Daily Dose: Pujols, Smoltz team up for win

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John Smoltz and Albert Pujols made for a nice combo Sunday, as Smoltz threw five scoreless innings in his Cardinals debut and Albert Pujols went deep to become just the eighth player in baseball history with 40 or more homers in at least five seasons before the age of 30. Who are the other seven? I’ll give you the answer after talking about Smoltz’s impressive return to the National League.
Smoltz flopped in Boston, going 2-5 with an ugly 8.32 ERA in eight starts, but a 33/9 K/BB ratio in 40 innings, average fastball velocity of 91 miles per hour, and plenty of break left on his hard slider suggested that he could still get major-league hitters out. Or at least that’s what I’ve been opining in this space for the past couple weeks. Not only did Smoltz get hitters out Sunday, he struck out nine of the 18 batters he faced.
He didn’t look as dominant as those strikeout totals suggest and left plenty of pitches out over the plate, but as Cardinals fan and Rotoworld news guru Drew Silva pointed out on Twitter during the game: “Smoltz has hung a few, but this is the NL and these are the Padres.” The good news for Smoltz is that he’s in the NL to stay and, while he doesn’t get to face the Padres every time, he does get to face the Nationals next.
While the answers to the trivia question are Alex Rodriguez, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Ralph Kiner, Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, and Juan Gonzalez here are some other notes from around baseball …

* This year has been a rough one for Aaron Harang, who has just one win since May despite hurling nine Quality Starts during that time and is now finished for the season after undergoing an emergency appendectomy Saturday night. Harang went 32-17 with a 3.75 ERA for the Reds between 2006 and 2007, but is 12-31 over 55 starts in the two seasons since then.
Based on his brutal 12-31 record you’d assume that Harang has been an absolute mess in those two years, but that’s hardly the case. He has a 4.52 ERA and 295/93 K/BB ratio in 347 innings over that span, which given neutral support from the Reds’ lineup and bullpen would leave him at something more like 21-22. He’s certainly not great, but Harang will be massively undervalued by anyone focused on his record.
* Scott Feldman continued his improbable run as one of the league’s top starters by shutting out the Rays for seven innings Sunday. With the victory Feldman improved to 13-4 with a 3.87 ERA and he racked up a career-high 11 strikeouts in the process. Prior to Sunday he hadn’t missed many bats, which along with mediocre control and just an average ground-ball rate equals success via plenty of smoke and mirrors.
AL Quick Hits: Fausto Carmona had eight strikeouts and one walk in seven innings of one-run ball Sunday to beat Felix Hernandez … Scott Downs (toe) is set to come off the disabled list Monday, but may not resume closing right away … Mark Buehrle gave up five runs in 5.1 innings Sunday and has just one Quality Start in six attempts since his perfect game … Trevor Bell was chased from his third career start in the second inning Sunday … Jarrod Saltalamacchia (arm) is slated to begin a rehab stint this week while eyeing a September 1 return … Michael Cuddyer homered twice in one inning Sunday while subbing for Justin Morneau (ear) … Brian Roberts reached base four times Sunday, including his MLB-leading 47th double … Jim Leyland said Sunday that the Tigers will limit 20-year-old rookie Rick Porcello’s workload down the stretch … Brett Tomko has won both starts since joining the A’s, but don’t count on the 36-year-old being anything but mediocre going forward.
NL Quick Hits: Tim Lincecum took a loss Sunday despite throwing a Quality Start at Coors Field … Scott Rolen returned from the disabled list by going 0-for-3 with two walks Sunday … Angel Pagan hit two homers Sunday, including an inside-the-parker that got stuck under the outfield padding at Citi Field … Bud Norris coughed up six runs and failed to make it out of the second inning Sunday … Thanks to Oliver Perez imploding Pedro Martinez picked up a win Sunday despite letting the Mets score four runs in five frames … Ryan Dempster allowed just an unearned run in seven innings Sunday and has a 4.03 ERA since returning from a broken toe … Ubaldo Jimenez stayed on a roll with eight innings of two-run ball Sunday, striking out nine in his 12th win … Alcides Escobar smacked his first career homer Sunday after going deep four times in 109 games at Triple-A … Vicente Padilla is scheduled to make his Dodgers debut Thursday at Coors Field … Matt Diaz missed the cycle by a homer Sunday and is 14-for-29 with three homers in his last nine games.

Nationals fire reigning Manager of the Year Matt Williams

Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams looks on from the dugout during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Matt Williams was voted the National League Manager of the Year on November 11, 2014, receiving 18 of 30 first-place votes from Baseball Writers Association of America members.

Today the Nationals fired him following a season full of disappointment, reports of clubhouse discontent, and Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout.

Williams went 179-145 (.552) in two seasons in Washington, which is an excellent winning percentage, but when you take over a stacked team the expectations are extremely high and there was seemingly nothing anyone could point to about his actual managing that suggested he was doing a good job.

His in-game tactics and particularly his rigid bullpen usage patterns infuriated fans. His dealings with the local media became increasingly antagonistic. And even setting aside two players literally fighting in the dugout there’s ample evidence that Williams lost the clubhouse a long time ago.

Williams was far from the only thing wrong with the Nationals this season and he’s hardly the primary person to blame for their disappointing record, but it’s also hard to make a strong case for his sticking around–meaningless, beat writer-voted award or not–and general manager Mike Rizzo predictably acted quickly to move on.

Now we’ll see who gets to take the next crack at managing the Nationals to play up to expectations.

Dan Haren plans to retire after the playoffs are over

Dan Haren
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Dan Haren, who said two months ago that he was leaning toward retiring after the season, reiterated those plans following the Cubs’ regular season finale Sunday.

At age 34 he started 32 games for the Marlins and Cubs with a 3.60 ERA and 132/38 K/BB ratio in 187 innings, so Haren would have no problem finding work and a solid paycheck for 2016.

However, he’s not expected to part of the Cubs’ playoff roster and told Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:

That was it for me. If I have to pitch in the postseason, I’ll be ready for sure. Happy the way the last few starts have gone. Being able to contribute to this amazing team. I’m just thankful to be a part of it. If I don’t pitch in the postseason, that’s it. It’s been fun. Hopefully there’s a lot more games to go. … If my name is called, I’ll be ready.

Injuries has lessened Haren’s overall effectiveness in recent years, but he’s remained a solid mid-rotation starter and has pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues with a 3.75 ERA in 2,419 innings. He made three All-Star teams and earned more than $80 million.