, leaving Grant Balfour, Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler to drop back into set-up roles.
• The Rangers activated Vicente Padilla in time for him to make his scheduled Sunday start; he tossed seven shutout innings of three-hit, two-walk baseball, despite not striking out a single batter.
• Coming off his start for the U.S. team in the All-Star Futures game, Andrew McCutchen has hit safely in three straight contests for Triple-A Indianapolis, including hitting his ninth homer of the season on Sunday. He's 4-for-12 with two doubles, a homer and two walks in his past three games, and for the season is batting .284 with a .373 on-base percentage and 25 stolen bases. McCutchen could see some time in the Pirates' outfield should either Jason Bay or Xavier Nady be traded, but initially he'll probably be most useful to NL-only owners for his speed.