Daily Dose: Sore elbow shuts down Santana

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Johan Santana has been scratched from his scheduled Tuesday start with soreness in his left elbow. For now at least the Mets have indicated that they hope the injury is a short-term problem, but several teammates suggested Monday night that Santana may be headed for surgery. He’ll be examined further by doctors Tuesday, at which point the Mets should know whether Santana has a chance to pitch again this year.
Santana has hardly been horrible of late with a 3.94 ERA this month and a 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, but a closer look at his numbers reveals that something has clearly been off for quite a while. After averaging a career-low 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season he produced 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings through the end of May this year, but that dipped to 4.5 in June, 6.5 in July, and now 5.5 in August.
To his credit Santana has been able to maintain an ERA in the low 3.00s the whole time, but a three-month stretch where one of the decade’s greatest strikeout pitchers manages just 60 in 100.2 innings is a definite red flag. As rotation-mate Mike Pelfrey put it: “I don’t think anyone expects good news.” If he does land on the disabled list, Santana would become the 20th Mets player to spend time on the shelf this year.
While the Mets hope for one piece of decent news this season, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Jake Peavy made his third rehab start Monday at Triple-A, throwing five scoreless innings with three strikeouts and two walks. As recently as a few days ago the White Sox suggested that he’d need several more rehab outings before joining the rotation, but those plans have apparently changed. Jose Contreras has been booted from the rotation following another bad outing Monday and Peavy could be his replacement.
* Scott Baker was 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and eight homers allowed through four starts, but after turning in another gem Monday night with seven innings of one-run ball he’s now 12-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 109/25 K/BB ratio in 133 innings since. That includes 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 43/9 K/BB ratio in eight starts since the All-Star break and he’s been the only Twins starter who hasn’t fallen apart over the past couple months.
AL Quick Hits: Scott Downs came off the disabled list Monday, but Cito Gaston said that he’ll be eased back into closing … Edwin Encarnacion (hamstring) took Downs’ spot on the DL after hitting .186 since being traded to Toronto … Chris Davis will be back in the majors Tuesday after batting .327 in 44 games following his demotion to Triple-A … Brad Penny has been dropped from Boston’s rotation in favor of Junichi Tazawa, at least until Tim Wakefield (calf) returns from the DL … Carl Crawford left Monday’s game with lower back tightness … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) tossed three scoreless innings in a rehab start Monday at rookie-ball … Justin Morneau was back in the lineup Monday after missing six games with an inner-ear infection … Roy Halladay got knocked around Monday for a second straight start, coughing up eight runs on 12 hits … Joe Saunders’ (shoulder) return from the DL has been moved up to Wednesday after a successful simulated game … Ichiro Suzuki missed Monday’s game with a strained calf, but hopes to be back in the lineup Wednesday.
NL Quick Hits: Tony La Russa said Monday that John Smoltz was tipping his pitches while struggling in Boston, but facing the Padres, Nationals, and Pirates in his first three NL starts will help too … Cliff Lee gave up just a pair of unearned runs in seven innings Monday, improving to 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA and zero homers allowed in five Phillies starts … Aaron Cook (shoulder) may be able to return before the end of the regular season after an MRI exam Monday revealed no structural damage … Pablo Sandoval left Monday’s game with a strained calf … Ryan Howard homered twice off Bobby Parnell and knocked in five runs Monday, passing the 100-RBI mark … Ryan Hanigan landed on the disabled list Monday with post-concussion symptoms from a foul tip off and Chris Dickerson (ankle) joined him on the shelf … Jason Giambi will likely join the Rockies in September after inking a minor-league deal Monday … Jeff Francoeur is day-to-day with a torn thumb ligament suffering trying to make a catch.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.