Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Cubs' right-hander made the Reds look silly Sunday, allowing only one hit and fanning eight in six innings, and helping the Cubs back into the NL Central lead. It was a day of firsts, with the pitcher earning his first Wrigley Field day victory since last August, and the team getting to the top of the division standings for the first time since April 21. Harden also entered Sunday with a 1-5 record and 7.58 ERA in day games. All trends were broken with this performance.
"I had a bad first half and, of course, I pitched a lot of day games," Harden said. "It's the way I was throwing the ball. It's not like they were going to try to change the rotation around just to have me start all these night games."
On the contrary, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had discussed altering the rotation to do just that, using Harden to his perceived strengths this season. Harden himself had dismissed the notion of meaningful trends affecting his performance, then went out and proved it Sunday. For the second time in three starts, Harden didn't permit a walk, and in those 19 innings he's allowed eight hits, and fanned 21. That's the Harden fantasy owners were expecting this season as well, after posting a 2.07 ERA in 25 starts in 2008. And hey -- the brittle pitcher is still out there, after all.
Harden's resurgence shouldn't be a surprise. Fantasy owners were wondering when he would live up to his potential after posting a 5.56 ERA in May. Could we start him in home games? What about road games during the day? In Harden's pair of starts since the All-Star break, he had performed well on the road at night. Being forced into action a day early Sunday -- he would have started Monday at night before the Ted Lilly injury -- didn't derail Harden, and now he and the Cubs seem back on track.
• While fantasy owners give up on Porcello, they're doing the same with a guy old enough to be his father, John Smoltz. The Red Sox claim they'll stick with the possible Hall of Famer, despite another rough outing Sunday when Smoltz allowed six runs and nine hits in five innings. His record fell to 1-4, his ERA rose to 7.04, but manager Terry Francona said his rotation spot wasn't in jeopardy. Smoltz is owned in 22.2 percent of ESPN leagues. None of his six outings have been quality starts.
• Four Phillies contributed two-run homers in a 9-2 rout of the Cardinals, but three of those fellas have been hitting for power all year (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez). For Jimmy Rollins, whose grand slam and five RBIs were chronicled in Sunday's Out of the Box, the hits keep on coming. Rollins hit three home runs this week with 10 RBIs. He didn't raise his batting average, but fantasy owners will take the newfound power.
• Meanwhile, the Phillies still do not have Roy Halladay, as they and the Blue Jays continue their posturing. The Blue Jays laid out their demands, which include J.A. Happ -- who lost this weekend for the first time -- and two big-time prospects. The Phillies apparently want to keep Happ around. Those in NL- and AL-only leagues are obviously affected by potential Halladay trades. Now the Rangers appear to be in the market as well, meaning Halladay could remain in the AL. Those who own Cliff Lee should take notice, as the Phillies are interested in him. One more week, people, and the trade talk will end.
• If Jarrod Washburn is the most underrated lefty in the AL in terms of ownership, how about John Lannan in the NL? Lannan threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Padres, and only a Mike MacDougal blown save cost him his much-deserved eighth win. Lannan's ERA dropped to 3.25. He allowed five hits in his eight innings, which took 81 pitches, and coming off the team's first shutout of the season, one wonders why Lannan wasn't allowed to complete this game, too. Just don't expect strikeouts from this southpaw; the last time he struck out as many as three hitters in a start was seven outings ago.
• Large Padres rookie Kyle Blanks cost Lannan the win with the game-tying ninth-inning home run, his third of the week. Two came off closers, the other off Cole Hamels. Not bad. Blanks is far from a finished product, as he's hitting .191 in 68 major league at-bats, but the Padres should let the 6-foot-6, 285-pound first baseman -- he's been playing mostly outfield -- hit and see what develops.
• The Indians enjoyed their trip to Seattle, sweeping the Mariners by a 31-6 score. Two days after the Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters all homered for the Indians, they continued to get prime production from the bottom of the order. Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner each homered twice in the series, and the struggling Jhonny Peralta hit a grand slam in Sunday's 12-3 win. The Indians might have pushed the Mariners to also-ran status, so be on the lookout for Seattle players on the trade market.
Kelly Johnson, Braves
The team's second baseman for much of the season, but now fighting for playing time, Johnson homered among his three hits, knocked in two runs and stole a base. Rumored to be on the trade market, Johnson hadn't homered since May 24, but maybe this will earn him at least a time-share with Martin Prado.
Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks
The right-hander evened his mark at 6-6 with seven shutout innings against the Pirates, the first time Scherzer had won in more than a month. Scherzer allowed five hits and no walks, striking out eight, and threw 85 of 109 pitches for strikes. With a strong ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched, Scherzer stands on the verge of breaking out.
The Yankees' Phil Hughes is really thriving in the bullpen, extending his scoreless innings streak to 24 1/3 on Sunday, longest by an AL relief pitcher this season. Jeremy Affeldt of the Giants has the longest streak at 27 innings. Hughes has an 0.70 ERA in relief this season. For the record, Joba Chamberlain has a 1.53 career relief ERA.
• Brett Gardner was doing a nice job in center field for the Yankees, getting on base at a .354 clip and stealing 20 bases, but now he's on the DL with a broken left thumb. Melky Cabrera figures to get all the time in center field for the immediate future, and fantasy owners can do worse than a .287 batting average and a pace for 14 home runs. If you own Gardner in an AL-only format, note that he doesn't expect to be out more than a few weeks, and stolen bases are possibly the easiest category to move up -- or down -- in late in a fantasy season.
• The Cardinals demoted Josh Kinney to Triple-A Memphis after the right-hander got pounded by the Phillies on Saturday, and called up Blake Hawksworth, who proceeded to give up a few runs in his debut Sunday. Look for the Cardinals to add middle relief depth this week. It won't be Jess Todd helping out, as he became the player to be named later in the Mark DeRosa-Chris Perez trade in June. Todd was the Cardinals' minor league pitcher of the year in 2008, and their Triple-A closer this season. The Indians should give him a chance in their bullpen soon, and he could move ahead of Perez.
Click here for all of the latest MLB transactions.
Stephania Bell: As always, muscle strains are unpredictable. When the Astros initially said he'd only miss a few games, even though he had a Grade 2 strain, I didn't quite buy it, and as it turns out, he wasn't. I think it's likely that he returns to a pinch-hitting role in the 15 days, but not sure whether he'll be immediately ready to play the field. Of course, as you know, these things fluctuate daily depending how a guy is feeling in rehab, but that's my sense of it now.
-- Full chat transcript
James Quintong: I seem to have gotten a bunch of Wieters questions today. I think he's just in the middle of a slump, but I don't think he's going to be the all-world catcher this year that many had expected. In a case like this, I probably would take the chance on Posada or Doumit instead. In other leagues, though, I might ride him out.
-- Full chat transcript
Monday's fantasy chat schedule:
Christopher Harris, 11 a.m. ET
Matthew Berry, 3 p.m. ET
• Another starting pitcher getting work on rehab was Pedro Martinez of the Phillies -- yikes, that sounds scary -- but the three-time Cy Young winner didn't get much work in. Martinez allowed one hit and hit a batter while getting four outs until rain intervened in Clearwater, Fla., and stopped the proceedings. The Phillies aren't rushing Martinez, especially since current fifth starter Rodrigo Lopez remains unbeaten, but options are always nice.
• A pair of Blue Jays starting pitchers got work for Triple-A Las Vegas at Tacoma, as Shaun Marcum started and threw two innings, and Casey Janssen got lit up for four runs in relief, while retiring two hitters. Marcum is the more interesting fantasy option if he makes it back to Toronto.
• The Reds might have lost Chris Dickerson for a while, so keep an eye on who gets promoted. Drew Stubbs is the prospect to watch; he hit his third home run for Triple-A Louisville on Sunday, but he's not a power guy. He does have 37 steals. Chris Heisey is having a better season, batting .316 for the Bats after hitting .347 with 13 home runs in Double-A.
• Yankees-Rays is always a fun battle. New York sends A.J. Burnett to the mound, and he hasn't lost in more than a month, nor has he permitted more than three earned runs in an outing since May 22. James Shields seems to have the same problem as the Dodgers' Wolf; despite pitching very well, he has six wins in 21 starts, and only one decision at all in his past six outings.
• The resurgent Astros send their ace -- no, it hasn't been Roy Oswalt -- to the mound at Wrigley Field. Wandy Rodriguez has won four consecutive outings and allowed a total of two runs in the process, lowering his ERA to 2.72. Rodriguez remains true to his history of pitching much better at home, but he's still well worth it on the road, with a 3.43 ERA in 10 starts. Carlos Zambrano has won three consecutive starts, so this should be a good matchup.
• For more on Monday's games, check out the MLB Daily Notes.