SweetSpot: Ian Kennedy


On the final day of June, on the final day of his first month in the major leagues, the 22-year-old Cuban named Yasiel Puig went 4-for-5 and Los Angeles Dodgers fans cried with joy and poets penned sonnets and the baseball gods shook hands and toasted their work with a cold beverage.

In truth, Puig was a little lucky on this day. Two hits were infield singles off the glove of Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Michael Young, plays that a better third baseman could have made. The triple was blooped to right field, a play that a more agile fielder than Delmon Young could have caught. Then he drilled a line drive between first and second and made it to second base as Young must have been stationed in San Bernadino.

But study those plays: That triple. Do most players make it to third base so easily? That double. The ball never reached the wall and Puig coasted into second like a passenger in a buffet line on a cruise. He added two steals on the day, and in case he hadn't yet fully showcased all his tools this day was a testament to his speed. Hit, hit for power, field, throw, run. The five tools. "He's something special," as my friend Eric e-mailed me Sunday night.

Thank you, baseball gods. We toast as well.

Puig earns our first grade of June, and it's an A+. Can we go higher? He has electrified not only Los Angeles, but baseball fans across the country. He ripped out 44 hits in June, the second-most for a rookie in his first month in the majors behind only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in May of 1936.

It's not that Puig's total of 44 hits in a month are all that unusual in itself -- Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado and Miguel Cabrera each had 44 in May, for example -- but he also hit .436 and the only other players since 2010 to finish a month with at least 44 hits and a .425 average were Josh Hamilton in June of 2010, the aforementioned Young in July of 2010, and Melky Cabrera last May. But those three weren't rookies with essentially two months of minor league action and they didn't have the same out-of-nowhere exhilaration behind them. Puig was the story of June and what a story it was.

More grades for June efforts:

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: A+. He hit .378/.492/.704 in June with nine home runs and 21 RBIs. Cabrera's wRC+ -- an advanced hitting metric that compares him to a league average hitter of 100 (adjusted for home park) -- is 207. That currently ranks as the eighth-highest wRC+ since World War II ended, with three guys named Bonds, Williams and Mantle ahead of him. It's an all-time great season at the plate in progress, even better than his Triple Crown numbers of last year, and there's nothing unsustainable here going on. Cabrera, for example, had 31 "well-hit" balls in June compared to 19 for Puig.

Mike Trout, Angels: A. Trout matched Cabrera's MLB-leading total of 31 well-hit balls and hit .358/.433/.541, just in case you were forgetting that he's still pretty good. Despite Trout's big month, the Angels still earn just a C- for going 14-13 in June, a record gained only by winning their final six games of the month. They're still nine games behind the division-leading Rangers (and 8.5 behind the A's) at 39-43, but if there's one hope for Angels fans it's that they still have 13 games left against both teams.

Jason Kipnis, Indians: A+. After an eight-game losing streak early in June, the Indians went on a 14-5 run thanks in large part to Kipnis, who hit .419/.517/.699 for June -- with four home runs and 25 RBIs. As with Puig, the "well-hit" average suggests some luck involved but that luck may have earned Kipnis a trip to the All-Star Game.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesAfter a hot start, the Yankees have cooled off and had one of the worst records in baseball during June.
New York Yankees: D-. The Yankees went 11-16 -- only the White Sox and Giants had a worse record in June -- but that doesn't tell how poorly the Yankees played. Or shall we say how poorly the Yankees hit. At minus-34 runs, they had the worst run differential thanks to a .223 average (29th in the majors) and .330 slugging percentage (last). They hit three home runs against left-handed pitchers in 301 at-bats.

San Francisco Giants: F. The Giants went 10-17 and scored the fewest runs in the National League. They hit 14 home runs, fewest in the majors, and drew 57 walks, 27th in the majors. No power and not getting on base via walks equals a bad combo. But in the NL West they're still just 3 games out.

Chase Headley, Padres: D-. Last year's NL RBI leader continued to struggle, hitting .183/.270/.257 with one home run. The Padres have a shot in the wide-open NL West but need Headley to go on a second-half tear like he did a year ago.

Jeff Locke, Pirates: A-. At 17-9, the Pirates tied the Blue Jays for the best record in June (including winning their ninth in a row on Sunday). Locke was just 2-0 but with a 1.67 ERA in five starts. He has been the stabilizing influence in the rotation as he has held opponents to a .199 average on the season. OK, his .228 BABIP is second-lowest among starters and maybe he'll regress, but he's proving to be a better pitcher than anyone projected, relying on a sinking fastball (he throws his fastball 67 percent of the time, ninth-most among starters).

Justin Verlander, Tigers: C. A 3.92 ERA in June, following a 6.41 ERA in May. Over the past two months, batters are hitting .382 off his fastball and has 21 walks and just 15 strikeouts in plate appearances ending with the pitch. Last year, batters hit .253 off it and he had more than twice as many K's as walks.

Jose Fernandez, Marlins: A. Shelby Miller got the early hype for rookie pitchers, but Fernandez quietly posted a 1.67 in June -- tied with Locke for best in the majors. He allowed just two doubles and no home runs in the month. His team is going nowhere but he may end up as the best rookie pitcher in the majors this year.

Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: A-. He played 23 games in June and hit in all 23, extending his hitting streak to 27 games.

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: B+. He hit .309 with 10 home runs and knocked in 24 runs and his defense is drawing improved reviews. The strikeouts are still extreme -- 35 in 26 games -- so I'm not saying he has turned a corner just yet. But when he goes on a streak he can help carry a team like he did in June. Plus, his home runs can go a long way, like this one from Saturday. (He leads the majors with nine "no doubt" home runs via the ESPN Home Run Tracker.)

Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: D. Kennedy's 6.83 ERA was second-worst among starters and he continues to fall further away from the guy who won 21 games in 2011.

Jay Bruce, Reds: B+. He got off to a slow start with one home run in April but hit seven in May and 10 in June, including this 472-foot blast, the longest of the month. He's now sixth in the majors with 43 extra-base hits.

Andrelton Simmons, Braves: B. OK, the bat is a work in progress, but the glove keeps making plays like this.

Chris Davis and Manny Machado, Orioles: A. Thirty-one home runs. (Are you kidding me?) Thirty-eight doubles. (Are you kidding me?) Good stuff. Great month. Three more to go before the playoffs.

 


Tuesday's Arizona Diamondbacks-Los Angeles Dodgers game was anything but calm, however, with benches emptying, coaches fighting, punches thrown and multiple suspensions in order. It was an ugly brawl, the kind we used to routinely see in the 1980s and '90s, not the meet-and-greet, exchange-phone-numbers stuff we usually see now.

We had Dodgers coach Mark McGwire locked up with Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams. We had Yasiel Puig throwing punches and Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario doing the honorary Darryl Strawberry bats*** crazy impression. D-backs coach Turner Ward got tossed into the ropes.

After everything had calmed down and the great Vin Scully was running down the ejections, he said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was ejected for "hollering a lot of chicken stuff." The man is a poet.

Once again, Zack Greinke was in the middle of all this, but it's Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy who delivered the bush-league moment of the game, throwing a pitch that seemed directed right at Greinke's head. Kennedy should face a harsh suspension; a short one that pushes his next start back a day or two won't be enough. Give him 15 days and make him miss two starts. It's one thing to throw at a guy; it's another to throw at somebody's head, especially when retribution had already been made.

It all began with a scary moment, Kennedy delivering an up-and-in, 0-2 fastball in the sixth inning that glanced off Puig's nose. He was down for a few minutes as he got checked out by the medical staff, but stayed in the game. Kennedy's reaction clearly showed he wasn't trying to hit Puig, but the chain of events had kicked in.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIan Kennedy's first pitch to Zack Greinke in the seventh inning was a dangerous one.
The next inning, Greinke delivered a fastball to the back of Miguel Montero, Arizona's cleanup hitter. Your cleanup hitter for our cleanup hitter. Have to protect our new franchise player. At least Greinke's pitch was done in honorable baseball tradition, thrown where Montero couldn't get hurt. The benches and bullpens cleared and there was some finger-pointing and yelling, but things quieted down.

Until Greinke came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. Kennedy, even though the game was tied 2-2, decided it was more important to throw at somebody's head than to try to win the game, highlighting the absurdity of the whole retribution concept. But sometimes emotions get the better of us and next thing you know, Don Mattingly was fighting Alan Trammell, Belisario was looking to take on the entire Diamondbacks roster, Clayton Kershaw scared the crap out of Dodgers fans by getting in the middle of the scrum, and Puig needed multiple players to restrain him from going after Gibson. Belisario and Puig will likely face suspensions for their roles in the fight.

(As an aside; Mattingly, McGwire, Gibson, Trammell, Williams, Don Baylor ... this had to be greatest list of coaches and managers ever involved in a brawl.)

Meanwhile, we had a baseball game to complete and after Arizona scored in the top of the eighth, the Dodgers plated three in the bottom of the eighth -- catcher Tim Federowicz delivering the bases-clearing double, to be forever remembered as the hero of the 2013 Brawl Game. New closer Kenley Jansen then pitched 1-2-3 ninth to finish off the 5-3 victory.

Whew. Is that all? Huge win for the Dodgers, who had lost five in a row to Arizona. Loved the passion and intensity from Mattingly and McGwire, and my take is that Kennedy and the D-backs were in the wrong here, so I can understand their anger. It certainly is going to make the rest of the Diamondbacks-Dodgers games very interesting.

One hopes cooler heads will prevail Wednesday. As Scully signed off after the final out, "In a sense, I am personally relieved the game is over."
 
One of the best aspects of early April baseball is all the aces start on Opening Day. Then a few days later they meet again. Usually by each pitcher's third or fourth starts, the schedules get out of whack -- teams don't have the same off days, some teams will skip the fifth starter and so on. After those first couple of starts, ace-versus-ace matchups are more of a random occurrence throughout the baseball season. And when they do meet, you don't get a whole slate of them like we do Sunday.

Here are eight matchups to watch (pitchers' stats from opening start in parentheses) -- and these don't even include Chris Sale, David Price, Marlins 20-year-old rookie Jose Fernandez or Dodgers rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu. If you're not going to the ballpark, it looks like a good afternoon to sit inside. (Just get your exercise in before the games start!)

8. Diamondbacks at Brewers
Ian Kennedy (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K) vs. Yovani Gallardo (5 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K)

Two pitchers trying to prove they are No. 1s. Kennedy was two years ago when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young vote. He went 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA last year, but looked very good in beating St. Louis in his opener. Gallardo is 47-26 with a 3.63 ERA over the past three seasons. He walked 81 batters last year, so unless he cuts down on the free passes, he'll remain more of a No. 2. And the 1-4 Brewers are already reeling with Aramis Ramirez heading to the DL and the bullpen struggling again. Can you go nine, Yovani?

7. Cubs at Braves
Jeff Samardzija (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K) vs. Tim Hudson (4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 3 K)

The former Notre Dame wide receiver showed in his first start that there was nothing fluky about last year's strong performance. He blew away the Pirates with his mid-90s heat, slider, cut fastball and splitter. He'll find the Atlanta lineup a little tougher, especially the red-hot Justin Upton, who already has five home runs in five games. Hudson isn't quite an ace anymore, but you know what you're going to get: a lot of ground balls. The flame-throwing kid against the wily veteran. How can you not watch this one?

6. Red Sox at Blue Jays
Jon Lester (5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K) vs. R.A. Dickey (6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 4 K)

Lester is trying to prove that he still belongs with the other names on this list after struggling in 2012. He scuffled through his Opening Day start against the Yankees, striking out seven but throwing 96 pitches in five innings. A couple of things to watch with Dickey: He walked four in his first start, something he did just once last year in his Cy Young campaign with the Mets (also in his first start); and catcher J.P. Arencibia really struggled with the knuckleball, allowing three passed balls.

5. Royals at Phillies
James Shields (6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K) vs. Cole Hamels (5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB 5 K)

Shields is coming off a 1-0 loss to Sale while Hamels allowed three home runs for just the eighth time in his career. The first trip through the revamped rotation showed positive signs for Kansas City: 11 runs in 28 innings and a nifty 32/5 K/BB ratio. But Shields will likely have to do better at getting the ball on the ground. He had just four ground balls and 10 fly balls in his first start (and six line drives). Last year, his ratio was 336 ground balls and 186 fly balls. Give up too many fly balls in Philly, and a couple may find the seats.

4. Cardinals at Giants
Adam Wainwright (6 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 6 K) vs. Matt Cain (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K)

Cain came up on the no-decision end of Clayton Kershaw's Opening Day shutout, leaving after six impressive innings. Cain is tough at home: 2.03 ERA at AT&T last year, 2.80 in 2011, with only 11 home runs allowed over the two seasons. His fly balls go to die in San Francisco. The Giants have scored just 12 runs in their first five games, so Cain may have to put up another zero to beat Wainwright.

3. Yankees at Tigers
CC Sabathia (5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 5 K) vs. Justin Verlander (5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K)

It's way too early to call this a must-win game for the Yankees, but they're 1-4 and now have to face Verlander. In their first time through the rotation, Yankees starters pitched the second-fewest innings of any club (23, one-third more than the Padres), so New York is desperate for Sabathia to pitch deep into the game. Verlander has never started a season 2-0. The Yankees hit him well in three regular-season matchups last year: 25 hits, including four home runs, and 12 runs in 20 innings.

2. Nationals at Reds
Stephen Strasburg (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) vs. Johnny Cueto (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K)

Any Strasburg start is must-see TV, especially when facing the Reds -- the team many consider the second best in the NL behind the Nationals. Strasburg's first start against the Marlins was interesting in that he shut them down but struck out just three in seven innings and was removed after 80 pitches. Strasburg has never pitched more than seven innings in any of his 46 career starts. In my book, you can't call him a true No. 1 until he proves he can go eight or nine once in awhile to help remove some of that stress on the bullpen.

1. Angels at Rangers
Jered Weaver (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K) vs. Yu Darvish (8.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 K)

My must-watch game of the day, and not just because it's the national game on Sunday night on ESPN. This game has everything going for it: Darvish coming off his near-perfect game against the Astros, division rivals, Josh Hamilton back in Texas and Weaver trying to keep intact a 13-game winning streak in March/April. Keys to watch: Hamilton is 1-for-20 with 10 strikeouts so far and Mike Trout was 6-for-17 with two homers and a double off Darvish last year.

Don't sleep on the Diamondbacks

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
11:55
PM ET


It's amazing how quickly storylines can change over the course of just a couple of months.

When the season began, most people had the Arizona Diamondbacks pegged as the favorites to win the National League West. Of course, they got off to a brutal start, became somewhat of an afterthought, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were everyone's flavor of the month. Then the Dodgers cooled off and the San Francisco Giants got going and suddenly Matt Cain & Co. were the talk of baseball. Well, the D-backs haven't caught up just yet, but they're making it clear they should not be written off.

On Friday, Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill made history by becoming just the second player of the modern era to hit for the cycle twice in a season, and the D-backs thrashed the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 9-3.

Unlike their counterparts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the D-backs have yet to really hit their stride this year. Sure, Hill (.849 OPS) and left-hander Wade Miley (2.19 ERA) are probably playing a bit over their heads, but a lot more has gone wrong than right for Arizona this year, which bodes well for a resurgence. For example:

1. Stephen Drew didn't play until this week.
2. Ian Kennedy hasn't been himself.
3. Justin Upton hasn't hit his stride.
4. Daniel Hudson is going to have elbow surgery.

Now, it would be easy to point to Hudson's injury as evidence that the D-backs can't win the NL West, but the one thing this club has is pitching. Trevor Bauer made his debut Thursday, and while it was rocky, there is plenty of reason to believe he can be a factor. And if not him, Arizona also has Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs ready to step into the rotation. Also, as the Cardinals proved last season when they won the World Series in a year in which Adam Wainwright didn't pitch an inning, no pitcher is completely indispensable, and I think we can all agree that Wainwright is better than Hudson.

Now that the likes of Hill and Miley have done their part to keep Arizona alive, it's up to Upton, Kennedy and Drew to pick up the slack. Upton, who was bothered by a thumb injury earlier in the year, has been hitting about .500 over the past 10 days, which is a great sign for Arizona fans. Kennedy has an ERA of 4.20 and a FIP of 3.82, which suggests he's actually pitched a lot better than his traditional stats indicate. As for Drew, he'll almost certainly be an upgrade over Willie Bloomquist, who has actually been pretty good, but whose career .660 OPS suggests his current line of .297/.327/.407 is unsustainable.

Arizona is just four games behind San Francisco in the loss column, and considering all that has gone wrong thus far, that's a pretty good place to be.
First base: No Kemp, plenty Kershaw. It's too early in the season to call any series a "big" series, but considering the Diamondbacks entered Monday 8.5 games behind the Dodgers and Matt Kemp didn't play for the first time since Aug. 18, 2009 ... well, it's kind of an important two-game showdown for them. Monday's game was a battle of aces with Clayton Kershaw facing Ian Kennedy and featured some extracurricular fireworks. The last time Kershaw faced Arizona, last September, he was ejected for plunking Gerardo Parra, who had longingly admired a home run the previous night. On Kershaw's first at-bat, Kennedy threw behind him.

But Kershaw got the final word. He later introduced Kennedy's nose to the smell of some inside heat and pitched seven shutout innings in L.A.'s 3-1 victory. Arizona just can't produce many runs right now. Paul Goldschmidt, Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist are still struggling at the plate and Justin Upton's OPS continues to hover under .700. He did get a first-inning single off Kershaw -- his first hit off Kershaw after going 0-for-18. If there's good news for the Diamondbacks, it's that they owned an identical 15-21 record last season after 36 games. They even dropped to 15-22, before turning their season around, winning 15 of their next 17 games.

Second base: Reds scare. So the St. Louis Cardinals have outscored their opponents by 63 runs, they have an MVP candidate in Carlos Beltran, six guys in Monday's lineup hitting over .300 (none of whom were Beltran, Matt Holliday or David Freese) and three starters with an ERA under 2.50. The Cincinnati Reds have outscored their opponents by six runs, have three starters with an ERA over 4.00, five guys in Monday's lineup hitting under .260 and only one hitter who has more than nine walks. And, somehow, the Reds are just 1.5 games behind the Cardinals.

Third base: Friedrich fantastic, Tulo not. Rockies rookie Christian Friedrich once again looked terrific in his second major league start, striking out 10 and allowing just a Gregor Blanco home run in seven innings. Friedrich, the one-time top prospect who struggled in Double-A the past two seasons, had pitched well in Triple-A this year and now has 17 strikeouts and just two walks over his first two starts. Friedrich's effort went for naught as the Giants scored two runs in the eighth off the Colorado bullpen, dropping the Rockies to 13-21. Troy Tulowitzki continues to struggle in May (he hasn't homered since April 27), was hit by Dexter Fowler's foul ball while standing in the dugout and then left the game after limping down the line on an infield single.

Tweet of the night. Speaking of that inside pitch to Kershaw ...
SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield and I gathered for Monday’s Baseball Today podcast with our big top-10 lists of best teams and much more!

1. Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Sims talked about the Mariners, whether Ichiro will be in a Mariners uniform next season, Jesus Montero, cheering for the home team, the many young players on the horizon and ... hats.

2. Power Rankings day! Dave, Mark Simon and I each submitted our lists, with some similarities but alas, not all division leaders made it. And which NL team is best?

3. How do you pitch to Texas Rangers superstar Josh Hamilton? And how good are the Rangers? We discuss.

4. What has Detroit Tigers lefty Drew Smyly done that hadn’t been done ... ever?

5. We take a closer look at Monday’s schedule, from ESPN’s Cubs-Cardinals tilt to an important series for last season’s NL West champs!

So download and listen to Monday’s Baseball Today podcast and come right back with us Tuesday for me and Keith Law!
The Arizona Diamondbacks didn't come flying out of the gate in 2011. After a poor spring training they did win their season opener in extra innings but dropped their next three, and after getting swept by the Mets later in April they were 8-12 after 20 games, already 5.5 games behind the 14-7 Rockies. They had allowed the second-most runs in the National League and appeared to be no better than the 2010 Diamondbacks, a team that lost 97 games.

In May, they traveled to San Francisco and got swept. They lost the next night in Los Angeles. They were 15-22, going nowhere. And then, just like that, the switch flipped. On May 14, Josh Collmenter made his first major league start and pitched six scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over the Dodgers. That kick-started an 18-4 stretch; they were in the race.

So, no, Opening Day or the first week or even the first month isn't a manifesto of your season. But as we all know: Every game is of equal value. We pay more attention to Game No. 162 with a playoff berth on the line, but Game 1 is just as important.

With the NL West projected to be a tight race, the season-opening series between the Giants and Diamondbacks looms as one of the more intriguing ones of the first week. A win in April may decide the race in October. Arizona starter Ian Kennedy acknowledged the game has a lot of hype around it, even for a season opener.

"Because it's against the Giants, at home, it is going to be a little bit more for our players," Kennedy said. "For myself, I will try to keep it at a minimum. For myself, it is that first inning and trying to get through the first. I like pitching nice and cool and calm."

Chris Quick of Bay City Ball, our Giants blog, has five things to look for about the Giants on Opening Day. Most interesting is that Tim Lincecum, after throwing his slider more than ever last season, didn't use the pitch in spring training and apparently won't use it early in the season. So with five things on the Giants, here are five things on the Diamondbacks:

1. Will Ian Kennedy be an ace again?

Ian Kennedy heat mapESPN Stats & InformationIan Kennedy's 2011 heat map versus left-handed batters: Fastballs (left) and changeups.


With his 90 mph fastball, Kennedy is hardly overpowering, but he has such good location and movement he still threw it more than 63 percent of the time last season, 17th-most frequent among major league starters. A key is that he's very effective against lefties with his late-breaking action; in his career he's held lefties to a lower OPS (.665) than righties (.708). On the heat map above, his fastball location is on the left, his changeup on the right. As you can see, he pounds the outside corner.

2. Chris Young batting second

Young didn't hit there all spring and only once last season, but I like this move by Kirk Gibson. The D-backs struggled in 2011 with production from the No. 2 spot, hitting just .223 with a .296 OBP. Young doesn't fit the old-school profile of a No. 2 hitter since he strikes out so much. But the fact is that Aaron Hill, who hit there most of the spring, is the worst hitter in the Arizona lineup. Why bat him second? "I like it the way it is," Gibson told MLB.com. "It's not going to be that way every day. I woke up two days ago, it came to mind, and I stuck with it."

3. Paul Goldschmidt's power

As a rookie, Goldschmidt hit eight home runs in 177 plate appearances. Projected over 600 PAs, that's 27 home runs. He'll hit fifth against Lincecum, against whom he went 5-for-9 with two homers in 2011. Until Goldschmidt took over, first base was another position the Diamondbacks had received poor production from. They ranked 20th in the majors with 21 home runs from first base and 24th in slugging percentage.

4. Jason Kubel in left field

With Kennedy on the mound, outfield defense is vital and was a big reason for Arizona's run prevention a year ago. The Diamondbacks ranked first in the majors with 52 defensive runs saved by their outfield. But Kubel covers nowhere near the ground that Gerardo Parra does, and he spent much of his time with the Twins as their DH.

5. J.J. Putz closing

He was dominant a season ago, holding batters to a .195 average while recording 45 saves. With Putz, the biggest issue has always been his health. He did have one DL stint in 2011 but managed to log 58 innings, his most since 2007.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Now we know why the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks played all-out down the stretch to secure home-field advantage for the first round, which the Brewers finally clinched on the final day of the season. These teams play like the 1927 Yankees at home and the 1962 Mets on the road. The Brewers went 11-4 in their final 15 games to beat out the Diamondbacks for the No. 2 seed, which means they get to head back to the loud but comfy confines of Miller Park for Game 5, and that could be the difference in this series.

They’ll certainly be glad to leave Arizona after getting hammered by the Diamondbacks 10-6 on Wednesday in a game that featured more plot twists than the final score indicates. A few random notes, thoughts, trivia and other stuff:
  • Ryan Roberts did not miss what looked like a hanging slider from Randy Wolf in the first inning, hooking it into the left-field bullpen for a grand slam. It gave the Diamondbacks a 4-1 lead and made them the first team since the 1977 Dodgers to hit grand slams in consecutive postseason games (Ron Cey and Dusty Baker, in case you're keeping track). Roberts struggled in September, hitting .205 with just two home runs, but he's been seeing the ball well in this series, with two home runs, a double and a .400 average in the first four games.
  • After a much-documented disastrous Game 1 in which he pitched to Prince Fielder with a base open and started Lyle Overbay over Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson redeemed himself with several gutsy moves in this game. Leading 5-3 in the bottom of the third, he pinch hit for starter Joe Saunders with runners at second and third and two outs. Saunders had not looked good through three innings but still led. In the regular season, Saunders hits. This isn't the regular season. Gibson seized the opportunity to score more runs and looked brilliant when Collin Cowgill bounced a two-run single into left field.
  • After Micah Owings delivered two scorless innings, Gibson's move to bring in Jarrod Parker, the 22-year-old rookie and top prospect who had pitched just one game in the regular season, didn't look smart when Parker allowed an infield hit, a walk and a single to load the bases. Gibson brought in Bryan Shaw, and Corey Hart ripped one into left-center ... it initially sounded (and looked) like it could be a game-tying grand slam, but left fielder Gerardo Parra took a perfect route to the ball and ran it down at the warning, showing why he's likely to win a Glove Glove this season.
  • That's one of the beautiful aspects of October baseball: Collin Cowgill and Gerardo Parra, unsung heroes. By the way, make sure you watch the replay again to see how much ground Parra covered to make that catch. That ball is out of some ballparks. The play of the game and a terrific play.
  • Chris Young helped out as well, with two home runs of his own.
  • The key guy for the Brewers right now has to be Rickie Weeks. Ryan Braun is hitting .467 with a .529 on-base percentage in the series; Fielder is hitting .333 with a .412 OBP. Those guys are living on the bases, but Weeks is hitting .067 after going 0-for-5 on Wednesday and has just one RBI.
  • Brewers fans certainly were upset with Ron Roenicke for not removing Wolf before he allowed his sixth and seventh runs in the third, but I can't fault Roenicke too much -- with the series lead, there was no need to burn through his bullpen, and Wolf was one out from escaping the inning. Cowgill's bouncer just found a hole.
  • Both starters lasted just three innings. Not including that Justin Verlander/CC Sabathia rainout from the other night, the last postseason game in which both starters pitched three or fewer innings was Game 5 of the 2005 American League Division Series, in which the Yankees' Mike Mussina lasted just 2.2 innings and the Angels' Bartolo Colon left after one with injury. (Rookie Ervin Santana came on and pitched into the seventh.) The last game in which both starters got shelled was Game 3 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, in which Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Brown both pitched just two innings in a game the Yankees eventually won 19-8.
  • Game 5, baby! For the first time since 2001, we have three division series going the distance. That year, the Mariners beat the Indians, the Yankees beat the A's and the Diamondbacks beat the Cardinals.
  • Ian Kennedy versus Yovani Gallardo. If Gallardo has mastery of his curveball the way he did in Game 1, he's going to be tough to beat. He's on a roll; he has 45 strikeouts and just four walks over his past four starts. If either starter struggles, Daniel Hudson and Zack Greinke both will be available for long relief and would be pitching on four days' rest. But I think the biggest number is this one: The Brewers hit .277 and slugged .461 at home (versus .246 and .391, respectively, on the road). They love Miller Park. They're the favorites, but you never know ... one hanging curveball to Goldschmidt or Justin Upton with a couple of runners on ...
In the top of the sixth inning, the sun and shadows from the window panels at Miller Park started creeping between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

[+] EnlargeYovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Morry GashYovani Gallardo was dealing Saturday, pitching eight strong innings with nine K's.
Considering the way Yovani Gallardo was dealing, that's the last thing the Arizona Diamondbacks needed to see. After he escaped the top of the first inning, when Ryan Braun threw out Willie Bloomquist at home plate, Gallardo took over Game 1 of the National League Division Series for the Milwaukee Brewers, getting ahead of hitters with his fastball and relying on great control of a sharp, down-breaking curveball to get strikeouts, routine fly balls and easy grounders. The only hard-hit balls off him were Justin Upton's scorched single in the first and Lyle Overbay's deep ball to center in the seventh that Nyjer Morgan tracked down on the warning track.

Gallardo was a bit of the surprise starter for the Brewers, considering Zack Greinke led the NL in strikeout rate, was 9-3 with a 2.56 ERA in the second half and was 11-0 at home. But Gallardo finished the regular season so strong -- 36 strikeouts in his final three starts -- that manager Ron Roenicke bypassed his final start and held him back for the opener.

For teams such as Milwaukee that don't have an obvious No. 1 guy, it can be the most important decision a manager makes all postseason. Since 1995, teams that win the first game of the division series are 47-17 in taking the series -- including 29-3 in the National League. So while some were wondering why Gallardo got the ball over Greinke, he showed why on this day. His curveball was so good that at times the Diamondbacks knew it was coming and still couldn't do anything with it.

The Brewers were helped by two questionable decisions by Arizona manager Kirk Gibson. Now, generally speaking, intentional walks are a bad idea. The risk of opening up a big inning by putting more runners on base outweighs the benefits gained from facing a weaker hitter or gaining a platoon advantage.

The first decision came in the sixth after Yuniesky Betancourt tripled with two outs to bring up No. 8 hitter Jonathan Lucroy, with the Brewers leading 1-0. This is often an automatic intentional walk situation in the National League, especially in a one-run game. But Gallardo is a good hitter -- .221 this year, with four doubles and a home run, nine homers in his career. I can't fault Gibson too much for this one. Ian Kennedy even made a good pitch to Lucroy, a riding fastball that Lucroy managed to bloop into left field for an RBI single.

The second decision, however, was the game-breaker. In the seventh, Braun doubled with two outs to bring up Prince Fielder. Now, Fielder led the majors with 32 intentional walks for a reason. Against right-handed pitchers, his OPS of 1.046 was second-best in baseball to Miguel Cabrera. In Milwaukee, where Fielder had an OPS 227 points higher than on the road, he's like Babe Ruth. He loves Miller Park as much Brewers fans love beer and tailgating. Down 2-0, with two outs and a right-hander on the mound and right-handed Rickie Weeks on deck, you simply cannot let Prince Fielder beat you.

The postseason is not the time to show extraordinary faith in your players.

Kennedy hung a curveball inside and Fielder lined it into the first few rows in right field. Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 0. Game over.

After the game, Gibson admitted to making a mistake: "I left [Kennedy] in and that was a bad decision on my part."

Gallardo gave up a home run to Ryan Roberts in the eighth, losing his shutout and failing to become the second Brewers starter in their postseason history to allow no runs (Mike Caldwell threw a 10-0 shutout in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series). But he recovered to strike out Gerardo Parra, Sean Burroughs and Bloomquist, his seventh, eighth and ninth K's of the game.

John Axford, he of the 1890s mustache and 43 consecutive saves chances converted, came on to finish it off. And now the Diamondbacks have to face Greinke in Game 2. Roenicke is looking pretty good right now.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Clayton Kershaw and Matt KempStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp have been the bright spots in a tough year for Dodger fans.
Yesterday, I presented my American League 2011 All-Stars. Now I give you the National League.

Catcher: Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks (.283/.353/.471, 18 HR, 86 RBI). Atlanta's Brian McCann seemed the favorite here most of the season, but he hasn't been the same since straining an oblique in late July. He hit .146 in August and he's hitting .192 in September. Montero has a .969 OPS with runners on base and has thrown out 40 percent of runners on the bases.

First base: Joey Votto, Reds (.312/.418/.532, 28 HR, 102 RBI). A pretty easy choice over Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Fielder and Votto have similar numbers at the plate, but Votto gets a big edge in the field and on the bases.

Second base: Brandon Phillips, Reds (.300/.353/.458, 18 HR, 82 RBI). He's had his best all-around season, batting nearly 30 points over his career mark, posting a career-best on-base percentage and playing his usual excellent defense.

Third base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants (.314/.357/.553, 23 HR, 70 RBI). It wasn't a great year for NL third basemen, with Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright battling injuries and others having poor seasons. Sandoval gets the edge over the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez despite missing more than 40 games himself. But his overall batting line is superb in a tougher pitcher's park and his defense has been excellent, a big advantage over the cement-footed Ramirez.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (.302/.372/.544, 30 HR, 105 RBI). Mets fans aren't going to like this with the season Jose Reyes had, but Tulo has 25 more home runs, more walks, is better with the glove and has played 20 more games. For those who label him only a Coors Field hitter, he's hit .292/.362/.519 on the road.

Outfield: Matt Kemp, Dodgers (.324/.399/.593, 38 HR, 123 RBI, 113 R). Here's a consideration: Is this greatest season ever by a Los Angeles Dodgers' position player? According to Baseball-Reference WAR, his season ranks only behind Adrian Beltre's 48-homer season in 2004, and just ahead of Mike Piazza's 1997. In fact, forget limiting it to just Los Angeles. The only Brooklyn Dodger seasons that rate higher are two from Jackie Robinson, in 1949 and 1951.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Brewers (.334/.398/.601, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 107 R). In so-called High Leverage situations, he's hit .367/.408/.667. Yes, he's been awesome and clutch.

Outfield: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks (.291/.372/.533, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 105 R). Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman have had slightly better years with the bat, but Holliday missed too much time and Berkman can't match Upton in right field. And remember: He just turned 24.

Starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (21-5, 2.28 ERA, 233.1 IP, 174 H, 54 BB, 248 SO). He leads the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts as well as opponents' batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. It's called The Leap.

Starting pitcher: Roy Halladay, Phillies (19-6, 2.35 ERA, 233.2 IP, 208 H, 35 BB, 220 SO). Yeah, he's still pretty good.

Starting pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies (17-8, 2.40 ERA, 232.2 IP, 197 H, 42 BB, 238 SO). He had six shutouts (the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1998 with that many) and 11 starts where he allowed no runs. If he gets hot in the playoffs like he was in June (0.21 ERA) or August (0.45 ERA), watch out.

Starting pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 222 IP, 186 H, 55 BB, 198 SO). He went 12-1 with a 2.11 ERA in the second half to lead Arizona to the NL West title. Also went 10-0 against the NL West.

Starting pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies (14-9. 2.75 ERA, 213 IP, 165 H, 44 BB, 193 SO). Has allowed two runs or fewer in 21 of his 31 starts. Not bad for a No. 3 starter.

Setup: Tyler Clippard, Nationals (3-0, 37 holds, 1.85 ERA). He flew under the radar all season, but he leads the NL in holds, has more strikeouts (103 in 87.1 innings) and a lower WHIP than Jonny Venters. In a year with several outstanding setup men, he's been a dominant workhorse.

Closer: John Axford, Brewers (2-2, 45 saves, 2.01 ERA). Over Craig Kimbrel? Yes, Kimbrel owns an off-the-chart strikeout rate, but the closer's job is to preserve leads, not just strike batters out. Kimbrel has blown seven saves -- that's actually a lot for a modern closer. Axford is 45-for-47, including 42 in a row.

Player of the Year: Kemp. Braun may win the MVP Award and he'd be a deserving honoree, but I'm giving Kemp my mythical Player of the Year award. His big edge, of course, is that he plays center field. Given similar stats, you have to rate the center fielder over the left fielder.
Ah, the sweet sounds of the cat noises returned for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, as Keith Law and me tried to put the races and your emails into context. Among the topics were:

1.Why is John Lackey still starting games for the Red Sox? Is it the money? Or is there nobody else? The Red Sox overcame this in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader, and now the onus is on the Rays.

2. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel is human! The Cardinals top Philly again -- as Tony La Russa does some of his best work -- and the NL wild-card race is alive. The Braves and Red Sox, partners in rotation woes.

3. Kudos to Mo Rivera. We discuss how the best reliever ever is aging, as well as bigger picture relief stuff reminiscing about the old days.

4. If this is it for Kerry Wood, some of the memories will certainly be positive ones.

5. Did Dice-K ruin it for future Japanese pitchers coming to the U.S.? I admit I was surprised where this conversation went.

Plus: Excellent emails, poor Brian Matusz, the awesome Ian Kennedy, being a Rays minor leaguer and much more on a packed, but fun, Tuesday edition of Baseball Today! Download now and get those questions in for Wednesday at baseballtoday@espnradio.com!
Ian KennedyTony Medina/Getty ImagesIan Kennedy is 19-4 with a 2.99 ERA and ranks seventh in the NL in strikeouts.
This past weekend the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 2001 World Series championship team -- a team led Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who combined to win 43 games that season and were the only two pitchers to receive first-place votes for the National League Cy Young Award, which Johnson won with his staggering total of 372 strikeouts. Now a decade later, a new Diamondbacks Desert Duo of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson is leading Arizona back to the postseason and Kennedy, the NL's first 19-game winner, is worthy of Cy Young consideration.

The Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers 5-4 in 10 innings Tuesday night. Kennedy's first attempt at his 20th win wound up as his first no-decision since June 27, putting his record at 19-4 with a 2.99 ERA as he looks to his next chance for win No. 20 in a home start next week against the Pirates. The 35 combined wins by Kennedy and Hudson is the most in the National League and trails only the Tigers' 37 wins from Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Over his last 13 starts, Kennedy's record is a remarkable 11-1 with a 2.42 ERA. He's 9-0 on the season against the NL West, and the Elias Sports Bureau says, under the NL West's current configuration, only three pitchers have started 9-0 against the rest of the division -- all Diamondbacks: Schilling in 2002, Brandon Webb in 2008 and Kennedy in 2011.

Kennedy certainly isn't flashy but he can be dominant. His 182 strikeouts are seventh in the NL, despite an average fastball release velocity of 90.1 mph, which ranks just 127th among major league starting pitchers. Kennedy wins by pounding the strike zone: 1,728 times so far this season, the fourth-highest total of pitches in the strike zone in all of baseball, behind only Cliff Lee, David Price and Justin Masterson. "He's so good with his fastball that he can pitch strictly off that," his teammate Hudson told me in a text message Tuesday night. "His command to all parts of the strike zone allows him to change eye levels with hitters which then makes his other pitches, which are really good as well, that much better. He's fun to watch."

Kennedy has a good changeup, which he throws about 15 percent of the time, that arrives at an average of 81.1 mph with split-finger action for an effective out pitch. What makes him unique however, is an ability to work up in the strike zone while throwing 70 percent of his fastballs for strikes. Opponents, who hit .268 versus Kennedy's fastball last season, are hitting .231 against the pitch this season while his OPS on the fastball has dropped from .825 to .648. Why do hitters have so much trouble with a 90-mph fastball thrown consistently in the hitting zone? For the answer, I went to Schilling.

"There's a difference between command and control," Schilling said. "Control is the ability to throw strikes, which everybody in the big leagues has to have. Command is the ability to control strikes inside the strike zone and that's a different level and I think he's gotten to where his fastball is multiple pitches for him and if you throw the ball 91 to 93 miles per hour, that can be an incredibly effective pitch if you have other stuff to go with it. He's always had decent secondary stuff, but it's become above-average in my mind because of his fastball command."

Schilling was among the many 2001 Diamondbacks who returned for last weekend's 10th anniversary championship celebration and said the Kennedy/Hudson pairing has helped both pitchers, just as pairing up helped Johnson and himself a decade earlier. "I lived it," Schilling said. "I know what it did for me, it was a huge positive for me. I fed off that. The mentality is, you want the guy to go out ahead of you and throw a two-hit shutout because you're going to go out and throw a one-hit shutout. Early on, I think that they started to get a taste of that and I think as the season has gone on, now that these games are really important, the bar has raised. I think they're feeding off each other at the perfect time for Arizona."

Hudson agreed, saying about Kennedy, "His confidence this year has really rubbed off on me because I see him throw well basically every start and it gives me something to try and out-do or top. Most of the time unsuccessfully but it's still fun to have a friendly competition with him. It's made me a better pitcher." Hudson will attempt to win his 17th game Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium against Los Angeles lefty Clayton Kershaw, who is among Kennedy's chief Cy Young competitors.

Kennedy certainly shouldn't be considered the Cy Young favorite. However, with he and Hudson leading the way, Arizona has won 18 of 21 games since Aug. 23 to run away with the NL West. Now as Arizona gets ready for a postseason run, this latest Diamondbacks Desert Duo may tap into the Johnson/Schilling mojo from a decade earlier for a return engagement in the World Series.

Follow Steve Berthiaume on Twitter @SBerthiaumeESPN.


We closed another fine week on the Baseball Today podcast as Mark Simon and I discussed many interesting and fun stats and topics, including these:


1. The Phillies topped the Brewers, but the names will probably be different if they meet in October. Does this series have more significance than most?


2. On an otherwise slow Thursday, Ian Kennedy continued his winning ways... so why isn’t he getting more Cy Young consideration?


3. Juan Pierre picks up hit No. 2,000, but how should the speedy outfielder’s career -- and season -- be interpreted?


4. We discuss the baseball term “golden sombrero” and its potential relevance to a recent Baltimore Orioles game.


5. Two notable weekend series could make the pennant races a lot more interesting, but only if the Rays and Cardinals simply don’t lose.


Plus: Excellent emails, more on Jerome Williams, Justin Verlander and misunderstood closer Jose Valverde, one-out victories and other wild stats and much more -- including Super Bowl picks! -- on a fun and packed Friday edition of Baseball Today. Enjoy your weekend!

Twitterview with Daniel Hudson

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
6:49
PM ET
 Daniel HudsonAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarDaniel Hudson is 15-9 with a 3.53 ERA through his first 29 starts.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are winning the NL West. After going 65-97 to finish 27 games behind the San Francisco Giants last season, the D-backs have already won 82 games this season and entering Thursday held a healthy seven-game lead over the defending World Series champs. Arizona's pitching has been critical to its success and Daniel Hudson has been an instrumental part of that equation.

Hudson was a fifth-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2008 out of Old Dominion University. Traded by Chicago to Arizona at the July deadline last season, Hudson immediately flourished in the desert, going 7-1 with the Diamondbacks with a 1.69 ERA while allowing just 51 hits in 79.2 innings. This season, Hudson and teammate Ian Kennedy have led the Diamondbacks' rotation on the march to an NL West title for Arizona, where there's a pool in the outfield and several unique slogans that have served as rallying cries.

With Hudson scheduled to pitch Friday against the Padres, one day before the Diamondbacks honor the 10-year anniversary of their 2001 World Series championship team that featured Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, Hudson joined me for an interview via Twitter. As many of his fans followed, we had this conversation. It's the Daniel Hudson Twitterview, in 140 characters or fewer.

Designated Twitter logo

SB: #DBacks won 65 games last year & were 27 back of #SFGiants. Now AZ has won 82 games & leads by 7. What happened?
DH: I think a change of attitude instilled by our great coaching staff and everyone counting us out in spring training.
SB: Counted out in spring training? Was that a sore spot for the team?
DH: absolutely! We had a lot of new faces in spring and everyone picked us to finish last again, so our motto was "why not us?"

SB: What is it like to play for Kirk Gibson?
DH: it's great. His grittiness and feisty attitude has definitely rubbed off on us. We always expect to comeback and win.
SB: Seriously, does anyone in the #DBacks clubhouse ever do the fist-pump imitation of him rounding bases after '88 W.S. HR?
DH: haha, I've never seen anyone do it, but JJ (Putz) and Kelly Johnson made ties for a roadtrip with him from his gillete commercial picture of him sitting in a bath tub talking about how good the deodorant is! Players and coaches all wore them.

SB: #SFGiants had "fearthebeard" last yr. #DBacks have #FearTheRedBeard this yr. Can you explain for East Coast fans?
DH: Ian Kennedy has brown hair, but somehow his beard is all red, not a brown hair in it. 18 wins and his beard got a following.
SB: So his genetic oddity has become a #DBacks rallying cry? With 18 wins it must be working, right?
DH: lol not so much us, but the fans seem to like it. #feartheredbeard signs are hilarious! and yes. When you win 18 games, you have to point at something for your success, and it's definitely the #redbeard lol

[+] EnlargeIan Kennedy
G Fiume/Getty ImagesFear the red beard: Ian Kennedy is in the Cy Young picture with his 18-4 record and 2.96 ERA.
SB: You were 7-1 with #DBacks last year. You're 15-9 so far this year. Why has AZ been such a good fit for you?
DH: coming over with a clean slate and no expectations was a big part of it. I got called up by sox to replace (Jake) Peavy. Tough shoes to fill, and I struggled and got away from who I was as a pitcher. Getting "me" back was big for me and dbacks staff.

SB: You got your first MLB hit & RBI in #DBacks debut last August. Is that why your Twitter avatar is a pic of you hitting?
DH: I was lucky enough to have a dbacks photographer snap a pic as I hit my first HR. So I thought I'd like to show it off haha
SB: It could work as a visualization technique for you: see your avatar pic in your head every time you step into the box!
DH: yep! As long as I don't have to bunt ... I want to swing it!

SB: You played Little League baseball with Justin Upton in Virginia. Who was the better player back then?
DH: Justin. I was (still am) really slow, confined to playing 1B. But I gave him some protection in the lineup!
SB: Did you pitch in Little League -- or just rake as a slow-footed 1B type?
DH: I did both. Usually would pitch until I hit a pitch count limit, then would go play first for a few games.

SB: You were a star pitcher at Old Dominion University. So was Justin Verlander. What's the deal with ODU baseball?
DH: go monarchs! Great baseball tradition. Some really good teams in the 80s and 90s. I wasn't highly recruited out of high school and wanted to go somewhere where I would pitch from day one, and odu gave me that opportunity and I ran with it.

SB: Dan, your Twitter flow was heavy Fantasy Football this week. Is that a big deal among the #DBacks?
DH: Yeah I think a lot of teams do it. It's a lot of fun to go through the draft and whatnot with your friends and teammates and I wanted to brag a little bit because I think my team is awesome!
SB: So you're a Mel Kiper Jr, Jr? Fantasy Football does seem big in MLB clubhouses. Why is that?
DH: I think a lot of guys are football fans, and it's a good way to stay in touch and competitive with teammates in offseason

SB: You play in a #DBacks ballpark that has a pool in the outfield. What's the strangest thing you've ever seen out there?
DH: love the pool! Wasn't there but saw the guy make the diving catch into it during the HR derby. That was awesome!
SB: Do players ever actually hang out in that pool before the park opens or is it just a gimmick for the fans?
DH: for the fans. But the brewers bullpen guys jumped in after conditioning in the outfield one day. It's hot with the roof open

SB: I saw you tweeted a picture of a giant snake at your feet while you were golfing last week. Some kind of omen?
DH: definitely a good omen. Just a fellow diamondback wishing us good luck before we played our series in San Fran!!
SB: Good luck #DBacks from here as well, Dan. Thanks for your time & thanks to all of you fans who followed the Dan Hudson Twitterview!
DH: no problem! Thanks for the questions and thanks to everyone for following!! #GoDbacks #FearTheRedBeard #winthewest

You can follow Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Hudson on Twitter: @DHuddy41.

You can follow Baseball Tonight's Steve Berthiaume on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.

When Josh Beckett left Monday’s start in the fourth inning with a sprained ankle, Red Sox Nation took a deep breath and tried to hold down its Labor Day hot dogs and hamburgers.

Beckett will get checked out on Tuesday but his first words weren’t the most encouraging response: "It's always concerning. That's my power leg,” Beckett said. "It felt like it was locked up and then it popped in and out of the socket or something.”

Considering Boston’s rotation has kind of turned into a shambles behind Beckett and Jon Lester -- Erik Bedard will miss his next start with a sore knee -- Beckett suddenly becomes one of the key pitchers to watch down the stretch. Here are a few others.

Alexi Ogando, Rangers: Scott Feldman started in place of Ogando on Monday, as the Rangers decided Ogando needed a break. It’s understandable: Ogando is up to 155 innings, 84 more innings than he pitched last season, so the fatigue that everyone was worried about has perhaps set in. In his past six starts, he’s allowed 21 runs in 22.2 innings and got knocked out before the fifth inning three times. Ron Washington hasn’t determined if Ogando will make another relief appearance before starting again, but this much is clear: If the Rangers hold off the Angels for the AL West title, Ogando will need to make a couple good September starts to earn a spot in the playoff rotation.

Freddy Garcia, Yankees: Garcia has made two starts since his return after almost four weeks on the disabled list, both against the Orioles, and with mixed results. He allowed two hits over six innings last week, but on Monday got rocked for nine hits and seven runs in 2.2 innings. After CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the Yankees' rotation is still wide open: Phil Hughes has been hit around his past two starts; A.J. Burnett has a 7.39 ERA going back to July, with just one win in 11 starts; Bartolo Colon hasn’t won in six starts, allowing a 5.00 ERA and eight home runs. Will any of these guys step up?

Max Scherzer, Tigers: Don’t let the 14-8 record mislead you -- Scherzer continues to battle inconsistency and gopher balls. Only Colby Lewis and Burnett have allowed more home runs among AL pitchers. Scherzer tossed seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on Sunday and the Tigers need their No. 2 starter to show he can do that over two or three outings in a row. Without the good Scherzer, even Justin Verlander may not be enough to carry the Tigers out of the first round.

Al Alburquerque, Tigers: He was just activated from the DL on Monday, and the Tigers need the rookie righty to perform like he did early in the season, when he blew away hitters with his nasty slider. The Detroit bullpen has been a key to the team’s second half: After posting a 4.68 ERA in the first half, the relief corps has a 3.15 ERA since the All-Star break. Alburquerque could be another weapon to use before closer Jose Valverde.

Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, Braves: Both right-handers received some positive news over the weekend, but their potential playoff status remains up in the air. Jurrjens received a second opinion on his knee, with confirmation that it is a bone bruise and not anything more severe, but he probably won’t be able to throw off a mound for two more weeks. Hanson felt better after a long-toss session. “I’d like to get a start or two in the regular season, if I can,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve just got to wait and see. I don’t want to push it like last time and then be done [because of a re-injury]. But at the same time, I don’t know to go too slow and then not have enough time to come back.” The Braves have excellent depth with Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Derek Lowe and Mike Minor, but you know they’d like at least one of these two guys to show he's healthy before the postseason.

Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: Kennedy has matched his career high of 194 innings, so he’s entering uncharted territory. If anything, however, he’s been looking even stronger: Since the All-Star break, his ERA is 2.05, his opponents’ batting average is .217 and he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a game. If he continues like that in September, Arizona will have an ace to match up with the Phillies, their likely first-round opponent.

Vance Worley and Roy Oswalt, Phillies: Who will be the Phillies' No. 4 starter in the postseason? Worley continues to impress, but you know Charlie Manuel is loyal to his veterans. A strong finish from Oswalt probably pushes him into the October rotation.

Zack Greinke, Brewers: Who is Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter? It’s a crucial decision for the first round, as the ace may be the only guy to draw two starts. I’m not convinced it’s Greinke, who’s pitched more than seven innings just twice all season. Greinke isn’t wild (only 34 walks in 23 starts), and he leads the NL in strikeout rate (10.7 per nine innings), and that lack of economy means he doesn’t pitch deep into the game often enough. Considering postseason hitters will be more patient than his usual NL Central fodder, is he the guy you want starting the playoff opener? Keep an eye on him down the stretch though, as he’s also the Milwaukee starter most likely to get hot.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
PiratesAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBut I don't want to be a Pirate! Actually, this guy very much wants to be a Pirate.

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