Three strikes: Padres, All-Star starters and streaks

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball:

STRIKE 1: Pushing all the right buttons
It was the kind of move that leads to manager of the year awards.

All season, the backbone of the Padres’ surprising rise to first place has been the back of their bullpen: Luke Gregerson in the seventh, Mike Adams in the eighth and Heath Bell in the ninth. "If we get through six with the lead, we feel like the game is over," starter Kevin Correia says.

The Padres' relievers all give much of the credit for their success to manager Bud Black.
The Padres’ relievers all give much of the credit for their success to manager Bud Black.

The three key members of the Padres’ "PENitentiary" (well, their pitching is better than their nicknaming) all are quick to credit manager Bud Black for the bullpen’s success, in part because he so clearly has defined their roles — and stuck to them. "We all feel like we’re closers but we’re not competing against each other. We’re happy in our roles," Bell says.

After Mat Latos shut out the Rays for seven innings Tuesday night, Black resisted the temptation to turn to Gregerson even though he has been the bullpen’s most consistent performer. Black stuck with routine and turned over a 2-0 eighth-inning lead to Adams.

Adams allowed a run but seemed in control after getting two outs and having just a runner on first. Because Bell had not been called on for more than a three-out save all season, it figured Adams would stay in the game. Not on this night.

Black went with a feeling this time and called on Bell to face the Rays’ best hitter, Evan Longoria. Bell made his manager look smart when he used an 82-mph changeup — a nice weapon when you have an upper-90-mph fastball — to strike out Longoria. An inning later, the 2-1 victory was secured.

Black later said he pulled Adams because he was "a little off, especially with his slider."

"Some of the swings they were taking led me to think that it wasn’t going to turn around," Black said. "I’m a big Mike Adams fan, but I felt for the Padres on this night, we had to do that."

"I didn’t see what Bud saw," Bell said later, "But he saw something and he acted upon it. For the most part all season, he’s been right on."

Indeed. The Padres, widely picked to finish last in the NL West because of their weak offense, own the NL’s best record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the N.L. West. That, of course, also might have something to do with Black emerging as a leading candidate for manager of the year.

STRIKE 2: Thinking All-Star starters
Unlike in the National League, where Ubaldo Jimenez is the obvious candidate to start the July 13 All-Star Game in Anaheim, no clear choice has emerged in the A.L.

Cliff Lee leads the league in ERA but spent time on the disabled list and pitches for a last-place team. Up-and-comers David Price, Clay Buchholz and Phil Hughes all have 10 wins and rank among the ERA leaders. Then there is Andy Pettitte, who certainly is deserving (9-2, 2.48 ERA) and has the advantage of playing for the manager (Joe Girardi) who will make the call.

Pettitte has 238 career wins and an impressive postseason resume but has only made two All-Star teams, the last one in 2001. An All-Star start would be a fitting tribute to a potential Hall of Famer who could be in his final season.

Last season, the Rays’ Joe Maddon chose Roy Halladay over Zack Greinke in large part as a lifetime achievement recognition. This season, Price could be passed over for the same reason. If so, Maddon would have no objections.

"David is worthy and deserving but however it shakes out, we’ll deal with it at that moment," Maddon says. "Whatever happens is fine."

STRIKE 3: Scorching in Texas and Chicago’s South Side What do the Rangers’ 11-game winning streak and the White Sox’s nine-gamer have in common?

First, they demonstrate just how little off-the-field turmoil can impact what happens on the field. The fact the Rangers’ sale hit another roadblock probably isn’t foremost on Vladimir Guerrero’s mind or, really, any of the players’. In Chicago, guys will continue going about their routines no matter what happened or happens in the Kenny Williams-Ozzie Guillen soap opera. The White Sox, in fact, have lost only once since the Williams and Guillen blowup.

A more likely explanation for the winning ways of both clubs: schedules. Both have feasted on some of the NL’s weakest: The Rangers have smacked around the Brewers, Marlins, Astros and Pirates while the White Sox have swept the Pirates, Nationals and Braves. Of those seven clubs, only the Braves have a winning record.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball:

STRIKE 1: Pushing all the right buttons
It was the kind of move that leads to manager of the year awards.

All season, the backbone of the Padres’ surprising rise to first place has been the back of their bullpen: Luke Gregerson in the seventh, Mike Adams in the eighth and Heath Bell in the ninth. "If we get through six with the lead, we feel like the game is over," starter Kevin Correia says.

The Padres' relievers all give much of the credit for their success to manager Bud Black.
The Padres’ relievers all give much of the credit for their success to manager Bud Black.

The three key members of the Padres’ "PENitentiary" (well, their pitching is better than their nicknaming) all are quick to credit manager Bud Black for the bullpen’s success, in part because he so clearly has defined their roles — and stuck to them. "We all feel like we’re closers but we’re not competing against each other. We’re happy in our roles," Bell says.

After Mat Latos shut out the Rays for seven innings Tuesday night, Black resisted the temptation to turn to Gregerson even though he has been the bullpen’s most consistent performer. Black stuck with routine and turned over a 2-0 eighth-inning lead to Adams.

Adams allowed a run but seemed in control after getting two outs and having just a runner on first. Because Bell had not been called on for more than a three-out save all season, it figured Adams would stay in the game. Not on this night.

Black went with a feeling this time and called on Bell to face the Rays’ best hitter, Evan Longoria. Bell made his manager look smart when he used an 82-mph changeup — a nice weapon when you have an upper-90-mph fastball — to strike out Longoria. An inning later, the 2-1 victory was secured.

Black later said he pulled Adams because he was "a little off, especially with his slider."

"Some of the swings they were taking led me to think that it wasn’t going to turn around," Black said. "I’m a big Mike Adams fan, but I felt for the Padres on this night, we had to do that."

"I didn’t see what Bud saw," Bell said later, "But he saw something and he acted upon it. For the most part all season, he’s been right on."

Indeed. The Padres, widely picked to finish last in the NL West because of their weak offense, own the NL’s best record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the N.L. West. That, of course, also might have something to do with Black emerging as a leading candidate for manager of the year.

STRIKE 2: Thinking All-Star starters
Unlike in the National League, where Ubaldo Jimenez is the obvious candidate to start the July 13 All-Star Game in Anaheim, no clear choice has emerged in the A.L.

Cliff Lee leads the league in ERA but spent time on the disabled list and pitches for a last-place team. Up-and-comers David Price, Clay Buchholz and Phil Hughes all have 10 wins and rank among the ERA leaders. Then there is Andy Pettitte, who certainly is deserving (9-2, 2.48 ERA) and has the advantage of playing for the manager (Joe Girardi) who will make the call.

Pettitte has 238 career wins and an impressive postseason resume but has only made two All-Star teams, the last one in 2001. An All-Star start would be a fitting tribute to a potential Hall of Famer who could be in his final season.

Last season, the Rays’ Joe Maddon chose Roy Halladay over Zack Greinke in large part as a lifetime achievement recognition. This season, Price could be passed over for the same reason. If so, Maddon would have no objections.

"David is worthy and deserving but however it shakes out, we’ll deal with it at that moment," Maddon says. "Whatever happens is fine."

STRIKE 3: Scorching in Texas and Chicago’s South Side What do the Rangers’ 11-game winning streak and the White Sox’s nine-gamer have in common?

First, they demonstrate just how little off-the-field turmoil can impact what happens on the field. The fact the Rangers’ sale hit another roadblock probably isn’t foremost on Vladimir Guerrero’s mind or, really, any of the players’. In Chicago, guys will continue going about their routines no matter what happened or happens in the Kenny Williams-Ozzie Guillen soap opera. The White Sox, in fact, have lost only once since the Williams and Guillen blowup.

A more likely explanation for the winning ways of both clubs: schedules. Both have feasted on some of the NL’s weakest: The Rangers have smacked around the Brewers, Marlins, Astros and Pirates while the White Sox have swept the Pirates, Nationals and Braves. Of those seven clubs, only the Braves have a winning record.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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