LEAD OFF

Break up the Baltimore Orioles! With a 5-1 victory over the Tigers Monday, the O’s improved to 4-0—their best start since 1997, which was the last time the Orioles made the postseason. Is it really possible? Is it Buck Showalter? I have no clue, but they sure on a hot ride dating back to last August.

Here are some of the numbers on the O’s 4-0 start…

  • O’s have allowed only four runs in four games.
  • They are outscoring opponents (Rays, Tigers) 17-4.
  • They have yet to trail a game this season.
  • Orioles starters have allowed two runs in 26 innings, a 0.69 ERA.
  • Since Showalter took over as Orioles manager on August 3 of last year, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 38-23 in the 61 game stretch.

NOTABLE DEBUTS (from Sunday)

Zach Britton, Orioles: W, 6.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 3BB, 6K

Michael Crotta, Pirates: 1.0 IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 1K

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz made history last night as he homered in his fourth straight game to start the season in the Rangers 6-4 win over Seattle. He became just the third player in history to accomplish the feat. Willie Mays was the first to do it in 1971 and scroll down to find out who the second slugger was.

QUESTION:

In 1998, this player became the second to homer in his team’s first four games of the season. Can you name him?

QUICK HIT

With every good start, there’s a bad start to the season as well. For a bad start, see the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew are 0-4 after being swept by the Reds that started with a blown three-run lead on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Today, they fell apart late again on two solo home runs by the Braves Martin Prado and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s home run hit the top of the wall and bounced over for the game-winning run. The Brewers responded by becoming frustrating and blaming it on bad luck instead of their lackluster play on the field:

“What do you want me to say? We had a ball hit the top of the wall and bounce away from us.” — Casey McGehee

ANSWER:

Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire belted a home run in his first four games to start the ’98 season. That season should stick out in fans memory as the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on a home run chase after Roger Maris single-season record of 61 home runs. McGwire would ultimately beat out Sosa and break the record with 70 homers.

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Two 600 milestones in the same season? Congratulations to Trevor Hoffman on nailing down his career 600th save with a scoreless ninth inning over the Cardinals 4-2 Tuesday night. He’s the only pitcher in ML history with 600 saves. Keep in mind, the save didn’t become a stat until 1969, but it’s still a momentous accomplishment by a player who has been saving games effectively for 18 seasons.

Brewers announcer Bob Uecker said it best: “It’s been a long time coming.” No kidding. Two months ago, I wasn’t sure this moment would ever happen…at least not in Milwaukee. I’m still not sure why the sinking Brewers didn’t give him the chance to get this save say two months ago when they were still out of it and going nowhere. What was the big wait? Sure he struggled mightily early this season, but they had the save counter up at Miller Park all year when it looked like he may never get that chance. Thankfully, the situation worked itself out as he did get that chance in the final month of the season.

So what’s the next move for the 42-year-old closer? He’s currently in the middle of his worst season ever at 2-7 with a 6.09 ERA and nine saves in 47 appearances. He signed a one-year deal with the Brewers in the offseason, and I doubt they will make an effort to bring him back for 2011. And I don’t believe Hoffman would want to come back at this point. He continues to say to the media that he’s playing this season out and will make the decision when the time comes, but something tells me that he will hang it up after this season and go out on top in the 600-save club.

At any rate, Tuesday night was a great moment for baseball and Hoffman that should be remembered for a long time as he will be entering Cooperstown sooner than later. So who’s next for the 600-save club? Mariano Rivera? The 40-year-old Yankees closer sits at 555 saves. So far he’s shown no signs of breaking down at all, so 600 saves for him is definitely a legit possibility.

MLB fans, GMs and players can now breathe again—the trading deadline has officially passed. Need a recap on everything went down? Here are some trade links to do just that…

MLB Trade Rumors is the authority on the trading deadline, and the folks over there put together a nice rundown of all the trades from the past couple of days.

MLB.com also runs down the plethora of trades today.

Jayson Stark of ESPN gives his winners and losers of the trading deadline.

Big League Stew of Yahoo! ranks the top 10 notable trades from this July.

I had to get my hometown Pirates in here as they were busy as usual on the deadline. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recaps the three trades the Buccos made today. From my viewpoint, the Pirates made some low-risk free agent pickups in the offseason and flipped most of them for some decent, young talent today. Not bad in my book.

Am I the only one who didn’t like the Jake Westbrook deal for the Cardinals? I mean parting with young hitter Ryan Ludwick for Westbrook when they also went after Oswalt and Lilly and end up with Westbrook. Seems like they panicked to me and settled for the lesser of three pitchers. I could see Westbrook find his groove against NL hitters, but it’s still a downgrade after losing out on Oswalt and Lilly.

Speaking of the Indians, they found a taker for Kerry Wood!?! The Tribe sent the struggling closer to the Yankees for a player to be named later or 500k. Uh, I’m pretty sure that cash will work just fine. I could see the Indians going to the Yankees in the offseason and say, “You know what, don’t bother sending anyone for the deal. We’re good.”

FanGraphs breaks down the Octavio Dotel trade to the Dodgers and wonders, along with many, what the Dodgers are doing giving up too much for bullpen arms, including a top prospect in Andrew Lambo now with Pittsburgh.

Also, the Reds stood pat and made zero moves. Interesting. After trading for Yunel Escobar earlier this month, the Blue Jays also were quiet at the deadline along with the Tigers, Mets, A’s (Billy Beane must have been sick), Brewers (they’re in contention though, that’s it), Red Sox and Rockies.

Well the non-waiver trade deadline gone, tomorrow is August 1 and back to our regularly scheduled program of baseball while teams battle for pennants the last two months of the season.

This is too funny. MLB Trade Rumors is reporting via Keith Law of ESPN that the Brewers have decided they are too close to contention to sell Prince Fielder or Corey Hart at the trading deadline.

Really, Milwaukee?

The Brew Crew are 48-55, 9.0 games behind division leader Cincinnati. According to CoolStandings.com, they have a 0.2 percent chance to win the division and just a 0.3 chance to make the playoffs period. This has to be some kind of joke, right?

Well it’s either that the front office has lost it in terms of realistic expectations or they are doing this to drive up the price and urgency of interested teams at the 11th hour of the deadline. Or they really haven’t had many interested teams and this is their way of telling their fans they are holding onto their big pieces.

Anyway, I had to take a moment to post something about this after I laughed out loud for about 10 minutes after reading the Brewers actually thought they were “too close to contention” to sell. ROTF.

After saving 37 games for the Brewers in 2009, Trevor Hoffman began the 2010 season just nine saves away from being the first closer to reach 600. Halfway through the season, Hoffman stands at 596 for his career and has not pitched in a save opportunity in more than a month. And there’s been no indication that this will change anytime soon.

The Brewers handling of Trevor Hoffman has become a disgrace.

It’s become a sad situation to watch in Milwaukee. Don’t get me wrong, Hoffman has been horrendous this year. It’s easily his worst season of his career at a time when it was destined to be one of his most memorable years with the 600-plateau accomplishment. Hoffman blew five saves by mid-May. He’s 2-4 with an 8.04 ERA in 28.o IP of work this season. After blowing a save on May 18 to the Reds when he allowed three runs while not recording an out, Trevor has been relegated to mop up work as a reliever while John Axford took over closer duties. Hoffman’s last appearance was a scoreless inning Friday night in a 9-3 win over the Braves.

What I don’t get is how the Brewers are handling this situation. Management has a save count board put up at Miller Park, but the thing continues to sit at 596 while Hoffman does not get opportunities. I agree that they needed to let someone else close for a while, but at least throw him the occasional opportunity. Let him get four more saves sometime this season, and then he can make the retirement decision in the offseason after he’s hit the accomplishment. I think he’s earned that much.

The Brewers aren’t exactly going anywhere this year with a record of 42-51 and rumors of Corey Hart, Prince Fielder and others being traded away any day continue to swirl around Wisconsin. A perfect example of what I’m talking about happened the weekend before the All-Star break with the Pirates in town. The Brewers held a 4-2 lead heading into the top of the ninth and brought Axford on to close the Buccos down. Why not throw Hoffman against the lowly Pirates, who managed six hits in the previous eight innings? If you aren’t going to give him a chance to close a game against the Pirates, when exactly are you going to throw him…if ever?

The coaches continue to say publicly that he could return as the closer at anytime. Brewers manager Ken Macha had this to say on June 23:

“I certainly would like Trevor to reach his goal, and (if) that’s getting 600, we’d like to get that done for him,” Macha said. “Or 610, or whatever he wants.”

That was on June 23. Pretty much a month ago. Hoffman has had zero opportunities since that time. Yeah right, Ken. This situation has become a disgrace for Hoffman.

He’s basically a $7.5 million liability of a middle reliever for the Brew Crew. If you really aren’t going to give him any more chances to reach 600 then just trade him or cut him to give him the opportunity to do it elsewhere. It would be a less than stellar parting from the team, but this situation is already a mess. It’s almost like the Brewers front office is waiting for Hoffman to make the first move and say, “Hey, I quit if I’m not going to get to pitch, or trade me to another team that will use me.”

Hoffman is the type of guy that may never say that to management and so we sit here and wait. It’s a shame to see a great career like Hoffman’s go down this road in his final chapter. Even if he finally hits the mark in Milwaukee, he probably already has the “no one wants me here” feeling and if he doesn’t and they hold onto him until the end of the season, it could get very ugly. I just have the feeling that this situation is going to get worse before it gets good again.

The bottom of the ninth play-by-play from Tuesday’s afternoon game between Milwaukee and Cincinnati as Trevor Hoffman attempted to nail down his 597th career save:

T. Hoffman relieved M. Estrada
– P. Janish singled to shallow center
S. Rolen hit for C. Fisher
– S. Rolen homered to deep left center, P. Janish scored
– C. Heisey doubled to shallow left
– B. Phillips walked
– J. Votto singled to right, C. Heisey scored, B. Phillips to second

Obviously, Hoffman was not good Tuesday afternoon. Four hits, one walk, three runs, ZERO outs and a big fat blown save and loss. Sure, the Reds have been hot, but when the all-time saves leader blows a two-run lead in a season that continues to get worse, it begs the question—is this it for Hoffman?

It wasn’t just a bad game either because Hoffman has struggled mightily all season. He’s currently 1-3 with a 13.15 ERA with 8K-7BB. Coming into the season, he needed only nine saves to reach the milestone of 600, and he currently has five on the year. Though he’s also blown five saves this year and it’s only mid-May. He blew a total of four games all last season for the Brewers, and the most saves he’s blown in any given year throughout his career was seven. Batters are hitting well over .300 against him. He’s absolutely getting torched all over the field.

While I expect him to keep scuffling toward 600 saves, I’m not sure how much longer the Brewers will continue to go with the 42-year-old as their closer. Without question, Hoffman has had a Hall of Fame career that has him leading everyone in saves all-time, but I have to believe that his 19th season in the Majors will be his last run.