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Maybe Santana owners haven't been overjoyed with the ace's performance this season because quite a few other pitchers have been better, but things could have been a lot worse. This isn't Francisco Liriano, who has struggled much of the year, or Brandon Webb, who pitched only once. Santana's numbers are hardly a problem, especially after this noted second-half monster threw seven shutout innings against the Rockies, striking out eight and allowing only four hits.
Despite being backed for most of the season by a sub-major league offense, Santana is on pace for 19 wins, has a 2.96 ERA and should reach the 200-strikeout mark for the sixth consecutive season. Santana's ERA and WHIP are higher than they finished last season, but then again, this season isn't over yet.
Santana bounced back from a miserable outing in Houston, where he allowed 12 hits and five runs in 6 2/3 innings and lost for the first time in a Mets uniform after the All-Star break. Remember, this fellow was 8-0 in 15 second-half starts in 2008, and is certainly known for carrying fantasy owners down the stretch in recent seasons. His performance Thursday at Citi Field was a strong indication good times are ahead. After a tough June, when his ERA was 6.19 and he struck out a mere 18 hitters in 36 innings, it has been nice to see the ace bounce back in July. Santana hasn't allowed a run in three of his past four starts, and his July ERA was 1.82, even though he was only 3-2.
The best sign for Santana was the eight strikeouts, the first time since May he had registered seven or more in any game. In five of his prior eight starts, he fanned only three hitters, so eight is a definite upgrade. Santana did get an extra day off in between starts thanks to Wednesday's rainout, and his velocity was up a bit in relation to recent outings. The bottom line with Santana is, if you're going to trust any starting pitcher in the second half of the season, wouldn't he be the one?
• Brad Bergesen pitched seven strong innings against the Royals, winning his seventh game of the season to tie for the Orioles lead, but his exit was not because of a high pitch count: He was hit by a Billy Butler line drive on the shin, which turned into the final out of the inning, but it was a painful one. Bergesen, who is ninth in the AL in ERA, limped off the field and later had X-rays. It's uncertain if he can make his next start.
• Hard to believe Johnny Cueto had a 2.17 ERA in mid-June. Since then, including Thursday's terrible outing against a Padres team that rarely scores runs, the right-hander has allowed five or more runs in four outings, and his season ERA is above 4. It's starting to look obvious that whatever problem Cueto had when he allowed nine earned runs to the Phillies on July 6 he still has, as he has permitted more hits than innings he has pitched in five consecutive starts. Look elsewhere the final two months in fantasy.
• The Cubs got back-to-back home runs from Jake Fox and Milton Bradley, and scored 12 runs for the second straight day against the Astros. Fox was merely filling in so Aramis Ramirez could have a day off, and Bradley's eighth homer could be a sign his bat is coming around and he'll continue to see regular action. Bradley does have two home runs, four RBIs and eight runs scored in the past week.
• Lastings Milledge is scheduled to be called up on Friday and make his Pirates debut against the team that clearly didn't want him around, the Nationals. If ever a player was motivated to start quickly, it would appear to be Milledge this weekend. He hit .333 with Triple-A Indianapolis in July, but he did not homer. Milledge hit 14 home runs and stole 24 bases with Washington last season, and he's available in more than half of ESPN's leagues. An outfield of Milledge, Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen will make a fantasy impact these final two months. Also, former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, and waits for his September chance.
• Matt Thornton got the call to close with Bobby Jenks dealing with kidney stones, and allowed a Nick Swisher game-tying home run. Jenks has not pitched well of late, but this wasn't Ozzie Guillen making an official change anyway. For what it's worth, Thornton did strike out the side in the ninth, and, of course, he earned the win after Phil Hughes was charged with the winning run. It was the first run Hughes had allowed in 17 appearances and 21 innings.
• Matt Kemp delivered a two-run single in the 10th inning to give the Dodgers a key win in St. Louis. Kemp's fantasy owners often complain of his batting order spot, but he is the No. 7 outfielder on ESPN's Player Rater regardless. Kemp also has nine RBIs in extra innings this season, by far the most in the majors. For comparison, Atlanta catcher Brian McCann hit a home run Thursday in the 10th inning, the first extra inning RBIs in his career. Entering Thursday, McCann had the most career RBIs in the majors without ever knocking in a run past the ninth inning. Rocco Baldelli now takes over that distinction.
Michael Young, Rangers
Fantasy owners were concerned Young wouldn't produce enough power to be a worthy third baseman, but after swatting a pair of solo home runs against the Mariners, Young has 16 on the season to go with his .326 batting average. Young is also slugging .532, which would easily be a career best for him.
Derek Holland, Rangers
Holland hadn't made it past the fifth inning of either of his past two starts, but he shut down the Mariners, allowing one hit into the ninth inning, striking out 10 and coming within one out of his first complete game. Holland lowered his season ERA to 5.56 and earned his fourth win, and he probably earned himself more starts.
Four is the number of rookie starting pitchers the Athletics sent to the mound in the recent series at Fenway Park; it's the first time since 1936 the Red Sox faced rookie starters in all four games of a four-game series at home. Hey, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro and Brett Anderson fared well enough, helping the last-place Athletics to earn a split.
• The Cubs placed outfielder Reed Johnson on the DL, a day after he fractured his left foot, and called up Sam Fuld from Triple-A Iowa. Fuld can't hit lefties like Johnson, so expect Kosuke Fukudome to play more against tough southpaws, which probably won't be good for his batting average.
• Other moves: As expected, the Phillies demoted John Mayberry Jr. because former Indian Ben Francisco is a better fourth outfielder. Francisco started for dinged up Shane Victorino Thursday. [e] Jeff Suppan and his 1.70 WHIP hit the DL with a rib cage injury, meaning Tim Dillard gets a chance to start. Might be interesting. [e] The Astros mercifully cut Russ Ortiz, so Bud Norris will join the rotation. Should be interesting. [e] As noted in Thursday's Out of the Box, Dodgers lefty Scott Elbert was striking hitters out in the minors, but his Triple-A ERA was 6.27. Could he replace Jason Schmidt in the rotation next week? The Dodgers don't need another bullpen lefty.
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AJ Mass: I never would have had Smoltz, so yes, I'll grab Latos before someone else does off [Wednesday's] outing. As for Tillman -- actually better than I expected. Those homers were crushed, but at least they were solo shots or the ERA could be 20 right now. He'll be terrific in 2010, I don't want him in 2009.
-- Full chat transcript
Jason Grey: Still think he needs to be owned in more than the 7 percent he was owned in before [Wednesday's] outing, which may have just been a blip on the radar. Prior to [Wednesday], he had posted a 3.04 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with nine wins in 17 starts this year. New cutter, new delivery makes the difference. Like [John] Lannan, problems with strikeouts but better stuff than Lannan so I'd prefer him.
-- Full chat transcript
Thursday's fantasy chat schedule:
Stephania Bell, 11 a.m. ET
Jason Grey and Tristan H. Cockcroft, 3 p.m. ET
• While Pedro Alvarez gets all the ink as the future third baseman in Pittsburgh, Neil Walker hit a pair of home runs and knocked in four runs at Norfolk. Walker, hitting only .227 at Triple-A Indianapolis, isn't having a great year, and the former No. 1 pick might have to switch organizations at some point since he's behind Alvarez and Andy LaRoche on the depth chart. He has 10 home runs.
• The Dodgers' Triple-A farm team in Albuquerque had some fun, scoring 23 runs in routing Oklahoma City. Doug Mientkiewicz, on a rehab assignment, homered among his four hits and had five RBIs, while outfielder Jamie Hoffmann tripled twice and knocked in six! Journeyman outfielder Mitch Jones slugged his 27th home run. Mientkiewicz will probably be up with the Dodgers soon, but there's not much room for outfielders.
• Meanwhile, how much more winning will John Smoltz be doing in a Red Sox uniform? This is his seventh start, and he's won only one time, and still hasn't delivered what the experts call a quality start. Plus, the Orioles team he'll face Friday lit him up last weekend. Jason Schmidt, Sergio Mitre and -- thankfully -- Sidney Ponson are others who could be making their final starts, depending on Friday trades, or just common sense.
• I kind of like it when David Price and Tommy Hanson are matched up to pitch the same day, because it becomes more obvious each month that the rookie pitcher I avoided in drafts should have been, and the one I hyped as Rookie of the Year will do exactly that. Price allowed nine hits and six runs in three innings his last time out, pumping his ERA to 5.60. Well, at least he didn't walk anyone. Hanson finally lost in his ninth outing, but hardly got lit. Hanson has a 2.95 ERA. Price is owned in a lot more leagues.
• For more on Friday's games, check out the MLB Daily Notes.