Daily Dose: Back injury shuts down Morneau

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Justin Morneau captured the AL MVP in 2006 largely because of the perception that he carried the Twins down the stretch, but for the most part his career has been filled with strong starts and poor finishes. In seven seasons Morneau has batted .297 and slugged .543 in April, May, June, and July compared to just .250 and .429 in August and September, and this year he’s gone 21-for-121 (.174) since August 1.
For once there’s an explanation for his slump, as the Twins announced Monday that Morneau will miss the rest of the year with a stress fracture in his back. Minnesota’s playoff hopes have already faded, so the good news is that the injury doesn’t require surgery and he should be able to resume baseball activities in three months. Michael Cuddyer will play first base, with Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young gaining value.
While the Twins unraveling around Joe Mauer could cost him a much more deserved MVP than Morneau’s in 2006, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Coming into the year Carlos Marmol was one of my favorite breakout picks, but Lou Piniella going with Kevin Gregg at closer ruined those plans. Piniella finally switched from Gregg to Marmol last month and since then he’s converted nine saves in a row with 18 strikeouts in 12 innings, which was enough for the Cubs skipper to announce Monday that Marmol will have the job all to himself in 2010. Count on that breakout.
* Brian Fuentes remains the Angels’ closer despite a 5.60 second-half ERA, but Mike Scioscia said Monday that rookie Kevin Jepsen could be given save chances down the stretch in “advantageous” matchups. That likely means mixing and matching the left-handed Fuentes and right-handed Jepsen, who has a 2.61 ERA and 39/9 K/BB ratio in 41.1 innings since being called back up from Triple-A in mid-June.
* Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Diamondbacks are not planning to exercise next year’s $8.5 million team option on injured ace Brandon Webb, who had shoulder surgery last month after being sidelined since Opening Day. Arizona will no doubt try to re-sign Webb to an incentive-laden deal, but if he hits the open market it could be tough to fight off bids from high-payroll teams willing to take a gamble.
* I’m a huge fan of WhatIfSports.com’s excellent Hardball Dynasty game, which is an incredibly detailed and time-consuming simulation of running a fictional organization from rookie-ball to the majors. One of my private leagues is starting a new season this week and we have a couple franchise openings, so if you have some experience playing Hardball Dynasty and want to join us, drop me an e-mail with your details.
AL Quick Hits: Joe Mauer went 3-for-3 with a walk Monday and is hitting .371, giving him an 18-point lead over Ichiro Suzuki for his third batting title in four years … Brett Tomko hurled a complete-game shutout Monday and has somehow gone 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA since joining the A’s … Joe Crede (back) is not expected to play again this year and is probably finished in Minnesota … Brian Matusz has been shut down after logging 157.2 innings between the majors and minors, with Mark Hendrickson taking his rotation spot … Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga have been relegated to the Tigers’ bullpen, so Eddie Bonine will stay in the rotation down the stretch … Reid Brignac went 4-for-4 with a homer and two doubles Monday, raising his OPS by 150 points … Jeremy Sowers threw seven scoreless innings Monday before the bullpen turned a 3-0 lead into a 6-3 loss … Vince Mazzaro has been shut down for the year because of shoulder problems.
NL Quick Hits: Out since mid-July with a fractured wrist, Jay Bruce returned from the disabled list Monday after hitting .212 on a 10-game rehab assignment … Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) remains at least 10 days from seeing game action … J.A. Happ (oblique) tossed a bullpen session Monday and hopes to rejoin the rotation later this week … Derrek Lee homered Monday for the seventh time in 10 games … Tony La Russa indicated Monday that the Cardinals may skip Kyle Lohse’s scheduled turn in the rotation this weekend … Jose Valverde was not with the Astros’ on their road trip Monday thanks to a 101-degree fever … Bronson Arroyo turned in seven innings of one-run ball Monday for his 10th straight Quality Start … Huston Street (biceps) will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, but is unlikely to immediately resume closing once he returns … Randy Johnson (shoulder) tossed a 53-pitch simulated game Monday with an eye toward joining the Giants’ bullpen.

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.