SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Milwaukee Brewers make plans to trade first baseman Prince Fielder this winter for much-needed starting pitching, the bar has been set for what they must get in return.
The Brewers have to do better than Daniel Hudson.
By all accounts, the Brewers were given the opportunity by the Chicago White Sox to acquire Hudson for Fielder, one-for-one, before the July 31 trade deadline. Supposedly looking for at least two pitchers in return at the time, the Brewers passed on the 23-year-old right-hander.
Instead, the White Sox traded Hudson to Arizona for veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson, who earlier had pitched a no-hitter. Hudson has gotten off to a sensational beginning with the Diamondbacks, going 6-1 with a 1.67 earned run average in nine outings, all quality starts.
Hudson has gone at least seven innings eight times, which would be a revelation in the Brewers' rotation. He has a 0.897 WHIP (walks and hits per inning), allowing only 46 hits and 12 walks in 642/3 innings.
Since making his debut Aug. 1 with Arizona, Hudson's ERA was third among National League pitchers and he was second in innings pitched.
It's difficult to fault the Brewers for not trading Fielder for the unproven Hudson, who might be pitching over his skis right now. But you have to wonder if they'll be offered much more this winter for Fielder, who would be a year away from free agency.
Fielder and agent Scott Boras turned down approximately $100 million over five years from the Brewers, so any club interested in trading for him would not reasonably expect to get an extension done. But keeping Fielder until free agency and receiving only draft picks as compensation doesn't make a lot of sense for the Brewers, and his trade value would only plummet by next July 31.
As for why Chicago would trade the promising and inexpensive Hudson for Jackson, who has a career 47-50 record and will make $8.35 million in 2011, apparently the White Sox were planning to flip Jackson to Washington for slugger Adam Dunn . When that deal fell apart, they were left with Jackson and the Diamondbacks happily had a young pitcher to fit in their rotation for years to come.
Not in the Cards
What's worse, never being in the playoff race like the Brewers, or being in it until the late going, then falling off the face of the earth?
The St. Louis Cardinals have everybody scratching their heads over their late-season fade, which came mostly against losing clubs. After being swept at home by the Chicago Cubs last week, the Cardinals have dropped eight consecutive series against sub-.500 teams: two each against Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee, and one each vs. Pittsburgh and Washington.
St. Louis is 44-47 against teams with losing records. Other than the first-place Cincinnati Reds, against whom they went 12-6, the Cardinals are 22-29 against National League Central foes.
On Aug. 13, St. Louis was 65-49 and one game ahead of the Reds. During the next 30 games, they went 9-21 to fall eight games off the pace. The Cards were six back entering Saturday.
"There will be a record and that will define a lot of what we've been about," said manager Tony La Russa. "You don't get special points for having a winning record for a while. It's the total season that will go into the book.
"It's kind of painful to watch. Over the course of the season, we know what this club has gone through. To see them struggling is kind of painful. To see guys pushing it; nobody's taking an easy way out. You're hoping there's a reward there somewhere."
Going for the jugular
In an effort to separate themselves from the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies have juggled their starting rotation to line up their "Big 3" for a huge three-game series between the clubs beginning Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
Left-hander Cole Hamels and right-handers Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt will start those three games against the Braves, who are keeping their rotation in order. The realignment also means the Phillies would have their three best pitchers face Atlanta on the final weekend of the season at Turner Field if those games still matter.
Halladay remains one of the top pitchers in baseball and Oswalt has been terrific since coming over from Houston, but Hamels has been the real revelation over the past couple of months. Since the all-star break, he has compiled a 1.79 earned run average.
After throwing a career-high 127 pitches Tuesday in 72/3 innings against Florida, Hamels will have an extra day of rest before facing the Braves on Monday. Over his last nine games, Hamels is 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA, allowing just 45 hits in 622/3 innings and holding opponents to a .197 batting average.
The Special K diet
The Brewers are about to have an unwanted record wiped out of the books. In 2001, they struck out 1,399 times as a team, the highest total in major-league history.
Don't look now, but the Arizona Diamondbacks are closing fast. Entering Saturday, they had whiffed 1,379 times, assuring they will blow by the Brewers soon and perhaps push the record out of reach.
The Diamondbacks had struck out 91 times over their last eight games, pushing their season average to 9.3 Ks per game. Nice average for a pitcher; bad for an offense.
Interim manager Kirk Gibson has emphasized making contact but has been fighting a losing battle.
"You put the ball in play, you are going to score more runs. It's as simple as that," said Gibson, who changed his hitting approach to cut down on his strikeouts later in his career.
"There has to be a conscious and mental effort to do so. I tell them, 'You guys have more left in your tank. Don't accept that that's who you are. You are not that animal. You can overcome that.' "
Former first baseman Mark Grace, now a TV analyst for the Diamondbacks, says players have become too accepting of strikeouts.
"Our era, we were embarrassed to strike out," Grace said, "because if you struck out, it meant you did nothing at all to help the club. If you put the ball in play, you give yourself a chance."
Third baseman Mark Reynolds continues to be the leader of the Special K gang. He entered Saturday with 197 strikeouts, fifth-most in major-league history, after setting records with 204 whiffs in 2008 and 223 last year.
No other player has had even one 200-strikeout season.
Getting it done
The Minnesota Twins removed all suspense from the American League Central race by sweeping the White Sox in decisive fashion last week, opening a nine-game lead entering Friday. The Twins went 13-5 against the Sox this season, winning seven of nine games in Chicago.
Since the all-star break, the Twins are 41-17, the best mark in the majors. And don't forget, they have been doing this without former MVP Justin Morneau, who has been out with a concussion with no certainty of returning soon.
Not only has Minnesota wrapped up its division, the Twins have a chance to finish with a better record than the Yankees or Rays, thus securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Outfielder/designated hitter Jason Kubel believes the Twins have enough depth, even without Morneau, to rest some players down the stretch and still put heat on New York and Tampa Bay for the best record.
"Obviously, we haven't won anything yet," said Kubel. "First and foremost, we have to get everyone healthy for the playoffs. It would be nice to have the best record in the league."
An uncertain future
There was a time when the Pittsburgh Pirates considered left-hander Zach Duke a budding ace in their starting rotation. Now, Duke isn't even assured of being offered a contract for 2011.
After getting pummeled for nine hits and eight runs in 31/3 innings Tuesday in a 9-1 loss to the New York Mets, Duke fell to 7-14 with a 5.78 ERA, the worst ERA in the majors among pitchers with at least 140 innings. Over his last four starts, he has surrendered 20 runs in 142/3 innings.
"Obviously, I haven't been good at all, and this team's been battling much too hard for me to do that to them," said Duke. "I have to find a way to be better, and I will."
Perhaps, but there is growing speculation that the Pirates will not tender a contract to Duke for next season. He is making $4.3 million this season, and despite his woeful record is in line for a raise through the goofy salary arbitration process.
Perhaps Duke, 27, would fare better on a decent team. Some think he has been beaten down by all the losing in Pittsburgh and harmed at times by the Pirates' woeful defense.
AROUND THE BASES
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
MLB: Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki wins for the second straight week for his ongoing role in trying to push the Rockies into the playoffs. Tulowitzki almost single-handedly beat San Diego on Wednesday with two homers and seven RBI. Entering Saturday, "Tulo" had compiled 12 homers and 29 RBI over his last 15 games.
BREWERS: LF Ryan Braun
Much as he did a year ago, Braun has put the pedal to the metal in a finishing kick. Including a torrid .424 average in August, Braun is hitting .401 since the start of that month, the highest mark in the majors. Entering Saturday, he was batting .435 over his last 11 games.
Rays at Yankees: Monday-Thursday. Might Jeter actually get drilled?
Giants at Rockies: Friday-Sunday. Huge playoff implications.
Reds at Padres: Friday-Sunday. Cincy can hurt Padres' chances.
Red Sox at Yankees: Friday-Sunday. Boston playing spoiler now.
BREWERS THIS WEEK
The Brewers kick off their last home stand of the season against the team that is where they want to be -- atop the National League Central. After three games against Cincinnati, Florida comes to town for four games that won't mean squat, except for a possible start by Mark Rogers.
DID YOU KNOW?
With Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder's consecutive-games streak ending at 327, Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp became the new active leader with 190 games in a row entering Saturday.
YOU FIGURE IT OUT
Those who were surprised that Washington outfielder Justin Maxwell, a .139 hitter, beat Atlanta, 4-2, with a grand slam Wednesday haven't been paying attention to his otherwise obscure career.
Maxwell's grand slam was his third in 194 career at-bats. He has come to bat with the bases loaded four times in the majors and gone deep three times.
To put that in perspective, Maxwell has more career grand slams than Derek Jeter and Pete Rose combined (each hit one). Not too bad for a .204 career hitter over parts of three big-league seasons.
"I just try not to think about it when you have those situations," said Maxwell. "You just try to put together a good at-bat for the team. I was just trying to put the ball in play, and it worked out that I got a pitch over the plate."