Millwood's option will be allowed to vest. Maybe.

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While Kevin Millwood pitched well earlier in the season, he is 2-4 with a 5.92 ERA and has been walking a lot of guys in his past 11 starts. What’s more, as Baseball Time in Arlington’s Joey Matschulat notes this morning, Millwood has greatly reduced the number of fastballs he has thrown in the second half, which could suggest an injury.

Is he hurt or is he just ineffective?  These aren’t merely baseball questions for the Rangers, they’re business questions too, because Millwood needs eight more innings to reach 180 for the year, and that would trigger his $12 million option for 2010.  In light of (a) his performance, (b) Texas’ plethora of young pitching talent; and (c) Owner Tom Hicks’ severe financial problems and the impending sale of the team, there is at least a reasonable argument to be made that Texas should shut Millwood down.

Anyone willing to go on the record is saying that won’t happen, however.  Millwood is slated to start tonight, and both GM Jon Daniels and team President Nolan Ryan are saying that they won’t consider sitting him in order to prevent his option from vesting. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, however, adds an ominous sounding note when he says “It may be
others besides the Rangers baseball people who decide that Millwood
won’t pitch beyond Friday.”

That seems like a very odd thing for him to just throw into an article like this. Sullivan is a good reporter and knows the Rangers better than anyone, so I can’t help but think that he’s heard something from someone suggesting that Millwood’s season could be over soon.

I suppose a lot of this depends on how he pitches tonight.  If he’s effective, I can’t see how the Rangers could keep him off the mound without losing both the clubhouse and the fans.  If he’s shelled, however, all bets are off.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.