Sometimes all it takes is one player to get a team going and on Sunday, Derek Jeter's presence in the lineup was enough. The Yankee captain returned from injury in dramatic fashion, launching the first pitch he saw off of Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore over the right-field wall for a home run. Jeter was 2-for-4 on the day with two runs scored. Jeter wasn't the only bat that made the difference for New York, however, as they welcomed Alfonso Soriano back into the mix after landing the outfielder in a deal with the Cubs. Soriano went 4-for-5 with three RBI, including the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth of the Yankees 6-5 home victory.
Tampa Bay now sits a half game back of first place thanks to the loss in New York, but that might not be the last time they sit atop the division. The Rays and Red Sox play each other in a makeup game on Monday night in Boston and with both teams playing streaky baseball this season, anything is possible.
Part of the secret for Tampa's huge return this season has been pitching and one of their silent assassins is rookie starter Chris Archer. Archer held the Yankees to just two hits on Saturday, posting his second shutout of the season in the process. It was only the fourth 1-0 shutout with two or fewer hits allowed against the Yankees ever. Furthermore, Archer didn't walk a single batter in both shutouts, becoming only the second rookie pitcher in the last 14 years to throw two, walk-less shutouts in the same season.
July was a great month for Archer, who went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA in five games, allowing only three earned runs in 37 innings pitched. Since 1920, only three other rookies have posted an earned-run average as low as Archer's July mark in a calendar month in which they pitched at least 35 innings: the Reds Junior Thompson in September 1939 (0.72), the Red Sox' Boo Ferriss in May 1945 (0.67) and the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela in April 1981 (0.20).
David Ortiz had an absolutely epic meltdown on Saturday night and the Baltimore dugout phone was the casualty. After a particularly awful 3-0 strike call from Tim Timmons during Big Papi's seventh-inning at-bat against the Orioles, Ortiz went on to strike out swinging. Clearly feeling he should have walked in the first place, Ortiz let Timmons know just how he felt by giving him a few choice words before taking his frustrations out on the dugout phone. Ortiz was sent for an early shower as a result while Boston went on to win the game 7-3.
The Cleveland Indians have enjoyed a great year thus far and even though Detroit seems like the team to beat in the division, Cleveland won't let that stop them in their quest for a playoff bid. The Tribe is 6-4 in their last 10 games and have one of baseball's best home records at 33-19. On Friday, Ryan Raburn hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, giving the Indians an 11-8 win in their series opener against Texas. It was the third walkoff home run by a Cleveland player this season. The others also came in extra innings, both in a series against the Mariners: (Jason Kipnis on May 17, Yan Gomes on May 20). Only two other major-league teams have had three game-ending extra-inning homers this year: the Angels (Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Josh Hamilton) and the Giants (Guillermo Quiroz, Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan).
Then, on Saturday, Michael Bourn's home run leading off the bottom of the first inning turned out to be all the offense the Indians needed en route to a 1-0 win over the Rangers. It was the first time in the Indians' 113-season franchise history that they won a game in which the only run came on a home run by the leadoff batter. The Tribe went on to sweep the series, taking Sunday's game 6-0, sitting just three games back from the division lead.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Brad Miller was named the AL Player of the Week for the week ending on July 21st. Miller, a second-round draft pick who was named college baseball's best shortstop while playing for Clemson in 2011, went 5-for-13 during the week with two home runs and seven RBIs. He seems to have formed a nice offensive and defensive partnership up the middle with rookie second baseman Nick Franklin, who has also impressed for the Mariners this season. Miller is hitting a modest .253/.333/.414 on the season.
Speaking of Nick Franklin, the sensational second baseman slugged a pair of home runs to lead the Mariners to a 6-4 victory over the Twins on Sunday. Franklin, who also hit two homers in a game at San Diego on May 30, joined Michael Young (2001, Rangers) as the only second basemen in the last 48 years (1966 to date) to have a pair of multiple-homer games in their rookie season. The last to do so before Young was Houston's Joe Morgan in 1965. Franklin, along with fellow rookie Brad Miller and the unbelievable starting pitching of Hisashi Iwakuma, has helped breathe new life into a downtrodden Seattle franchise that sits just five games under .500 entering August.
New York Mets outfielder Juan Lagares was named the NL Player of the Week for the week ending on July 21st. The rookie outfielder went 7-for-10 during the week with a home run and a pair of runs scored. Lagares gave the Mets a much-needed boost as they took two out of three games from the Phillies. There have not been too many great things to say about the Mets this season, but with a little work, Lagares could be a future cornerstone of the Mets outfield.
As for bright spots, it wouldn't be fair unless we mentioned Matt Harvey... yet again. At the start of the season, the Mets said they would be putting their superstar pitcher on an innings limit if they were not within reach of a playoff spot and this week, the front office came to their decision. Harvey will make his next 10 starts before shutting down for the year. The 24-year-old phenom is 8-2 with a stellar 2.11 ERA and 0.88 WHIP to go along with his 164 Ks. Harvey has 11 no decisions this season and in eight of them, he has allowed one run or less. That has to be a deflating stat for any pitcher to hear, but such is life with the Mets.
As a 20-year-old, Miami starter Jose Fernandez already finds himself in great company. The righty struck out 13 batters over eight innings to defeat the Pirates on Sunday, three days before his 21st birthday. Only three other pitchers since 1900 registered no-walk, 13+-strikeout games before age 21: Gary Nolan (15 strikeouts in 1967), Dwight Gooden (two 16-strikeout games in 1984) and Kerry Wood (20 strikeouts in 1998). Nolan and Gooden accomplished that as teenagers.
Flipping the switch, Miami also had some bad publicity this week when hitting coach Tino Martinez resigned amid allegations that he physically abused several Marlins players this season. Several players have complained that Martinez was a little too rough with them, yanking their chains or jerseys and cursing them out during hitting drills. After admitting that he had gotten a bit too physical with rookie Derek Dietrich in the batting cages earlier in the season, Martinez said 'I want to apologize to the Marlins organization for my behavior,'' Martinez said, ''I have made some comments to certain players at certain times that I thought was more constructive criticism. Obviously, they didn't feel that way, and it kind of backfired on me.''
The Cubs took care of the Giants on Sunday, defeating them 2-1, but under unusual circumstances. The only players with more than one hit for either team were the starting pitchers, Chicago's Travis Wood (2-for-3 with a home run) and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum (2-for-2). It was only the second major-league game in the last 75 years in which the two starting pitchers were the only players with more than one hit. The only other such occurrence over that span, since 1939, was on June 21, 1963. That day, the Mets defeated the Phillies at the Polo Grounds, with New York's Al Jackson going 2-for-4 and Philadelphia's Cal McLish going 2-for-2.
Mike Leake received an early 4-0 lead from his offense in the Reds' victory at San Francisco on Wednesday, extending his road winning streak to seven games. This might seem like a pretty good accomplishment, except it has become a pretty standard thing in the Cincinnati rotation to win on the road over the last few years. Mat Latos won nine straight decisions on the road in 2012-13, Homer Bailey won eight in a row in 2012 and Bronson Arroyo won six straight in 2008-09.
We have seen a couple of starting pitchers who are not afraid to swing the bat this season, the latest of which is Colorado's Tyler Chatwood. Chatwood allowed two runs in seven innings in his victory over the Brewers on Friday, but he also made an offensive contribution by going 2-for-2 and driving in two runs. It was the third time that Chatwood had two or more hits in a game this year. He knocked three hits against the Dodgers on April 29 and two more against the Phillies on June 15. The only other pitcher with three multi-hit games this season is the Dodgers' Zack Greinke.
Continuing the trend of pitchers who have helped their own cause at the plate, Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner hit the first home run of his major-league career in his win over Arizona on Saturday night. Cashner is the third San Diego pitcher to hit a home run this season, following Eric Stults (April 15) and Edinson Volquez (June 2). The Braves (Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor) and Cubs (Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood) are the only other major-league teams to have three different pitchers hit a home run this year.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has made plenty of noise this season for a bunch of different reasons, the latest of which having to do with his unusual home run celebration antics. After crushing a walkoff home run in the Dodgers' 1-0 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, Puig rounded the bases while the Los Angeles crowd roared. As he reached home plate, where his teammates were waiting for him, he slid foot first into the dish. Hey, whatever works for him. He's still hitting .372/.417/.590 in 48 games, even after a mid-season slump.
John Lopiano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow John on Twitter: @johnlopiano.
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