Five to keep an eye on

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Okay, so we’ve taken a look at some first-half
standouts and disappointments, now on to some players to watch for the
second-half.

Howie Kendrick: I’m gonna go
out on a limb and say that Kendrick will hit better than .231 in the
second half. He did nothing but rake after being demoted to Triple-A
Salt Lake on June 13, compiling a .346/.414/.526 line with two homers,
six doubles and 11 RBI in 78 at-bats on the farm. While you can usually
count his walks on two hands, remember that Kendrick was a .306 career
hitter entering the 2009 season. It wasn’t too long ago that people
were touting him as a future batting champion. He’s one of the better
bounce-back candidates for the second half.

Jorge De La Rosa: Dan Haren has
been robbed of several wins already, but De La Rosa is among the
unluckiest pitchers in the sport right now. On the surface his 5-7
record, 5.14 ERA and 1.44 WHIP offers little hope for rebound, but if
you take a closer look you’ll see that his FIP (Fielder Independant
Pitching) is a more-palatable 3.81. Only two starters (Cole Hamels and
Carl Pavano) have a bigger disparity between their ERA and FIP.
Remember, De La Rosa averages 9.37 K/9 — only six pitchers are better
— while he has allowed three runs or less in four of his last six
starts, highlighted by a season-best eight shutout innings against the
Diamondbacks on Friday night.

Franklin Gutierrez: Watching
Adam Jones make his first All-Star team as a member of the Orioles is a
little less painful knowing that Gutierrez is showing signs of a
breakout season of his own. When the Mariners acquired him as part the
J.J. Putz trade over the winter, they knew they were getting an
excellent glove-man, but he’s been so much more than that. In addition
to the +12.0 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to lead all center-fielders,
Gutierrez has a solid .300/.362/.447 line with seven homers and 22 RBI
since a poor .230/.299/.328 showing in April. He’s even hit
right-handers at a .274 clip. Maybe this guy can hit after all.

Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan was in
the midst of a nightmare season for the Nationals (7.71 ERA and 1.96
WHIP in 24 appearances) before being dealt to the Pirates as part of
the Nyjer Morgan trade last week. The 27-year-old right-hander already
has a shaky appearance under his belt as a Bucco (two runs on three
hits and a walk on Friday night against the Marlins) but he stands to
benefit if the club decides to trade Matt Capps, as rumored. Keep in
mind that the hard-throwing Hanrahan is among the bullpen elite with a
9.21 K/9 in his career. He’s also gotten incredibly unlucky with a
64.1% strand rate and a 4.34 gap between his ERA (7.79) and FIP (3.44)
— the largest such disparity in the majors this season.

Bud Norris: This might be a
selfish choice considering I own him in my Scoresheet league, but the
2006 sixth-round pick from Cal Poly has absolutely picked apart the
hitter-friendly PCL this season, leading the league in ERA (2.52) and
all of Triple-A in strikeouts (92). He recently jumped Tommy Hanson,
who struck out 90 in just 66 2/3 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett. The
strong first half has earned the 24-year-old a start for the PCL
All-Star team on July 15. Norris, who was named second-best prospect in
the Astros system by Baseball America over the winter, features a
plus-fastball, slider and developing change-up. He’s just biding his
time in the minors.

Is Bud Black the favorite to be the next Braves manager?

Bud Black
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We talked last week about how Fredi Gonzalez is likely a dead man walking as the Braves manager. They stink, he’s a lame duck and part of the team’s whole marketing thrust is “2017 will be a new beginning,” what with the new ballpark and all. It stands to reason that Mr. Gonzalez doesn’t have long for this world.

Last week I suspected he’d be fired tomorrow, the Braves off day before a home stand. They’ve won in the past week, but it still wouldn’t shock me. Even if firing Gonzalez would be an act of scapegoating. It’s the roster that’s the problem, not the manager, even though Fredi doesn’t exactly inspire anyone.

Today Bob Nightengale throws this into the mix:

As of yet he hasn’t followed that up with an actual column or more tweets about who, exactly, considers Black to be the heavy favorite, but there’s a definitiveness to that which makes me think he’s heard something solid.

Black, as you know, was the long time Padres manager who had an unsuccessful flirtation with the Nationals before they hired Dusty Baker this past offseason. Black is now cooling his heels with his longtime boss Mike Scioscia in Anaheim, in what is clearly a “wait for his next managing opportunity” posture.

Could it be in Atlanta? At least one national writer and some nebulous group of insiders believe so, it would seem.

The Reds bullpen set a record for futility

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher J.J. Hoover reacts after giving up a solo home run to Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, left, during the ninth inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Cubs won 8-1. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Associated Press
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I mentioned this in the recaps this morning but it’s worthy of its own post.

The Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen gave up two runs last night. In so doing it made for the 21st consecutive game in which it has allowed at least one run. That’s a new major league record, having surpassed the 2013 Colorado Rockies’ record of 20, according to Elias.

Last year the Reds set a record — shattered it, really — by going with rookie starting pitchers in 64 straight games to end the season. Those guys aren’t rookies anymore, but they’re still really inexperienced. They could probably use some better bullpen help than they’ve been getting.

Headline of the Day– A-Rod: “Trophy Boyfriend”

Alex Rodriguez
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For as long as there have been couples, the woman in a couple has been publicly defined by the man’s life and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter if the woman cures cancer, walks on the moon or wins the Eurovision Song Contest, when news stories or obituaries are written, she is invariably referred to as “wife of ___” or “girlfriend of ___.” Even if the guy is a grade-A schmuck.

While that pattern still persists, it’s nice to see someone flip the script on it once in a while. Like The Cut did in its story about a new, high-profile couple going public:

 

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The couple: Alex Rodriguez and Anne Wojcicki. Who, if you were unaware, is a Silicon Valley biotech CEO and a billionaire. She went to Yale, played varsity hockey in college and is a mother. Alex Rodriguez is accomplished and famous, but outside of the sports bubble he’s a padawan to Wojcicki’s master Jedi. Despite this, in places other than The Cut, it would still not be surprising to see her referred to as “A-Rod’s girlfriend,” because that’s just how people roll. Here’s hoping others take The Cut’s lead when referring to women in the public sphere more often.

A related note: in the rare cases when a famous male personality is identified in reference to his female partner and not the other way around, people like to make jokes and like to question the masculinity of the man. Which is equally stupid. And, to the man in question, should be utterly beside the point.

To that end, I think it’s worth noting that Alex Rodriguez has been involved with several women who, outside of baseball, are far more famous than he is and it’s never seemed to be an issue for him whatsoever. People like to say a lot of things about A-Rod’s ego and personality, but in this respect I bet he’s a hell of a lot better adjusted, grounded and self-assured than the vast majority of men who might find themselves in his place.

Video: Jeff Samardzija breaks a bat over his knee after striking out

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Jeff Samardzija had a great night last night. He allowed one run on three hits over eight innings and picked up the win. In the early going he’s proving wrong those who thought that the Giants overpaid for him and is providing solid performance from the third spot in the Giants rotation. It’s all good.

But good is not always good enough for a professional athlete. Especially one like Samardzija, who excelled in multiple sports and likely can count his lifetime athletic failures on one hand. No, when you’re wired like that you get upset even when you’re excellent because sometimes you want to be perfect.

For example, most pitchers don’t get too worried about striking out. They’re there to pitch, not bat. They turn on their heel and calmly walk back to the dugout. Samardzija, however, got a bit irate when he struck out. Then he did this: